Sunday, February 18, 2007

Something Good Is Brewing Here

I have seen the future of the CD store, and it is good.

It started out as, of all things, a restroom stop. I had been to the (fairly) new Hear Music/Starbucks outlet on the Riverwalk a few nights before, and I'd noticed that they sold quite a lot more CD's than the average Starbucks; I'd also noticed the listening stations scattered throughout the place. But it was near closing time (as a song with that exact title played on the PA), and I hadn't had a chance to check out the upstairs, where I had assumed that the jazz section was located. But tonight, having traversed the Riverwalk and needing a pit stop, we figured that we could kill two birds with one stone: find relief and find the jazz section, both of which were likely upstairs.

We stayed in there for the next two hours.

We found out that the hybrid music store/Starbucks concept is still very new; it's only been rolled out in three other locations besides San Antonio (the other ones are in California, Florida and Washington state). While a few stores in Seattle and Austin have burning bars (I'd seen one in Round Rock before), these are the only places so far that combine all three areas--burning bar, retail CD store and full-service Starbucks.

I was impressed with the fact that the CD's were reasonably-priced; I rarely saw a single CD over fifteen bucks. And while the jazz selection could have been larger, the extensive database of the listening stations more than compensated for it. I was even more impressed to learn that it's possible to make your own mix CD's out of anything in the store, at a cost of $8.99 for a CD with up to eight songs (it's 99 cents per song for anything above that). They also allow you to burn entire CD's for a very reasonable price (mine averaged out to $11.99 for a single CD). The process is simple: You decide what CD you want to burn, place your order, and it burns downstairs at the burn bar (located conveniently right next to the coffee bar). Each order is given a name (the names come from famous musical artists and are assigned in alphabetical order; for example, my three were MARVIN-1, MOBY-1 and MONK-1), and its status is listed on a series of screens located throughout the store.

Sure, it's not exactly like getting an original CD, but it is given a professional-grade jewel box and outer sleeve with the title, song listings and a facsmilie of the original cover art. The sound quality is equal to any commercially-produced CD, and in some cases, the price is considerably less than the original import CD would have been (for example, I got a double Kenny Wheeler album for four bucks cheaper than Amazon, which was itself cheaper than anyplace else I'd ever seen it.)

As a jazzer, I'd love to see one more thing added to this idea: LIner notes, or at the very least a list of personnel on the album. (Unlike many other genres, knowing the sidemen on a recording is often as important as knowing the leader.) I'm sure there would need to be a way to keep the printing down while doing this, though one of my friends suggested that maybe the liner notes could themselves be burned onto the CD in .pdf form or something. Still, I'm sure that the costs are kept down by not having to have every CD in the database in the store's physical inventory.

I've read articles in the past about the day when most CD's would be produced on-demand like this, and--at least for these four locations--that day has arrived. Other music retaliers should indeed be nervous, because not only does this concept appear to be a winner, but the same store already has a great cup of coffee. I'm not sure when this might expand to Dallas, but I hope it's soon. And while I'm sure that they wouldn't choose my beloved nearby Firewheel to bring this concept to the Metroplex, I can make a few good suggestions of where they could thrive.

Thought for the day: Schools should take off Presidents' Day just like other governmental agencies do. I enjoyed the holiday we had two weeks ago, but tomorrow would have been nice too. I'll be back to regular posts if I'm still awake by the time I get home tomorrow night.

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