An early thought, learning from record stores
I posted the following to SIGIA-L in November 2001 (Ed. This piece was originally published at cityofsound.com on January 3, 2002.)
a) Perhaps music genres are really only any use as an ‘introductory handshake’; a starting point in the conversation … as an initial contact point to enable users to do a ‘first pass’ over the music content you have. From there on in, users quickly leave genres behind, or genres rapidly bifurcate to the point of being ultimately useless. this is where Amazon’s collaborative filtering helps, as it builds the almost imperceptible genre-substitutes that users often subconsciously use; and where Allmusic.com’s abundant ‘facets’ help too.
b) Music stores are actually very good at handling their music content, and using genres (or not) to move ‘users’ around (see also Lou Rosenfeld’s post RE IKEA). Big stores (and indeed small stores occasionally too) are quite adept (after almost 50 years of experience) at a number of IA strategies:
- Promoting new stock (front of shop),
- Promoting sales stock (also front of shop)
- Servicing fast-moving repeat visits for chart stock
- Lavish window display for blockbuster releases (also linked to in-store performance … also works for smaller stores i.e. latest Aphex Twin release had large window display in Covent Garden Rough Trade)
- Different display options around shops i.e. posters etc. … promoting content within genre areas
- Tying in with other brands (HMV now have free-standing display units (FSDU) which tie in to what, say, Mojo magazine is recommending that month)
- Listening posts, displaying with ‘similar items’ — this organisation can often be quite personalised and therefore ‘meta-genre’
- Organising similar products via ‘sub-genre-du-jour’, an FSDU which collates 12 records together in either alt-country, mod-rock, tech-house etc. — these sit alongside normal stock and may only last a month or so.
- ‘Editorial’ connections i.e. an FSDU based around ‘influences’ i.e. this artist-du-jour was influenced by this artist, who was in turn influenced by this artist.
- Tie-ins with label i.e. organising via label name, in classical (Naxos, Deutsche Grammofon etc.), in jazz (ECM, Blue Note). These products are duplicated in artist A-Z format too.
- Multi-format organisation i.e. book about Bob Dylan sitting atop the Bob Dylan section.
- In-store radio and soundtracks — can work very well in terms of promoting/reinforcing desire for a product. Also genre-specific i.e. classical section plays classical music, with ‘now-playing’ promo at front desk; in main-area, a DJ often announces records and where they are.
- Increased use of plasma screen or multi-TV display areas, linked to video promo of course … often ‘above genre’ for the large screen, with smaller screens displaying focussed content within genre.
- Encouraging bespoke specialist areas (note how classical is in a glass-walled, sound-sealed room; jazz is often sectioned off too. both of these are adjacent to folk and world … always!)
- Listening to users (e.g. the genres are closely related to experience with customers (hence the continued existence of ‘world’ which makes no sense politically or from a musicological p-o-v, but still means something to users); with dance-related stock, big shops now ape smaller specialists by having record decks with headphones+mixer, set up in shop for amateur djs. as well as ensuring close relations with small distributors. They have to scrawl details on white labels to be able to place in the shop — often second-guessing the question ‘you know that one that goes do-bi-do-be-do?’! This gets scrawled on the cover in marker pen i.e. “totally illegal sample of Stevie Wonder’s ‘as’ — get it while you can!!”)
- Listing by A-Z within genre — simple, though ultimately an gross approximation. Also can lead to problems with names such as ‘Captain Beefheart’, ‘Pere Ubu’ (which should be filed under ‘C’ and ‘P’ respectively as they’re made up names — then whither ‘Engelbert Humperdink’? also made up!) … for this reason, Andy’s Records (a uk chain) and certain shops like ‘Smallfish’ here in London file by forename rather than surname.
- Having plenty staff on hand — you can always ask — v.important!
Note that by having the fast-moving stuff at the front of shop, users generally have to walk past them on their way to what they want (classic supermarket strategy too) … is this a good idea online, or do we have to walk our fast-moving content past the users having given them what we want?? Of course, shops aren’t perfect and shifting stock is sometimes subtly different to shifting content — but i think we have a lot to learn from some of these ‘megastores’, as well as the specialists (who tend to have more idiosyncratic info architecture, but are more closely aligned to a specific ‘target market’). We can also learn from studying conversation amongst users. We have to get beyond this:
Q. “What kind of music do you like?”
A. “Oh, y’know, everything really”
This opening gambit covers all groups — those who just like, say, all current chart music (which is what they perceive as everything), and those who like everything from AC/DC to John Zorn (who might often ignore current chart music). This is why genres are so problematic. They’re so tenuous and fluid and personal … they’re time-sensitive too … genres in dance music might last a couple of weeks, those in classical music a couple of centuries. So, the further we get into user’s conversations and behaviour patterns, the better (hence amazon’s structures built on behaviour patterns, which show great promise). otherwise genre is just an wooly opening gambit to provoke an initial response.
This piece was originally published at cityofsound.com on January 3, 2002.
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