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NARM DIARY: OPTIMISM, MUSIC
AND... KIOSKS!
Executive Banter Involves Few Divisive Issues, While Showcases, Boat Rides and Kiosk Demos Keep Everyone Busy
SAN DIEGO: The mood at this year's NARM convention continues to be surprisingly upbeat, with little of the contentious attitude that has defined so many conferences in the past.  "People thought that the business [of physical product] might be gone by now," noted ADA President Andy Allen, "But it seems that the doom and gloom is behind us. People have plans and they're implementing them." And, in spite of the fact that Musicland honcho Eric Weisman still tells us that he believes that we might just be “in the eye of the hurricane" (and he considers himself optimistic about the future of physical retail), WEA President John Esposito opines that everybody might just be "tired of fighting."

Whatever the reason, be it the uptick in sales from last year, or just the lack of a burning issue that's dividing the retail nation, for a reporter, it's a little like a weatherman covering a sunny day. Not as much drama as you would hope. 

That being said, there has been more music at the confab than at any time in recent memory. Take the WEA Zone on Saturday night, for example. A packed house stayed all night for Elektra's Jason Mraz, Reprise's Bonnie McKee, Rambler's (through Word) John Davis and Atlantic's Shinedown. Sunday featured performances from Verve's Brazilian Girls, Mack Avenue Record's John Brannen and a huge crowd for jazz legend Chick Corea

On Monday, UMVD brought back the official "product presentation"—the first one in years—with an hour and a half of earsplitting video and performances by Tears For Fears (on UME), Island's Marc Broussard and a jam session featuring Jack Johnson, G. Love and Donovan Frankenreiter from Universal's Brushfire imprint.

But by far the most improbable events at the convention so far have been boat rides. Any regular attendee can recount for you the torturous travails of the infamous Skinny Puppy incident or the even more egregious Garth Brooks boating debacle that made seafaring a dirty word at NARM. So it’s a testament to the power of the artists that not only did Wind-up get all of the Music Monitor Network's attendees on to an Alter Bridge outing, but Mammoth Records persuaded a who's who of indies and majors to take a cruise as well, where passengers were treated to an astounding set against the surreal backdrop of the San Diego harbor.

Elsewhere in convention goings-on, it seems the music retail kiosk business is kicking into high gear—it’s turning out to be one of the most talked about topics this year.  Retailers are being shown a way to put kiosks into the digital equation, as well as use them to help manage and promote the physical inventories they carry in their stores.

Four major kiosk companies showcased their products in a jam-packed seminar hosted by Newbury ComicsMike Dreese. The four systems—MICS, Mix & Burn, Touchstand and Virtual Music Store (VMS)—showed retailers how hey can take advantage of doing everything from making a compilation CD in three minutes to managing their physical inventories. All of the kiosks require a relatively small "footprint" in the store and deliver a number of varied advantages. 

The MICS system allows the customer to create full CDs complete with artwork, or download songs or ringtones to portable players or phones. This kiosk can also take returns on both the custom CDs or standard CDs bought at the store. A remote feature even lets the home office fill an inventory need by setting the kiosk to manufacture as many as 425 CDs overnight.

Mix & Burn, which is 40% owned by Navarre, lets customers do just that: mix and burn compilation CDs in the stores. Touchstand, meanwhile, has just added the ability to download music and burn CDs to its kiosk, which up until now had primarily been used for in-store listening.

VMS is designed to do away with the need for any in-store inventory altogether, letting customers burn CDs with artwork or download songs to players or phones, in addition to working as a listening station.

All of the systems use some sort of data mining, as well as creating new "advertising opportunities" for the retailer. Look for more of these devices to crop up as retailers line up to see how they can increase the enjoyment of the shopping experience, which has been something of a mantra at this year's convention.
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