Sunday, July 11, 2004

CORRECTIONS, CLARIFICATIONS, AND ON-GOING DEBATES: Quite a while ago now, we wrote something about Cornershop gleefully re-recording a song for Target, which we thought was curious line of action for a band: Target helping to undermine the economics of small record shops by selling a few titles at such wafer-thin margins the independents can't compete on their bread and butter titles, and wind up going out of business; and for Target's enthusiastic embrace of the Parental Advisory label. In our original post, we even suggested that Target had a policy of not stocking CDs with stickers on them.

Lady Interference responded, suggesting our objections were wrong on two counts:

You'd slagged Cornershop for re-recording one of their songs for an ad
campaign for Target, stating that they were "happily working with one of the
mass-marketers of music, a store who sells CDs as loss leaders like
Christmas Candy or toothpaste". Well, Target does sell a small selection of
CDs at an amazingly low price, but thank God they do that, because it allows
those people who wish to purchase the latest The Darkness, Yeah Yeah Yeahs,
or Polyphonic Spree (among other selections) to pick them up for less than
what a regular music store would sell an older title. I do suppose this is
one of those matters that will perpetually be up for contention, but really,
I do highly appreciate places such as Target, who allow for such low pricing
so that I don't go broke trying to keep up with what's hot in music.

What followed close behind, though, was a huge shocker. You claimed that
Target is "a store which has helped squeeze freedom of expression in the
music world, by embracing the Parental Advisory label system to such an
extent that they won't stock CDs that carry them, leading some bands to have
to bowlderise their own words or face being locked out of the market
altogether". This is a huge sign to me that you did not do your homework
before typing this out, or that if you did, it had been completed in a
shamefully sloppy manner. Target has never refused to stock CDs with
"Parental Advisory" stickers displayed in their packaging, nor has it
pressured bands to "bowlderise their own words or face being locked out of
the market altogether". You must be confusing Target, which is a superstore
chain, with Wal-Mart, which is the main competing superstore chain.
Wal-Mart is the chain that demands the edits or else; Target has never had a
problem with stocking unedited CDs.

I do shop at both Target and Wal-Mart and I have noticed that Target's
selection of CDs, while still rather tiny, is a lot better than Wal-Mart's
selection, which essentially panders to the teenypopper segment of the
population that eagerly awaits the latest Olsen Twins movie and the teenys'
graying middle-aged fathers, who might be secretly lusting after the Olsen
Twins in 3 - 5 years' time. I kid you not. I adore Wal-Mart, sure, but
only for getting kitchen gadgets, groceries, pet food, and comfy cotton
nightshirts. If I want to get mainstream music of today, I go to Target,
and if I want anything else, I either rely upon the Internet to track down
whatever I want to get or go to a second-hand CD store. There are no
regular music stores where I live (San Antonio) -- the last ones that
existed here, Wherehouse Music and Sam Goody, folded a couple of years ago,
so if we want music, we either have to go to a Target or Wal-Mart-like
superstore (the Best Buy superstores, which carry electronics, computer
equipment and supplies, and appliances, are also great for getting newer
releases) or rely upon second-hand stores that might also stock something
else such as second-hand books. In fact, the local chain of second-hand CD
stores called CD Exchange are the only stores in the area that concentrate
on just music.

Now, we've been sitting on this response for a while, because we wanted to see if Target would actually respond to our requests for a clarification of their policy on stickered product. They never got back, so we decided to ask someone who'd be well judged to place - Eric Nuzum, pretty much the go-to guy for an expert opinion on music censorship in the states. He confirmed the good Lady's claim:

I have heard, on several occasions, that Target only stocked clean titles. However, as someone who is often in Target and has a habit of checking out these things--there is no truth to it.

There is a warning in their stores that stickered CDs may not be appropriate for everyone, but I don't recall even seeing "clean" versions of CDs offered as alternative.

In other words, Target's nose is clean. Or at least clean now

Which would seem to be enough for us to give Target a partial apology; judging these things from a distance is kind of tricky and we'd assumed from Target's enthusiastic purging of their shelves during the Tipper Gore era (weren't they the chain who refused to stock a wide cross-section of rock magazines because of 'obscenity'?) they'd still be pretty keen on keeping their shelves clean. We're lucky if we can get to shop in a Target once a year, and we'd not seen much evidence of stickered records on sale on our pilgrimages. The people who we'd spoken to about this suggested they hadn't noticed much of the dirty versions of CDs in the stores, either, but it does seem that you can get sweary records in Target, and we'd happily fess up to being surprised and impressed.

However, we're standing firm on the running other record shops out of business charge: Indeed, Lady, the very reason you've got nowhere else to buy your CDs in a large place like San Antonio is exactly because the big chains cherry-pick titles like The Darkness and flog them at a low price that stand alone stores can't compete with. Not only would the indies have been losing the sale of the Darkness album, they'd be losing the extra stuff you might have picked up while you were in the store to buy the Darkness. Of course, it's not just the record stores Target and Wal-Mart are picking off: it's Nails and Pails, and shoeshops, and pharmacies and dozens of independent traders in all sorts of fields. (In the UK, Tesco is now going after the white goods market, which bodes ill for those few highstreet electrical retailers who've held on against the onslaught of Comet and Dixons.)

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