Tower Expanding In Japan

When HMV’s flagship Japan record store in Tokyo’s Shibuya district closed Aug. 22, the media was out in force to cover the historic event.

Shibuya HMV was once considered the most important record store in Japan and is credited with helping launch the storied “Shibuya-kei” movement of the early 1990s, which gave the world such famous Japanese indie artists as Cornelius and Pizzicato Five.

Several blocks away, Tower Records Japan’s own flagship store was open for business as usual, and, virtually unreported by the media, the company is actually planning to expand.

Unlike HMV and Shinseido, a homegrown record chain, Tower is not under the control of a fund that has taken over management and is cutting personnel and outlets.

Tower Japan is still trying to rationalize its mission as a record store, and has entered into A&R in order to do that.

According to a report in the Asahi Shimbun newspaper, Tower has been seeking out and signing local artists to its own boutique label that will be sold in Tower stores.

The company plans to promote these artists fully with online projects and concerts in a bid to attract younger music lovers back to record stores. One way they are doing this is to release singles of emerging artists for only 100 yen ($0.85) each in order to isolate those with real appeal.

In addition, Tower is making its own high-quality compilation albums, some with various artists and some dedicated to one artist (Bill Evans, for instance), and then selling them at low prices.

Ironically, import CD albums in Japan usually sell for less than what an album would cost on Japan iTunes, which means Tower’s real competition is Amazon, not downloading services. However, because of record company collusion, prices for J-pop CDs are uniformly high and fixed by law. It will always be difficult to recover the record store business as long as J-pop CDs remain so expensive.