The Death of Borders and the Future of Classical Retail

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The demise of Borders, America's second largest book retailer, and the U.S. launch of the online music service Spotify signaled the latest turning point in the way people buy recorded music.

For classical music fans, this double whammy signaled that online retailers are now the main option for buying recordings. But how do the various Internet services stack up in key areas like sound quality, pricing and the ability to discover and access recordings? Do we miss the opinionated record store clerk who could direct you to a favorite CD? In short: is the classical fan better or worse off?

In this podcast, Jeff Spurgeon poses the question to three guests: Anastasia Tsioulcas, a writer at NPR Music; Jean Cook, the director of programs at the Future of Music Coalition, an advocacy group for musicians; and Andy Doe, the chief operating officer at Naxos records and former head of classical music at iTunes.

Weigh in: Where do you go to buy music? What are your experiences with download services? Are there still shops that you frequent? Share your comments below:

Podcast producer: Brian Wise; Engineer: Bill O'Neil


More in:

Comments [7]


I want to buy Music from wqxr. How shall i proceed????

Sep. 23 2011 12:40 PM
Al Luna from Bronx, NY

I have 4 versions of Brahms Piano Concertos. Thanks to music services, I will only buy the one version I like from now on. So in my case, I sample online, then go to J&R (NYC) and buy the CD. Because if I shell out money for music, I better get a round disc with an insert or booklet in return, meaning, something physical. I don't mind going out for a walk either.

Aug. 02 2011 12:00 PM
Rance Moest from 08033

Anastasia Tsioulcas' condescension shines through.

"Fussy" huh?

"Normal listeners"?

"320k is more than enough"

"most people don't listen with equipment that would show the difference" How do you know that? Getting a job at a radio station gives you access to a crystal ball?

Jul. 29 2011 05:20 PM
Ed Makowski from Salt Lake City, Utah

Back in the 1970's, I was the classical music "expert" at an now defunct record store on Long Island. I am a classical music "collector". I can get all the new releases I want, from my part time postiton at Barnes & Noble. I have to order in the CD's I want to buy, because the classical selections in the store amount to nothing more than budget CD's from the 60's through the 90's. I buy many used CD's of out of print recordings. Academy Music in New York, and Amoeba Music in Hollywood, Ca. are two of many stores I shop at when I travel. I only download if the recording I want is not available as a CD. Itunes is a reliable site. After the "death" of classical new releases in the early part of the decade of 2000, it seems that there are more new releases than I can keep up with.

Jul. 29 2011 04:25 PM
David from Flushing

All retailers note with some care how much shelf space is devoted to specific items and what the turnover is for these. Items with poor sales get less space or none at all. I recently discovered that the B & N on Union Square recently eliminated all of their art books.

As we all know, classical music is declining in demand as audiences disappear. There is also the question of how many versions of the same piece one wants.

Online purchases be they CDs or downloads are clearly the future. I suspect that downloads may deprive orchestras of the recording income they formerly enjoyed and further their financial distress.

Jul. 29 2011 03:26 PM
GCL from Astoria Queens

I agree!
I only buy music from iTunes, if and only if there is a good reason. Much of my collection was bought buy me earlier, and some were gifts.

For example WQXR has in its collection a cello concerto by Elgar and played most excellently by Jacqueline Du Pre, and as it happens an equally well known orchestra. It turns out that's also my copy.

All of my purchases from Borders were always books, a few DVDs but largely books. Strangely enough Barnes and Noble guys view them the same way we feel about time and people we know.....

Jul. 29 2011 01:26 PM
Les Bernstein from Miami, Florida

This topic is a fascinating one and the guests of Jeff Spurgeon were very informed and thought-provoking. Being of the Medicare-eligible generation, I miss the interaction with favorite shop clerks-owners who have their favorite recordings and performers, as do we all. I also miss buying lp's. One thing not mentioned in the podcast is the fact that one is constrained to pay the price of whichever box store one goes to, whereas greater coice is given via buying on Internet websites. I've downloaded only once; and that is because the piece I was interested in lasts some 6 minutes and it was a topic of analysis as mentioned in an "A Conductor's Interpretive Analysis of Masterpieces for Band," a manual for conductors and interested laymen by Frederick Fennell. Other than that, all recordings that I have are vinyl, C.D.'s, or DVD's; and I prefer buying C.D.'s and DVD's. One idea I have that might provide a substitute for the opinioned clerk/owner is to have some knowledgeable people make short comments available by the "to buy button" for each work being sold, be they the performer(s) (sort of a verbal "song-plugging" as in Gershwin's day.) One other thing that wasn't mentioned is that the losers in the buying online era are those who aren't computer-literate N friend in my mother's generation is, yet obviously they have the longest memories of concert-going and opera-going experiences. This is the first I've heard of "Spotify." I'm thinking how amazed and delighted Glenn Gould would have reacted! I recall in the "Glenn Gould: Concert Dropout: In Conversation with John McClure on Columbia Records, that he said he favored "the kit concept"; and that he would like listeners to put together their own performances from movements at different tempos, etc. I'm wondering if with "Spotify," I could put together an "ideal" "Eroica" Symphony. I'd choose the V-J Day performance with Toscanini and the NBC Symphony Orchestra for the First Movement for the drive and "fire,", "Furtwa"ngler's recording with the Vienna Philharmonic in 1954 for the Second Movement, especially for the "growling" contrabasses, Weingartner's 1936 perfrormance with the Vienna Philharmonic for the playing of that history-making horn trio and Erich Kleiber and the NBC Symphony for the Fourth Movement, again for the horns starting 15 bars before the Coda to the end of the movement. Either that or Bernstein's and the Vienna Philharmonic in their 1978 recording, for the same reason.

Jul. 29 2011 10:30 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

The WQXR e-newsletter. Show highlights, links to music news, on-demand concerts, events from The Greene Space and more.

Follow WQXR 







About Conducting Business

WQXR looks deeper into the issues affecting the classical music landscape. 

Conducting Business is hosted by Naomi Lewin and produced by Brian Wise.

subscribe to Conducting Business

Listen to Stitcher