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We are only interested in launching a digital service that is DRM-free.
INDIE RETAIL TRIES TO SURVIVE
CIMS' Don VanCleave Keeps On Keeping On Despite the Shrinking Market
by Don VanCleave

We live in an age where our customer can get anything they want for free just by booting up their computer. We work around that by offering the music freak that wants, no needs, to possess the physical, the best selection possible.

We also live in an age where a VP of Sales will look you in the eye and tell you that you need to sell a major label  $18.98 list CD that cost you $12.50 for $9.99 to remain competitive. See, that is what the big box guys are doing for the marketplace. For example, some of these stores have the Shins on sale today for $8.99 in some markets. Many indie stores have to pay $9.80 or more for this release. Does that sound healthy? We try to work around that by beating up the same guys they do, which is not that much fun. We are the first place labels turn to develop and break new artists only to be forgotten when that artist sells enough to warrant attention from the tonnage customers.

In 1995, thanks to Mark Cope and Yvette Ziraldo from Album Network, a large gathering of independent retailers met in San Francisco to discuss common issues and problems. Out of that meeting sprang the Coalition of Independent Music Stores. The goal of the group was to present a united front to the
record labels on several levels. On the promotions level, we provide one-stop shopping for labels to promote their releases ­ listening booths, positioning, genre programs, catalog sales, etc. in some of the best stores in the country. On the activist level, we were able to provide a unified voice against some of the worst practices of the industry, which of course is a full-time job. On the music level, we were able to help break some of the biggest names out there by working together.

Individually we are small stores and large stores. We stock every known genre and have people working for us who know music because it is their life. Not a single one of our staff were selling microwaves or tires in our stores last week... we promise. Most of our locations (59 in all) have been around over 20 years and have seen boom times and troubling times. We have monopolized the NARM Retailer of the Year (small and medium) for years. Contrary to popular press spin, the best stores in the country are not going out of business any time soon.  Our stores sell music on CD and vinyl as well as lifestyle items and DVD. Our stores sell the magic of music on many levels. We are known for getting behind bands before anyone else. Our owners and staff have let many a band crash at their house and have provided late-night advice counseling mentoring to starving artists who later become big names. 

A few years ago, we grew very alarmed at the way large chains and big box retailers were allowed to sell more and more exclusive content. So we formed an internal distribution company called junketboy and invited every other indie store out there to participate with us to put out product geared towards our customers: ­ the uber fan. In the past year alone, we have released music by Pearl Jam, John Mayer, Kings of Leon, Bright Eyes, Flaming Lips, Gov't Mule and about 100 other acts. We now actively work with 300 or more great indie stores, including the accounts of our sister organizations ­Music Monitor Network and AIMS along with Newbury Comics, Amoeba and other well-known indie stores. We now distribute our own version of Mojo Magazine and help run the Paste Recommends program. For a look at what we have done release-wise, visit www.thinkindie.com.

On the digital side, we fully intend to sell music. However, we have watched one idea after another throw tons of money at the concept with only one winner : Apple. We are only interested in launching a digital service that is DRM-free. Hopefully we will get on the map in the coming year with our ideas.  One thing is for sure; we have amazing brands in many parts of the country. Trusted brands that will continue to be a filter for fans of music.

Even though the Internet is worldwide, we find that many people are using it locally. I hear constantly from owners who report amazing response to their e-mail blasts about what is happening in the stores and from customers who actually check stock levels online before driving to their favorite music emporium.

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