Isaac Brock, Marc Jacobs & The Fine Art Of Selling "Only Shit That I Like".

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Chris Kornelis' post yesterday about record labels and stores got me thinking...

A few years ago, I was chatting with Isaac Brock of Modest Mouse

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Isaac Brock, Marc Jacobs & The Fine Art Of Selling "Only Shit That I Like".

  • Isaac Brock, Marc Jacobs & The Fine Art Of Selling "Only Shit That I Like".

  • ">

    isaac.jpg

    Chris Kornelis' post yesterday about record labels and stores got me thinking...

    A few years ago, I was chatting with Isaac Brock of Modest Mouse on the back deck of his Portland, Oregon home when he began telling me about his idea to open a store.

    "It's more of a miscellaneous junk shop that carries all of the things I like," said Brock. "I wouldn't mind it being three stories. One story I could turn into an apartment, one story to have as a studio/practice space, the bottom floor would be the junk shop and bar. And a restaurant where the only two choices were vegetarian and not."

    But most importantly, Brock said he would also sell records--but only about thirty at a time that came with a guarantee: "It's guaranteed I'll like it. If you don't like it, you're wrong!"

    It was a typical Brock idea, one that he unraveled with his usual child-like enthusiasm. And of course, his store never did open. But as it turns out, the man may have been on to something.

    In the last couple years, two stores have opened in the U.S. that fit the mold Brock hypothesized--Jack White of the White Stripes' Third Man Records in Nashville, TN, and fashion designer Marc Jacobs' Bookmarc in NYC. White's retail outfit comes closer to Brock's in terms of Third Man being not only a record store with a narrow selection befitting of White's overall aesthetic, but also a performance venue, studio, and home office for his operation. But Bookmarc also deserves mention because unlike most bookstores, you won't find the latest releases let alone bestsellers. Instead, you'll find a sparse selection boasting only books that have a Marc Jacobs seal-of-approval--from Mailer's The Naked and the Dead to those oversize fashion and art books that are always hard to find.

    Of course, celebrity is a major force in American commerce--it can sell anything (shit, imagine if Oprah decided to open a store!) But I think both Third Man and Bookmarc are picking up on something consumers are more desperate for than they'd like to admit--brand-name curatorship.

    As Kornelis pointed out in his post yesterday, there is a "tabloid-like fascination" with the so-called demise of record stores. Same goes for bookstores. Appealing to the broadest demographic was one of many nails in the coffins of Tower Records, Virgin Records, and Borders. But consumers form a bond with brand names because they come to trust that the brand stands for a certain set of values. Starbucks and NPR have become two of the major powers in selling music these days. True, their customers/listeners are largely older and have a few extra bucks to spare. But their customers/listeners mostly trust what the brand name is offering because it stands for something they believe in. Starbucks doesn't carry a broad selection--only a handful of CDs at a time. But each one--from Fleet Foxes to Barbara Streisand to Esperanza Spalding--carries a Starbucks stamp-of-approval that customers find reassuring.

    That said, I have to wonder if the key to the indie record stores surviving is to think of themselves more like a record labels--brand names that stand for something (which I would argue our own Easy Street and Silver Platters do to a certain degree). The greatest record labels are mostly just great curators--SST, Sun Records, Def Jam, Sub Pop. You buy/bought records from the label because you trusted the label to sell you music of a specific aesthetic. Music listeners and consumers are overwhelmed by the amount of music on the Internet. True, the Internet promised to make us the curators (damn those labels for telling us what music to like all those years!) But the truth is, most people still have no idea what they like. But they do know they like Starbucks, so this She & Him Christmas album in front of the cash register they're selling is probably pretty good, right?

    Similarly, Isaac Brock knows what he likes. So do Jack White and Marc Jacobs. Sure, Isaac and Jack White and Marc Jacobs would only try to sell you "shit that they like". But if you like Modest Mouse or the White Stripes or Marc Jacobs, it stands to reason that you'll like what they're trying to sell you in their stores...right? Curatorship might be more crucial today than some would like to think.

     
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