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For Tower Records, End of Disc
Music and the music industry have evolved rapidly in the past decade, and each mutation has disrupted Tower's niche. First came the discounters to undercut Tower on price, followed by Napster and Amazon.com and iTunes, which beat Tower on selection and convenience. It's reasonable to ask whether Tower could have adapted. As a friend put it, Tower had the brand-name cred to be what iTunes is, if only Tower hadn't clung to bricks and mortar and $17.99 CDs.
The future portends more abundance and choice than Russ Solomon could ever have stacked in his biggest store. But something's being lost in this vast and unending digital banquet. Tower's downward arc tracks the fragmentation of musical tastes into 10,000 little pieces. We're well past the point where broad musical consensus is possible.
That means there might never be another Beatles or U2 -- no more supergroups to span the niches and subcultures. More shocking, Tower's fall suggests the end of "standards." Long ago, two strangers could hear "Some Enchanted Evening" or "Norwegian Wood" and share, for just a moment, something familiar and lovely. Now my iPod ain't like yours.
There's no doubt the Internet is a superior transactional medium for getting music. But saying so assumes that the transaction is all there is. It values ends over means, destinations over journeys.
For a long time, Tower was a great journey.
"Can I help you?" one of the clerks asked a customer at the Tower store in Rockville the other day.
The guy said he was looking for something or other, something the store no longer had, which was just about everything.
Can I help you? The answer is, not anymore.