Someone’s Opening A Record Store

Could this work in America?

Photo by Matthew Yglesias

On my recent trip to Hong Kong I saw a fascinating business in the Pacific Place Mall. It was kind of like a music store, except it was a physical shop. Instead of searching for the songs or collections you wanted, you would browse physically through their inventory. They stocked digital music files the same as any music store, but the files were encoded on optical disks that you could use to transfer the files to your computer. They also had a certain amount of what initially looked like large-format optical discs but were actually a kind of analog music storage format that could be used with specialized equipment.

The whole thing struck me as wonderfully innovative. Another respect—like high-speed trains—in which Asian technology has advanced beyond the frontier of what we have in the United States.

The good news is that this business model is in fact coming to America with the imminent opening of a large Rough Trade store in Williamsburg. An intriguing angle to this Brooklyn venture is that they aren’t going to try to simply offer a meatspace music-purchasing experience. Instead the idea is to usefully bundle the music sales with certain other business lines—coffee sales and live music performances—that can’t really be offered in traditional web-based music stores. It seems unlikely to turn into a $4 billion business like Spotify, but with music stores as we know them increasingly under pressure from streaming services these brick-and-mortar outlets on the Asian model might be the future of music retailing.