Wednesday, October 11, 2006

A footnote to the loss of a Sacramento Icon

Tower Records was sold, culminating a long process of failure. Tower was an icon for Sacramento, it was started here before spreading around the world. At its height Tower was in many cities, including Tokyo and Mexico City and sold books and records and dvds in huge numbers. It got beaten down in two ways. First, the market for what it sold changed (read Amazon and iTunes) but second it had some lousy management after Russ Solomon stepped down. At its height it was an impressive brand. Normally, and in the founding location, it had a bookstore with thousands of titles (well arranged) and a music store. Most locations also had a ticketmaster location. When VHS came in they started a video rental business which also sold VHS and eventually DVDs. Each of its core businesses were transformed both by changes in the physical markets (think Barnes and Noble or Borders) and virtual ones (Amazon and iTunes). For whatever reason, Tower could not evolve as each of their businesses were evolving.

But here is the footnote. About 25 years ago, Tower tried a product which was quite innovative. It allowed you to access a computer terminal and build your own cassette (that gives you the age right there) of songs from a pretty large catalogue of a wide range of music. You had the ability to sample the records and then transfer them to a tape. The pricing, if I remember it correctly, was in the range of 99¢ per cut and you could transfer up to about 20 songs per tape. It stayed in the stores for about six months and then disappeared.

At the time I thought it was a great idea - being able to select your own music. This was before CDs and so as the technology changed, it would have had to migrate a bit. But for whatever reason, this predecessor to iTunes, with a similar pricing scheme, did not catch on.

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