CDs going way of records, 8-tracks, cassette tape

| Thursday, May 26, 2011

Opinions vary on whether the music CD is on its way to becoming a collector's item.

Still, it's harder these days to buy compact discs in big box stores such as Target, Best Buy and Wal-Mart. Those major retailers have reduced the floor space their stores devote to compact discs, retail experts say.

In the Pittsburgh area, some regional malls such as Ross Park Mall and South Hills Village have no music stores. The FYE entertainment retail chain has stores at The Mall at Robinson and Century III, Westmoreland and Monroeville malls.

Music lovers who like to browse racks of CDs can go to independent music stores, along with remaining Borders and some other retailers.

Last year, CD sales fell 19 percent nationwide, the Recording Industry Association of America said. But sales of downloaded albums were up 16.8 percent last year, and individual tracks were up 9.6 percent, Nielsen SoundScan said.

Overall, music sales in the U.S. this year were up by 1.6 percent as of May 8, Nielsen said.

The music world has become a digital world, said Paige Beal, an associate professor of marketing at Point Park University. "You now get a feeling that CDs are almost for hobbyists," she said.

The shift to downloads started more than a decade ago as illegal file-sharing sites took off. Now, iTunes and similar sites form the backbone of the fast-changing industry.

"Music is available in all kinds of places," said Joshua P. Friedlander, vice president of research and strategic analysis for the Washington-based Recording Industry Association. "We can't measure how the music industry is doing just by how many CDs are sold."

Sales in the legal digital music market exceeded $3 billion last year in the United States.

And there are hundreds of music services worldwide. Among them: Amazon, which also sells CDs online; iTunes, subscription services such as Rhapsody and Napster; Internet radio such as Pandora, LastFM and Slacker; and video streaming sites such as Vevo and YouTube, along with social network services such as MySpace Music.

Big-box retailers once outfoxed and underpriced stores such as National Record Mart. Now they have cut their CD selections, while national music store chains are shrinking.

Retailers constantly evaluate use of floor space. "So if the industry is down 20 percent, then Wal-Mart is probably down 20 percent," said retail expert C. Britt Beemer, chairman of America's Research Group in Charleston, S.C. "There is always demand for something new and different."

Not everyone likes the changes.

Domenic Dozzi used to buy long playing records at Pittsburgh-based National Record Mart. That chain ceased business nearly a decade ago.

Dozzi, 50, of Oakmont, browsed through Elvis Costello and U2 albums this week at Paul's Compact Discs in Bloomfield. "I like to come to a store like this," he said. "I like to hold the album, look at the art on the cover, read the liner notes."

His daughters, ages 15 and 18, are more likely to download individual songs by Lady Gaga, Eminem or Shakira, he said

Sparse music collections in stores also worry Eric Jackson Lurie, 38, a Highland Park attorney who also is an amateur musician and record collector.

While their selections never were broad, "Big stores cutting back on CDs means there is less exposure of good music to the general public," he said.

Johnny Saint-Lethal, 27, of Dormont, lead vocalist in the rock band The Show, goes to The Exchange in Dormont three or four times a week. The Cleveland area chain has about 10 stores in the Pittsburgh area.

"The big stores cutting back on CDs increases the need for independent music stores," he said.

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