The current top album on the Billboard 200, 50 Cent's Get Rich or Die Tryin', is priced at $13.99 on www.bestbuy.com - add $7 more for next-day delivery, or $3 for second-day. A consumer
Instant Live launched in February at the Paradise Rock Club in Boston. Instant Live CDs of concerts featuring Machinery Hall, Hybrasil, 2 Skinnee J's, Jen Durkin & the Bomb Squad, Spookie Daly Pride (pictured above), and Sean Kelly & the Samples are exclusively available at Boston-area Best Buy stores, and online at www.bestbuy.com.
can also settle for three- to 10-day ground delivery, or opt to pick up the product from a local Best Buy retailer, with no shipping surcharges. Or he can simply download the album from a file-sharing service and burn it to disc in minutes - without spending a dime or stepping foot away from his computer. Internet downloading is like a gift from a friend.

"Internet downloading is wrecking the traditional music business model," says local businessman Chris Fisher, who recently closed his record and CD shop, Underground Sound. "As a store owner, it sucks. How do you convince a customer to buy a CD for $16 when they can download it for free?"

The answer is simple: You don't. You dress it up, you dangle it in front of prospective buyers, and you hope for the best. According to Forrester Research, Inc., a leading emerging-technology research firm based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, that is all major record labels and their distributors need. "Based on surveys of 1,000 online consumers, we see no evidence of decreased CD buying among frequent digital music consumers," said Josh Bernoff, principal analyst at Forrester, in a recent press release. Forrester reports that 31 percent of consumers download music and burn CDs often, and these same frequent digital users buy 36 percent of all CDs. "Plenty of other causes are viable, including the economic recession and competition from surging video game and DVD sales. But labels will soon discover that there are several simple ways of satisfying today's sophisticated digital music consumers."

One of these "simple" solutions lies in sanctioned file-sharing, a strategy that Best Buy, together with Tower Records, Virgin Entertainment Group, Wherehouse Music, Hastings Entertainment, and Trans World Entertainment, are implementing through Echo, a consumer-oriented downloading site similar to subscription-based Listen.com, which has licensing agreements with all five music publishers, as well as 110 independent labels. "There is a whole generation of kids who are saying, 'Only a sucker would pay for music,'" says Fisher. "How do you change that? What we're seeing in the music business right now is a complete shift in the model. The record business as we know it now will never be that way again." On April 30, Fisher closed his eight-year-old business, Underground Sound, which exclusively carried dance and electronic music - 80 percent vinyl, 20 percent CDs. Fisher looks to social, political, and economic problems to explain his business' struggle. "The cool thing about vinyl is that you can't download it," says Fisher. "Record sales were doing

With the onset of Internet downloading, I think that electronic music took it on the chin first, but no music is really immune to this phenomena.
— Chris Fisher, former local record shop owner
well even when CD sales were declining. But with the crackdown by authorities on electronic music events, DJs weren't playing shows, they weren't buying records, they weren't buying CDs." The music was affected on every level, from labels to distributors to the local scene. "With the onset of Internet downloading, I think that electronic music took it on the chin first," says Fisher. "But no music is really immune to this phenomena."

Nor are mom-and-pop music stores or large distribution chains. Wherehouse Music recently closed 190 of its "underperforming" stores, including two in San Antonio, filing for reorganization under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code; the company's remaining 180 stores will be restructured "to create a more interactive environment for customers, such as remodeling the stores, increasing availability of music listening, and installing interactive kiosks." Tower Records and Best Buy are undertaking similar restructuring, with Best Buy additionally teaming up with media mogul Clear Channel Communications to sell Instant Live CDs. In early May, Clear Channel introduced its Instant Live program in Boston, where the company recorded select concerts and sold the burned discs immediately after the show. The same-night CDs are also available at Boston-area Best Buy stores, and on the company Web site. Later this year, there will be a "national rollout" of Instant Live CD recordings of independent or unsigned bands. Major label acts aren't expected to participate in what is essentially a well-intentioned bootleg, although Clear Channel has partnered with a licensing company to avoid copyright issues.

But won't Instant Live CDs succumb to the same file-sharing fate as any other album? While Best Buy is looking to boost its CD sales, Clear Channel is simply looking to bring more revenue to its live music events; an Instant Live CD is just another $15 souvenir. As far as free music downloads taking down the entire record industry, Fisher offers an explanation, "At the end of the day, a CD shop is just an entertainment business. When money gets tight, the first thing people cut back on is entertainment. We are the first to feel a recession, and the last to get out of it." •

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