Music sales — albums, singles, music videos and digital tracks — in the U.S. increased by 2.1 percent in 2009, according to a report by Nielsen SoundScan, but that’s not good news for independent record stores. The increase is due mainly to digital downloads, which accounted for 40 percent of all U.S. music purchases last year. Total album sales, including CDs, cassettes, LPs and digital albums, decreased by 12.7 percent. And, according to statistics from the Recording Industry Association of America, CD shipments to stores decreased by 20.5 percent.
Low sales force independent record stores to look elsewhere for revenue. Both Larry May and Carl Lackey, owners of CD Cellar and Cosmic Debris, respectively, call their stores “boutiques,” where customers can buy clothing, jewelry and accessories in addition to music.
Lackey recently expanded his South Quintard store and doubled the size, mainly to house the seven new racks of clothing and a dressing room, which he said came from requests from women “who wanted cool clothing.” And while his CD stock has increased from about 4,000 to 10,000 discs, the music sales only make up maybe 12 percent of the store’s revenue, he said. The rest of the revenue comes from sales of clothes, jewelry and smoking accessories.
“Sales of all the ephemera allow me to carry music,” Lackey said. “It’s not a good business design, but I love music. Gone are the days of just being a record store.”
It seems those “just record stores” have been the hardest hit in the past five years. In 2006, music store giant Tower Records declared bankruptcy, and FYE closed 125 stores in late 2009. Locally, Sound Shop in Quintard Mall closed early this year.
While a store closing may not seem like good news, it’s not all bad.
“Right after Sound Shop closed, business picked up about $300 a day,” said May, who moved CD Cellar from its Lenlock location to a store on Noble Street in downtown Anniston about a month ago. May said since 2004 he’s lost about 20 percent of his music sales, but it still makes up around 85 percent of his total revenue.
“There’s a general consensus that record stores are dead,” he said. “With the economy the way it is, you have to do more to make the same amount of money. You can’t make it on just record sales and vinyl. If I was forced to make it on (music sales alone), I could, but why limit myself?” Along with music, May also sells jewelry and clothing, and his wife, Tenza, plans on opening a formal dress store in the back in time for prom season, which begins in January.
But the music sales reports aren’t filled with only dismal news. LP sales increased by 33 percent in 2009, and both CD Cellar and Cosmic Debris have racks dedicated just to vinyl.
“I probably sell about $200 a day in vinyl ... and 10 to 12 turntables this year,” Lackey said. May agreed, saying 10 percent to 15 percent of his music sales are for vinyl.
In striving to be more than just a record store, May and Lackey want to get the community involved with music and culture. May brought in award-winning singer Justin Townes Earle for his grand opening at the beginning of September, and would like to see more bigger acts like that make stops in Anniston.
“I try to exploit bands coming through the area,” May said, explaining that many bands travel between Atlanta and Birmingham for shows. He thinks Anniston is a perfect stopping point in between. “I’ve got irons in the fire for (more major acts) early next year.”
Cosmic Debris’ addition includes a stage, and Lackey hopes to have local musicians, poets and artisans come and perform in the store.
The live performances begin today with a grand reopening celebration beginning at 3 p.m., featuring a live radio feed from rock station 105.9 and a performance by rock band McPherson Struts.
“I want to try and create some excitement with music,” Lackey said. “It’s not just about commerce. It’s about turning music into something that has substance.
“Anniston is very blessed because they’ve got me and they’ve got Larry May. We both have two of the best stores because they’re owned by people who love music. We’re not out to make a buck. If we were, we’d both be driving better cars.”