It was a familiar scene.

In the pre-dawn hours of Black Friday, a line of people formed outside a retail store and waited for the doors to open.

But, this wasn’t Walmart or Target.

This was an independent music, movies, games and books seller.

“We did very well,” said Todd Maheu, manager of Bull Moose Music in Waterville. “It was better than expected, and better than last year.”

About 20 people stood in line for the store’s 4 a.m. opening, he said. More than 1,000 shoppers coursed through the store’s narrow aisles throughout the day.

Across central Maine, many retailers of printed books, CDs, LPs, DVDs and Blu-rays reported strong sales on Black Friday. The sales are unexpected in an era when physical media is steadily losing ground to digital media — e-books, mp3s and streaming video.

Granted, Black Friday weekend sales were up overall for all retailers in 2011. According to a survey by the National Retail Federation, U.S. consumers spent a record $52 billion, up from $45 billion in 2010.

But, some retailers of old media say holiday sales figures in their stores signal an impending cultural shift in Maine, and perhaps nationwide.

Digital media

According to 2010 statistics from industry sources — the Association of American Publishers, the Digital Entertainment Group and the Recording Industry Association of America — digital media represents a significant portion of U.S. entertainment sales: e-books represented more than 8 percent of total book sales by trade publishers, digital downloads represented more than 13 percent of movie purchases and mp3s represented nearly 39 percent of music sales.

As recently as five years ago, the landscape was much different: digital portions of sales were .05 percent for books, 5 percent for movies and 8 percent for music.

Nationwide sales figures of old media in 2011 aren’t yet available, but Maheu said Bull Moose figures fly in the face of conventional wisdom.

“We’re really bucking the system,” he said. “I think everyone is saying sales are down for CDs and DVDs, but we’re just not seeing it. Every year, we do better than the last year.”

Bull Moose has a strong presence in Maine. In 1989, it opened its first store in Brunswick. Today, the store has nine locations, including Bangor, Lewiston and Portland.

Chris Brown, head of marketing for the company, said holiday shopping had increased this year throughout its stores, and it demonstrates a growing shift in the entertainment marketplace.

“This was our biggest Black Friday ever, and it was strong throughout the weekend,” he said.


The impact of e-books on the marketplace wasn’t apparent until after last Christmas, said Lisa Hassam, a sales clerk at Mr. Paperback in Waterville.

“Last year our Christmas sales were pretty much on target, but after the holidays people returned the books because they got e-readers,” she said.

According to the Association of American Publishers, e-book sales grew by more than 164 percent in 2010.

But a bookstore proprietor in Winthrop thinks the move toward e-readers will be short-lived.

“A lot of our customers are saying, ‘I tried the Kindle, but I really didn’t like it,'” said Rita Moran, part owner of Apple Valley Books in Winthrop.

Last month, Moran saw a 61 percent increase in store sales compared to November 2010.

“This year has been enormously better than last year,” she said.

If e-books pose a threat to printed books, at least one segment of publishing is somewhat immune to e-books, said Ellen Richmond, owner of Children’s Book Cellar in downtown Waterville.

“Even parents who read e-books want paper books for their kids,” she said. “There’s something about picking up a book, looking at it and feeling the pages that you don’t get with the electronic readers.

“If you sit with a kid in you lap and read them a book, you don’t want to do it on a Kindle. It just doesn’t have the same feel,” she said.

Books appeal to the senses, even unexpected ones, she said. “I get loads and loads of people who come in here and say, ‘Oh my God, I love the smell in here. It smells like books.'”

Downstairs from Richmond is another bookstore — the used bookseller Re-Books. Owner Robert Sezak isn’t convinced the popularity of e-books has subsided.

“It hasn’t worn off yet, and it will take a while for it to settle out,” he said.

Sezak opened his business 18 years ago on Black Friday. He’s not sure how this year’s sales stack up against his opening day, but he said sales were decent.

“Generally, Black Friday isn’t all that good for me because people go off to the big malls, but this year was better,” he said.

He attributes improved sales with steep discounts on his inventory. Many of Sezak’s books are 80 percent off through Christmas.

Sezak is eight years from retirement and he’s not sure if printed books will remain desirable through then.

“It’s like the Babylonians said way back in the day: ‘What do you mean you’re going to use papyrus? We have cuneiform clay tablets. Those will last forever,'” he joked. “So here we are. We’re caught in the same dilemma.”

Movies and music

Chris Brown said there’s a simple reason sales continue to rise at Bull Moose.

“Buying stuff in a physical medium is still the best way to get movies and music. It just is. If you want the best quality, you’ve got to buy the physical version,” he said.

In terms of DVD and Blu-ray discs, Brown contends there’s one particular market force that will ensure their continued viability: the rising popularity of high-definition, flat-screen televisions.

“If you’ve just spent all this money on a big TV, streaming (video) doesn’t make a whole lot of sense,” he said.

According to 2010 data from the Digital Entertainment Group, a Los Angeles-based industry-funded nonprofit organization, sales of DVDs and Blu-ray discs dropped by $3.9 billion. Sales of physical music dropped even more, by nearly $6 billion during the same period.

Brown, however, sees a bright spot.

“The trend has reversed,” he said. “Year-to-date sales of physical music are up this year versus 2010.”

Another music and book proprietor in Waterville has seen increased interest in physical media. Bob Richard has operated The Record Connection at the same location for 31 years, and he takes the long view. Vinyl was king when he opened the business, and he contends it might someday regain its throne, or, at the very least, respect.

“There are more and more people coming in (the store) because they’re getting tired of the digital age,” he said. “They have nostalgia for things you can actually put your hands on.

“I can’t say there’s going to be a long future for CDs, but records come back more and more all the time.”

He has a point. According to the Recording Industry Association of America, U.S. sales of vinyl increased by 44 percent in 2010 to $87 million, its highest level since 1990.

Richard also predicts a similar trajectory for printed books.

“I think books are going to drop to a certain point and then they’re going to come back,” he said. “People are always going to keep some of the old things, sort of like an anchor to the past.”

Ben McCanna — 861-9239

[email protected]

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