Industry survey dismisses net, pans retailers

ORLANDO, Fla. — MTV appears to be surprisingly irrelevant to consumers in a record industry survey, and most record stores were considered intimidating, confusing and inhospitable.

Those were among views expressed by respondents to a national survey conducted jointly by the National Assn. of Recording Merchandisers and the Recording Industry Assn. of America and released at the closing session of the 39th annual NARM confab.

The findings from eight focus groups, taken in San Diego, Fort Lee, N.J., Chicago and Philadelphia, were released Tuesday and will be studied by a joint RIAA/NARM task force as part of a move to create an industrywide promo-tional effort to tout the virtues of recorded music, much in the way the Milk Advisory Board promotes milk.

“The goal of this effort is straightforward: We want to grow the market for music in a quantifiable and sustainable way,” said Hilary Rosen, prexy-COO of the RIAA. “To achieve that goal, we must learn more about recorded mu-sic consumers. This is not about quick fixes.”

Evolving tastes

The respondents, in age groups of 14-17, 18-21, 22-29 and 30-45, noted that while music continues to play an important part in their lives, their primary reason for purchasing CDs and cassettes changes as they get older.

When young, consumers use music to define their identity and to reinforce their social standing, the study said. As they age, consumers’ music use shifts from identity to enjoyment, such as background music for relaxation.

But the study’s most telling remarks included respondents across all age groups stating that packaging adds little value to prerecorded music, and trips to the record store were considered a chore.

“Boy do I get nervous when my customers equate my livelihood with taking out the garbage or picking up the dry-cleaning,” said Barney Cohen, NARM confab chairman and chief of Valley Record Distributors.

The survey also indicated that the retail experience was consistently a negative one, and that store employees were often “intimidating and/or rude.”

Minimal contact

As a result, consumers said they spent as little time in music retailers as possible or purchase music from mass merchants, such as WalMart of Kmart.

MTV was also considered irrelevant by respondents across all demographics and perceived it as just another enter-tainment outlet on cable — such as CNN or the Disney Channel — rather than a music-oriented cable channel.

Survey respondents also felt that $15 was a fair price for a CD, as long as it was high quality, but felt that too often artists are putting out “quality songs, not quality albums.”

“I think it’s time for the music industry to get back to the fundamentals of making records that are great from front to back,” Cohen said.

The closing session also featured a performance from former teen-queen Deborah Gibson, who previewed songs from her self-titled album to be released on her independently distributed Espiritu Records.

America Online Networks chief Robert Pittman closed the session by offering little new in a well-planned primer on how the Internet will affect the record business and how AOL perceives the future of the online industry.

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