Goodbye, ear X-tacy

When I moved to Louisville from Murray, Kentucky in 1995, ear X-tacy was the place where you went to get your music. Period. With thousands of square feet situated in just the right spot on Bardstown Road, it served as a magnet for music evangelists, eager newbies and local bands vying for attention and a small share of Louisvillians’ music budgets. I’m almost ashamed to admit how much of my current musical tastes I first discovered in that store. Their trademark bumper stickers found their way onto instrument cases and served as a clear declaration that you liked music and you were from Louisville.

Like so many iconic record stores, ear X-tacy recently closed its doors. As part of a series entitled “Hard Times: A Journey Across America,” NPR reporter Debbie Elliott talks with ear X-tacy owner John Timmons. They tell the same story: It was the economy! Unfortunately, while the recession has taken its toll, the tale of the beleaguered local record store as told by NPR gets it just about completely wrong.

I have a less controversial claim: It was the creative destruction! Compact disc sales have bottomed out in the last decade, replaced largely with digital sales at places like iTunes. The only real bright spot of the physical product called music is the long play record, but LPs represent only a tiny fraction of music sales today. The consumer has spoken. Audiophiles are reverting to (or sticking with) LPs. Everyone else has gone digital. NPR’s story makes only passing reference to competitive pressure from digital sales.

I’m sad to see ear X-tacy go, but I have a wider variety of music available in seconds than ear X-tacy could provide with vastly more floor space and another million dollars in inventory. I doubt many of ear X-tacy’s departed customers would switch back to the slow, labor-intensive mid-1990s model of music distribution. There’s ample evidence that they’re plenty pleased with their choice.

Timmons rightly identifies strongly with the store he built that delivered so much value to customers like me. He should be proud. But blaming the economy for an obvious, decade-long trend is a bit like the local ice delivery man faulting the economy when his customers merely switched to Frigidaires.