Standing in the Shadow of iTunes

Three upstart local online music stores aim for their own niche markets

"Digital is not replacing physical sales but supplementing and stimulating them," Prescott says. "Right now people still want a tangible item. But how long this will last is anyone's guess as a new generation of digi-kids places less importance" on CDs and wax. Some might say it's already happening, as jocks rock laptops instead of hauling vinyl. Programs like Serato Scratch instantly transfer digital files from one's laptop to specialized records that are played on standard turntables.

The real goal of small online stores, then, might be to combine the digital with the tangible. "I think the best way would be to package content, selection, and special offers into a unique subscription service," says Wishnow. "That said, we're gonna start selling digital albums (not singles) this year, because we think that's the format that still prevails in the indie world. Simultaneously, we're gonna work on a new type of subscription that might include digital downloads, CDs, LPs, and other music-related products."

Tight Tunes, meanwhile, will soon allow artists to post videos and sell them. "We are trying to make the website more interactive by allowing listeners to post feedback on an artist's page," says Warren. "We are also giving artists more control by letting them price their MP3s. Our goal is to translate the website into as many languages as possible to appeal to international audiences and users."

illustration: Dan Santat

But can these guys afford to eat? No one at Tight Tunes has given up his day job. "The website has done OK," says Warren. "We are steadily adding new artists and are receiving a good amount of traffic from all over the world." There goes your local indie record shop, into the far reaches of the globe, searching for a niche and some cash.

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