One can hardly find a better symbol of the music industry's crossover from physical CDs to digital downloads than the intersection of San Francisco's Stockton and Market streets.
On one corner sits a Virgin Megastore, once an icon of hipness and high-end music tastes. Now it looks more like a schlock discounter. Signs blare from the facade: "Store Closing" and "Up to 40 percent off."
Just across Stockton is a stainless-steel storefront uncluttered by text. Only a single Apple logo glows from the metal and the overall feeling created is of permanence and futuristic technology. Arguably, Apple has done more than any other company to advance digital music, which has driven the CD into obsolescence and retailers like Sam Goody, Tower Records, and Virgin Megastores out of business.
Virgin will close the last six U.S. retail locations over the next several months. There were once more than 20 stores based in this country.
Truth be told, Virgin ceased being a player in the music category a long time ago, said my music industry sources. The company had begun concentrating on DVD and other merchandise sales awhile ago, said one source.
How bad have things gotten at Virgin? On Sunday, while the San Francisco location was attracting shoppers, many of them were leaving empty-handed. Apparently 40 percent off isn't enough to get some shoppers to buy.
Cameron Conway, 21, and his fiancee, Nici Rodich, 43, didn't buy and neither of them felt much remorse at the loss of record stores, they said.
"We were in the area and came in to see if there was anything we wanted," Conway, an unemployed student said. "There wasn't."
Rodich, of Novato, Calif., said she remembers how important to our culture albums were years ago but said, "You can't stand in the way of progress. I'm a court reporter and I've learned that when it comes to technology you've got to move forward or fall by the wayside."
Even Adrian Gomez, 23, a Virgin Megastore employee, says he buys much of his music online and understands why consumers are going digital. Still he says, the crossover will mean he will lose his job, along with hundreds of other store employees.
"I understand why people buy online," Gomez said. "It's easier and we're a lazy culture. But I'm an artist and I'm going to miss album artwork. It's sad."