Retailers face the music at annual NARM confab

ORLANDO, Fla. — Have music industry retailers seen the future, and concluded that there is no immediate end in sight to flat record sales?

Little else could account for the long faces Sunday among many of the attendees at the opening of the 39th annual National Assn. of Recording Merchandisers convention, the industry’s annual confab designed to give wholesalers and retailers a peek at upcoming artist releases.Or perhaps the continuing prospect of too many stores chasing too few consumers — many of whom are avoiding the retail experience in growing numbers by using direct mail, the Internet or shopping channels to purchase their music product — has retailers wondering what it will take to increase the fortunes of the $12 billion domestic music business.

The music industry is coming off the second of two of the weakest years since 1983, with sales growing less than 2% and a record number of retailer bankruptcies and store closings.

Unlike previous confabs, where the music took center stage, the tunes are likely to take a backseat to discussions solving retailer woes.

Convention panels will tackle issues such as creating customer loyalty, bringing retailing into the 21st century, and recognizing areas with the largest growth potential — whether it be digital videodisc or Latin music — and properly exploiting them.

A panel on the future of DVD, as it applies to the music retailer, is expected to be heavily attended today. Many retailers are hoping that the tiny disc will help spike sales in the coming years, mirroring the introduction of the CD in 1981.

Keynote speaker Barry Gibbons, chairman of Spec’s Music, was supposed to kick off the confab during the opening session Sunday with an articulation of what the business needs to survive over the next five to 10 years.

But airline delays forced his cancellation, and confab attendees were instead treated to extended performances by Alison Krauss & Union Station and Collective Soul, the latter delivering a galvanizing performance of old and new tracks, most notably “Precious Declaration,” the first single off its upcoming Atlantic Records disc “Disciplined Breakdown.”

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