On the way home from Sunday shopping, I noticed a big “STORE CLOSING” sign on the Coconuts music and movies store in Toms River. I wasn’t surprised by its impending doom; I haven’t set foot in any of their stores in years. In fact, I wondered why it had stayed afloat for so long.
Clearly, according to the stock price of the parent company, Trans World Entertainment, I’m not the only one. When a company sells for less than $2 a share, the thought is that it’s close to bankruptcy. A quick look at a few press releases shows a number of money-losing quarters, and you can’t stay in business long if you don’t make money. Since TWM had already filed bankruptcy once (in 1996), you have to wonder if this company will live to see the end of 2011.
If it is a doomed company, it’s not the only media dealer in trouble. According to a Publishers Weekly story last week, the book retailer Borders has stopped making payments to certain publishers, and one unnamed major publisher won’t ship more books until the payments resume. Borders is now trading even lower than TWE, and many analysts feel the end is near.
Truthfully, my heart doesn’t bleed for TWE or Borders. When I worked in Manhattan a few years ago, I had so many bad experiences at the Borders at Penn Station that I vowed to stop shopping there. But my heart does bleed for my old college haunt, Rainbow Records. I spent what feels like whole semesters rooting through used CDs at their location on Main Street. Now, the store has cut hours, and will give up half its retail space in the next few months.
Is any of this a surprise? Of course not. We buy MP3s indtead of CDs, and we buy them from a handful of online stores (iTunes, Amazon, eMusic) for the most part. Amazon controls over 75% of the book market, and even that is rapidly becoming an ebooks market. Blockbuster’s nearly gone, and its successor, Netflix, is rapidly becoming a streaming company instead of a distribution company for DVDs and Blu-Rays. Video game sales are dominated by a handful of big companies, led by Gamestop, and even that business is moving online. Even comic books are going digital; Marvel and DC both have iPad stores, and the independent Comixology application has moved over a million digital comics.
We no longer have a crying need for physical media in our life. I’m not complaining about this- I love my iPod, my Kindle, and my networked PS3 like any red-blooded American male. But I do miss what Cory Doctorow wrote about in his short story, “Craphound“- the hunt through back issue boxes, used CD stacks, piles of books in the back of the store, garage sales, and later eBay listings. I spent a lot of my 20s this way- traveling to flea markets for old Atari cartridges, bent over quarter boxes in dusty comics stores, or driving around going to that *one* store 100 miles away with a copy of some desired story or song.
I got exposed to a lot of neat stuff through those hunts- Matt Feazell comics, Los Bros Hernandez, Peter Bagge, funk music, and so much more. I once scored from a dealer in South Jersey three boxes of indy 80s comics for $10 per long box, and ended up with mostly full runs of Nexus, Grimjack, and other First and Eclipse comics; from another dealer, I got the entire fun of Marvel’s New Universe, which had its moments in its later years. Through record store cutout bins, I was exposed to Joe Jackson, one of my favorite musicians to this day.
I won’t complain about the modern world. I love deliveries from Amazon. I get my comics from a mail order company, DCBS, at fabulous discounts. I get great customer service from these companies and others. But I do miss the thrill of the chase for the obscure, the surge of happiness when you found that comic, that CD, that old book… but alas, the thrill is gone.
Johanna Draper Carlson goes through the dross of January’s Previews catalog to find the graphic novel gems.
Saccharin’s mostly sweet following- a great article in the LA Times about the primary sweetener in Sweet and Low. (I also highly recommend Sweet and Low: A Family History by Rich Cohen.