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Living in a Wal-Mart World Is No Cause for Celebration

1 Dec, 2004 By: Jessica Wolf

I'm very disappointed that the Video Software Dealers Association (VSDA) and the National Association of Recording Merchandisers (NARM) couldn't get it together, although it's not entirely an unexpected development.

I heard a lot of interest in the merger from so many indie retailers on both sides, even on a basic logistical level.

It would be much easier and more cost-effective for a small-business owner to visit just one trade show each year, one music retailer told me. The idea of a collocated trade show alone was reason enough to look into a merger, he said, let alone the appealing idea of the joint legislative strength of a merged trade body.

However, for all the positive comments I heard from small retailers over the past few months, there was plenty of skepticism, too. No one was utterly confident that the bureaucratic levels of the two organizations would be able to get it together and hammer out a result that would be satisfactory to all the executives involved.

And it looks like the skepticism was right on.

Now I'm certainly not privy to what exactly went on in the defunct-for-now merger discussions, but I have my theory. I think both organizations likely overestimated their worth. Probably members of each group, to some degree, felt they were doing the other a favor in contemplating a merger. Now I could be wrong on that front, but it's not too farfetched of a thought. It happens all the time in business — and, heck, even in personal relationships.

At any rate, it's the independent retailers in both organizations who are losing out. Just how much they are losing out on remains to be seen. Who knows if a joint trade group would have been that much more beneficial? I think it would have been worth a shot to find out, and it likely wouldn't have hurt the membership the groups represent.

Call me crazy, but I'd like to see the preservation of small chains and indie stores. Sure, you may be able to save some money by shopping at Wal-Mart for certain things, but it's an awfully sterile existence. The retail market for any goods needs color, needs flavor, and needs diversity, I believe.

Another disappointment for me of late is the DualDisc. I had such high hopes for this product. The retailers seemed excited about it, the record labels were excited about it, and I really think it's something music consumers could get really excited about too, given the opportunity. And now one hardware manufacturer after another is warning consumers away from the disc because of potential CD playback issues — issues that were supposedly hammered out in extensive testing before the product launch.

It's all very demoralizing. The status quo just shouldn't be good enough. If we're not striving for change or further development, then everything stagnates; everything starts to look the same.

I don't think that's the kind of thinking that makes musicians or filmmakers want to create. It's a vicious circle.

It looks like it truly is a Wal-Mart world, and that makes me more than a little sad.

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