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NP: The sons of Sam

Since I don't live in Toronto, I had a moment of utter confusion when I saw the first few variations on the headline "Sam the Record Man to close legendary Toronto store" on Wednesday. "Wait a second," I thought to myself. "Didn't I write that same article six years ago?"

I did, and in Friday morning's National Post, I've written it again, looking at just how little has changed for the fate of the music industry since 2001. Chiseling a tombstone for record retailing took me back to a time when, if you lived in a second-tier city like Edmonton, you really needed a peer group in order to build up a record collection. You simply weren't going to complete the entire back catalogue of a band unless you had a few guys swapping sightings and maybe some friendly clerks keeping an eye out for you. "Larks' Tongues in Aspic just came in at the A&B! I'll start the car."


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Comments (6)

Enjoyed the Post article. I think you really nailed it in the last graf.

About 25 years ago I worked at a (short-lived) Sam's in Truro, NS. There were 4 of us, counting the franchise owner/manager, and believe me, we knew our stuff. My own specialty (then!) was British rock, but I can remember busting my ass to keep up with everything from Nana Mouskouri to Butthole Surfers. Respect your geeks/otaku!

Great article. I only wish you had included your take on recent developments between our federal government and the Governator on "media piracy." It looks like Hollywood is going to be successful at blaming Canadians on this issue, rather than blaming their outdated business models.


A CD store with an expansive stock was always a great dream but with iconic stores like Sam and the Tower at Lincoln Center, it's time to give up the dream. There's more online than there ever was at the best store and it's easier than ever to browse online.

I won't miss the bad service. I have a dim memory of the late 70s/early 80s which is when the knowledgeable record store guy began to go extinct. My most vivid memory of modern record store guys is of someone (an enthusiastic but novice jazz listener) asking a clerk at A&B for a jazz recommendation. "Something with horns", she said. Did the guy recommend some Ellington collection? Louis Armstrong's Hot Five? Maybe some Charlie Parker? Nah, he recommended Herbie Hancock's 1995 rap-infused album "Dis Is Da Drum". This happened years ago and I'm still trying to come up with a worse recommendation...

Here's a question I have no answer to: how does one run a successful private record store in this economy? Even if you want to do all the right things in terms of serving the customer, you have a limited control of your own product. The record companies dictate price so much, I don't know how a private store owner could even begin to make his store work.

Well, that was kind of the point of the column. The record retailers have been the first victims of the revolution but they were perhaps among the least guilty members of the Ancien Régime.

As I've said at other times in various venues (and as I told Breakenridge yesterday), we've all bought recordable CD blanks at retail for less than a dollar apiece, and burned our own CDs and had them work just fine, and that retail price comes with the record industry's own blank-media levy applied to the discs, too. We all have a general sense that pop artists rarely receive more than about a dollar from the sale of a CD. Where the fuck was the rest of our money going all these years? How can anybody even set foot in a record store now without feeling vaguely nauseous?

The same goes for iTunes, doesn't it? What's the overhead of running that site, and putting those songs online? Is 99 cents per song even reasonable? No f***ing way, would be my response.


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