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March 28, 2009

I've seen the future and I'm not sure I like it.

record and tape traders"It's the ultimate Socialist conspiracy."

That's what one of my coworkers said when I told him about the closing of Record and Tape Traders in Catonsville.

Backstory here.

Basically, it all boils down to this: There is now a generation of young adults who believe  music, movies, art, photography and news should be free. Gee, thanks, Internet.

There are many other factors at play here, of course, but this is a big reason why thousands of people in the journalism and music businesses are losing their jobs.

And though I'm no political idealist, when I think about it, it really seems to be cultural socialism at its finest ...

Granted, ripping music and movies is illegal, but that hasn't stopped people. Everybody who can go online has access to movies, music, art, news etc. -- for free. As a result, we've seen a drastic drop-off in the quality of some of these things.

Take news, for example. Newspapers generate a huge amount of content. They always have. Bloggers don't. They never have.

So what's going to happen when more and more newspapers fold? The quality of the news you get could very well decrease, plain and simple. And that troubles me.

Sorry for the depressing post. But this is on my mind, and I wanted to share it.

(Sun photo by Amy Davis)

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Posted by Sam Sessa at 8:25 AM | | Comments (20)
Categories: Local music, Random stuff


The RIAA and music companies, of course, hate piracy. But they aren't big fans of places like Record and Tape Traders either. Remember the big fight over used CD sales? If they had their way, anyone listening to a song would have to own a newly-purchased license and would only be allowed to enjoy it on headphones in order to avoid any inadvertent listening by non-licensed individuals. Speakers let non-authorized individuals enjoy a song. Is this hyperbole? Probably. But they annoyed a lot of people with their DRM missteps.

I think most observers now agree that, yes, piracy did play a role. But it was primarily the industry's inability to adapt to the changing times and look beyond brick-and-mortar stores and physical distribution that did them in. Most people are willing to pay a reasonable amount for the music they enjoy. Now, is it enough to sustain the kind of music industry we have become accustomed to? I dunno.

Same goes for journalism. Internet users will be willing to put up with a moderate amount of advertising and possibly even small fees. But will it be enough money to maintain the sort of journalism that we are used to? I dunno that either.

But I hope people are looking for the answers rather than bitching about the guy that picks up the sports page from the bathroom stall floor.

Ripping [1] just means copying digital audio or video from CDs or DVDs to another form of storage. It is legal to do this for copyrighted content that you own when it is for your personal use, i.e., to play on your computer or transfer to a portable music player.


Well, it doesn't help that Value Music swept in and started pricing everything mall-style: $16.99 and what not. People are too smart to pay that much money for music anymore. incunabulum is absolutely right. It was up to the brick and mortar stores to adapt, but instead they decided to devolve and rape the few customers they had left. Sam, post your receipts from Record and Tape Traders or get off your high horse.

Actually, it's hyper-capitalism, and the failure of it that is responsible for Record & Tape Traders demise.

1. When CDs were introduced, they were supposed to drastically decrease the price we paid for a record (as manufacturing cost 25 cents to produce at the time). We were promised by music companies that as consumers, we would only be paying a fraction of the price for CDs that we were for LPs. However, labels found that people were willing to pay the same price for CDs as they did for records, so the prices never went down (that is greedy capitalism). If prices dropped, CDs might have been a more competitive format. As it is, they are quickly becoming unnecessary - the next 8-track tape or cassette or reel-to-reel.

2. Do you have any idea what the profit margin is for records? Most record stores make $1-$3 tops off of CDs. And even then they're still considered over-priced when compared to the prices Amazon and Best Buy charge (due to their aggressive and hostile capitalistic pricing policies). If your rent for is $3000 - $4000 month, you have to sell at least 1000 CDs a month just to pay it - never mind other overhead, staff, insurance, BGE bills. Plus you have to pay $10 a CD just to make $1 off it (in many cases).

3. The music industry as a whole has failed. That is largely due to the failure of promotional mechanism. MTV doesn't play videos anymore. There are very few broadcast radio stations that play new music left that aren't on satellite (and that satellite model is also failing). Even the magazines that promoted them, Spin, RollingStone, et. al. are no longer relevant. There is no means of promotion for new music now, aside from TV commercials and CW TV shows. If people don't hear and see new music, they don't buy it. Record stores close.

4. If we are now in an era where people simply expect to get music for free, via illegal downloads, filesharing, bit torrent, etc, and people no longer expect to pay for music, how do you reconcile that with the fact that there is a boom in vinyl LP sales and paid mp3 downloads?

5. I was a longtime Record & Tape Trader shopper. When I stopped going to them, it wasn't because I wanted free music, it was because I realized I preferred Soundgarden.

6. Look at their name. RECORD & TAPE Traders. They managed to survive for years with that name when no one actually bought music in a record or tape format. That itself is surprising. As a chain, their very name suggested antiquation. That always puzzled me.

7. The actual socialist aspect in music today is largely seen by bands and fans as a plus (and it's not the theft of music). We can see it locally with what bands like Celebration and The Oranges Band - surpassing the gatekeepers of taste and allowing the artistic community as a whole to own and control its means of production and distribution. And that IS, by definition, socialism.

8. You complain about people stealing music. I might be remembering things wrong, but doesn't Record & Tape Traders have a history of being busted for selling illegal bootlegs?

Look, I understand it's a very trendy word to casually toss around these days. You can't swing a dead cat without hitting a conservative frothing at the mouth about it. However, socialism doesn't mean everything should be free and theft is okay.

Seriously, double check the definition (although conservative Bernie Goldberg did just complain on FOX that dictionaries have a liberal bias - no, really).

The idea that arts and culture should be free to everyone is not a tenet of socialism. Socialism is not a belief system or a philosophy, it is an economic system.

What you are complaining about here is the destructive nature of rationalized theft and hyper-capitalism.

And that very much plays a part in the survival of small chain and indie stores.

aren't you a blogger?

bloggers don't generate content?? it's that attitude that is part of the reason why newspapers are a thing of the past.
wake up.

I'm with incunabulum and Mobtown Shank.

When it comes to music, I feel as if the industry is changing to meet a shift in lifestyle. The newspaper industry has a great product to sell, but it just seems as if their content is shifting to other mediums, whether it be magazines, online, or smaller technical publications. I think some of their content is still being offered, just not under the name of a large newspaper.

Hey MobTown, thanks for the thoughtful comment! I was hoping you'd weigh in on this.

1. Yes, the record labels illegally exploited their monopoly on music, which adversely effected smaller stores like RT&T. People didn't have a choice except to pay almost $20 for a CD. I remember hating the record labels for charging so much. But what could I do? When people realized they could download the music for free and at the same time screw the music industry, they jumped at the chance.

2. No, I had no idea, but I'm not surprised. Thanks for sharing the numbers with me.

3. I don't think the music industry has failed largely because of the promotions side of it. That's a part of it, sure. I think the music industry failed because they tried to stamp out illegal downloading instead of herding people towards digital mp3 stores sooner. Spin and Rolling Stone are still relevant, albeit less so than before. But the in-depth journalism they offered is being replaced with much less insightful, shorter blog posts, which are generally written by less talented authors, i.e., me. Maybe that's what people want, these days. Maybe it's only a short-term thing. I dunno. And MTV has a couple channels that only play music videos. How many people watch them? Beats me. But they must be at least semi-popular, or they wouldn't exist. Too true about radio stations. The reason why the WPXNs and WTMDs exist are because mainstream radio got so rotten.

4. The boom in vinyl and mp3 downloads is not nearly enough to make up for the loss of hardcopy CD sales. There is still a huge gap, due to millions of illegal downloads every day. That's why the music industry is still hemorrhaging money.

5. Cool. I like Soundgarden too.

6. Oh come now. How many people still use pitchforks on a daily basis? seems to be doing just fine.

7. I think that's a bit of a broad generalization. Sure, because of the internet, it's easier for bands to promote themselves. But the trade off is, it's much harder to make money off music, as opposed to live shows and merchandise.

8. Stealing music, whether it's online or via bootlegs, is still stealing music. Doesn't make it right.

Well, I apologize if I've misunderstood socialism as it applies to arts and culture. But I do believe that, at least in the short term, the quality of music and news is going to suffer greatly. I really hope in the long run, things get better than they were before. I'd cross my fingers, but that makes it hard to type.

Thanks again, MobTown!

You know what irks me? How the railroads came in and messed up the canal business. Also, how industrialization came in and destroyed hand crafted manufactured goods. Incandescent lighting ruined the gas lighting business. Thanks a lot, Edison.

I think we can all agree that much of the craftsmanship and market share of old journalism is taking a hit from the immediacy of new media, but that new media is the reality we live in and journalism needs to adapt, and it will. But no, unfortunately, there is no longer a need for 40 different local market newspapers to have their own foreign correspondent bureaus now that we all can read the New York Times, the Washington Post and The Guardian for free with the click of a button. Local papers will have to become ultra local and about one tenth the size of their former selves. That's the reality.

It's sad when you are talking about journalism, but I couldn't care less about Record and Tape traders. The Internet may be destroying the music industry, but it isn't hurting the music. Same goes for movies, except the movie business is thriving right now, with movie revenues up 17% this year from last.

All in all, I'm way happier living in a world with internet than without, and somehow, I have access to more quality jouralism than anyone had 20-40-60 years ago.

When prices are made affordable, people will buy them instead of 'stealing' them. Apple just made some negative changes to their prices which won't help. I mainly use Amazon, especially their MP3 daily deal of the day which is complete albums for 'usually' under $. You can find it on their site or track it using this page:

There was reuters feed today that touched on this.

I bought my first album ever (Kill Em All) at the Catonsville R&TT and I miss it dearly. There were few things as fun as bringing 20 bucks and combing through the used CD section, looking for hidden gems and super crappy tapes for a buck to listen to for the sole purpose of making fun of them.

Oh well, those were the days.

thewayitis, this one's for you. (Amen.)

In response to Sam's response:

I just came from an electronics flea market in Timonium (Baltimore Amateur Radio Club Hamfest & Computer Show). Here's how hard-wired the old pricing schemes are: People whoi had used CDs for sale were offering them for $5 each. People with used VHS movies were selling them for a dollar or two. People with used DVDs were selling them as low as $4, three for $10. (The CDs and DVDs were basically of equal quality/vintage--if anything, the DVDs were better movies and stuff I've actually heard of.)

Now, think about that a minute: I could buy 45 to 70 minutes worth of music for $5, or I could get two hours or so of entertainment PLUS bonus material for $4. What the hell is wrong with this picture?

In response to band profitability, we have to be honest: The record industry, even in the cases of major artists, screwed over almost every artist/group that ever worked for them, and it took the mega-success of a Madonna or Michael Jackson to pay for the losses incurred with a hundred one-hit wonders or bands you never heard of. Today, a local band can, if they apply themselves correctly and have any talent whatsoever, self-produce, self-distribute, and self-manage, and make more money than they would have under a major or even minor label, because they end up with ALL the proceeds. Being the big fish in a small pond is better than being any fish in the big sea, in effect.

I don't know the wholesale cost of CDs in general but Chris Sligh* reported that cost of his, wholesale was $5.50 and that is a label that is distributed by the WMG/ADA (Warner Music Group) so a lot places should able to give a better retail price. Amazon basicly sells his CD for slightly more that twice, if you buy two, it might just might be enough for the free shipping.

Obliviously if Amazon can sell CDs at a profit $11.98** or less, the brick and mortar places need to run more efficiently.

* Who's Chris Sligh?...Exactly! just to get this out of the way.

** By Amazon standards this mid-priced for a domestic single disc.

A point not made is that technology democratized being a working and recording musician. You don't even need a record deal anymore, you can have your CDs manufactured and sell them yourself as merchantise at the venues were you play as well as on your website. You don't need the media, Radio and TV to launch yourself like you did prior to 1990.

Piracy has ALWAYS been with us.
Example, Movies in the 1910's were frequently copied by exhibiters, which was a problem for people like Charlie Chaplin. It's why a lot of the surviving prints of his movies are so degraded, because their several generations from the original prints.

Fashion designers have always had to compete with clothing manufacturers making knockoffs of their current designs and under cutting them on the sale price.

YouTube is frequently under criticism for not monitoring and barring people posting copyrighted material. David Thomas of Pere Ubu has ongoing struggle with them allowing the reposting of videoes that took the long process of deleting getting reposted often as soon as one week.

I know people who worked at a record pressing plant who, unauthorized, made custom pressings* of records of major acts for themselves and their friends. If they didn't just outright steal the regular pressings

* i.e. David Bowie records in multi-color plastic which were never distribution or even promo copies

And yet you're publishing this here where I didn't have to pay the Tribune Co. a nickle to read it. I'm not saying that this is the source of your troubles, but it isn't doing anything to help solve them.

Cheap Jim,

Maybe this should given an once over,

"Information wants to be free" is an expression that has come to be the unofficial motto of the free content movement.

The expression is first recorded as pronounced by Stewart Brand at the first Hackers' Conference in 1984, in the following context:

On the one hand information wants to be expensive, because it's so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time. So you have these two fighting against each other....

Information Wants To Be Free. Information also wants to be expensive. ... That tension will not go away."

for mor information see Wikipedia

It's interesting to see that the majority of "blame" for this is with free music. I disagree. I think that downloads are what is to blame and not neccessarily free. I think that in this age people are willing and able to take advantage of purchasing the one or two songs that they like from someplace like i-tunes without giving the rest of the album any thought at all. I think that it's sad that we are now going to have musical phenoms known for little other than a few of their better known works rather than appreciating an artist for their entire body of work. The loss to the listener is inestimable. And, it also provides a great loss to the performer who deserves to have their music absorbed as a whole piece rather than piecemeal.

I think this post had it all. Seriousness, debate, Soundgarden, a Chris Sligh reference, wikipedia links, a picture of Record and Tape Traders...really everything. Kudos, everyone.

Now, I have to go "borrow" music from the Interwebs, watch TV on Hulu, and spin some records on my victrola.

An interesting ad copy for semi-local record store regarding CDs.

Buy It!
Rip It!
Return It!

I went to Soundgarden today. They didn't want any sealed japanese, sealed jazz, sealed imports. When I jokingly said I have some old Zepplin LP's, the buyer balked like I stuck my finger up my nose and then tried to shake his hand. He said that they DO NOT buy used LP's. I was at the rack and said, "When did they start reissuing Houses of the Holy?" half jokingly/half serious/half wondering, Do record companies still make Vinyl of classics such as AC/DC or Black Sabbath? That was it. He wouldn't speak to me and I had to get my two dollars from another cashier. I'm never going back there. 1. they don't buy anything. 2. I now know why you people on here make fun of hipster kids. Any place else that will look at merchandise?

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About Erik Maza
Erik Maza is a features reporter at the Baltimore Sun. He writes for several sections of the Sun paper and contributes weekly columns on music and nightlife. He also writes and edits the Midnight Sun blog. He often covers entertainment, business, and the business of entertainment. Occasionally, he writes about Four Loko, The Block, the liquor board, and those who practice "simulated sex with a potted palm tree." Before The Sun, he was a reporter at the Miami New Times. He's also written for Miami magazine, the Orlando Sentinel, the Sarasota Herald Tribune and the Gainesville Sun. Got tips? Gripes? Pitches? He's reachable at Click here to keep up with the dumb music he's listening to.

Midnight Sun covers Baltimore music, live entertainment, and nightlife news. On the blog, you'll find, among other things, concert announcements, breaking news, bars closings and openings, up-to-date coverage of crime in nightlife, new music, round-the-clock coverage of Virgin Mobile FreeFest, handy guides on bars staying open past 2 a.m. on New Year's Eve and those that carry Natty Boh on draft. Recurring features include seven-day nightlife guides, Concert News, guest reviews of bars and concerts, Wednesday Corkboard, and photo galleries, as well as reader-submitted photos. Thanks for reading.

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