The news announcing the closing of Fat Beats' retail stores in L.A. and NYC was made official yesterday. I can't say that I'm terribly surprised by the news, but I am saddened to hear that a symbol of vinyl and hip hop culture will be no more. I was actually at Fat Beats two weeks ago and remember saying to myself while inside the store, that there simply isn't anything for me to buy here. Not that they didn't have any quality music in the store, it was simply that anything worth buying in the store, I already had. While in the store, I also remember thinking to myself that I didn't understand how a retail store like this (even Fat Beats) stays in business. I thought that either there are a lot of younger cats buying music that I'm simply not feelin', or not aware of, or this store won't last much longer.
Well, now we know which conclusion was correct. Though Fat Beats will now tweak its business model to become an exclusively online retailer and record distributor, I don't see Fat Beats or more successful online retailers like UGHH lasting that much longer in their current form and business model. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe there is some market that online vinyl providers cater to that I am not aware of. With that said, I believe there are two HUGE factors working against your favorite vinyl outlet (online or not). First, we are all buying less music. Less music sales means that there is a shrinking pie for all of our music providers to operate within. Second, the digital vinyl revolution has virtually wiped-out the loyal client base that was once the heart and soul of all of our favorite music shops, deejays. I just don't picture stores like Fat Beats or Undergroundhiphop.com surviving without hip hop deejays continuing to frequently buy vinyl.
That is where we currently stand. I don't think anybody really knows what to do in this new world. I'm sure if someone had the answer(s) it would have been implemented by now. All I know is that the current iTunes downloading status quo is simply unacceptable. You can't blame someone for opting to download a song for 99 cents (or free for that matter) instead of paying $6-8 for vinyl if that same somebody can ultimately do the same with the song (manipulate the music on his turntable) regardless of how it was purchased. It is also unreasonable and unrealistic to expect someone to pay $6-8 for a piece of 12" vinyl instead of 99 cents simply because they want to be loyal to a particular record store. Simply put, music consumers (specifically, deejays in this case) won't purchase vinyl unless there is a reasonable economic incentive to do so. That doesn't make the current music consuming climate right, nor does it make the closing of Fat Beats any less sad, but it does help explain why things are how they currently are. We see similar conundrums facing the industries of news, television, publishing, and movies, to name a few. Ultimately, we know that all of these business interests will figure out a way to adapt, survive, and advance. However, things will be different because they already are. That is why it's a little sad.
When I last visited Fat Beats two weeks ago I didn't go because I was looking to buy anything in particular. I went because I wanted to go. I wanted to be at Fat Beats and inhale the scent of incense, weed smoke, old vinyl, and poor ventilation. I wanted to see the walls covered with classic hip hop posters and vinyl covers. I wanted to overhear the clerks talking to one another about recent shows and overhear things you can't read on blogs. I went because there might be something there that I couldn't see, hear, or buy elsewhere. I went because I wanted to feel a little more "hip hop." After September, I won't be able to do that anymore.