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Coming for a coffee?

That's probably what you'll say these days when you want to go out and buy CDs and tapes. New music stores opening in Mumbai look like cafes and discos

Bright colours and fancy props greet you as you walk in. The place is colourfully lit. Thereís a small dance floor in one corner and a cafť in another. The deejayís voice booms over the microphone as he tries to make himself heard. The latest chartbuster is playing. This could be another discotheque, but itís not. Itís one of the many mega-music stores to have recently come up in Mumbai.

Music stores are no longer just places where they sell music. They have been thinking up ways to make their clients sit, chat, shake a leg, have a coffee and snack, and listen to some music before they actually buy it.

The newly opened Music Cafe in Bandra combines the attractions of a cafe with music retailing. While Mumbai has always had the odd innovative store, it is for the first time that music buyers find so many stores vying creatively for their attention.

''More music is now available, and so more music is being bought,'' says Michel of Groove, a music outlet that opened in June this year. One of its two branches is housed in the Eros cinema building near Churchgate. The colleges nearby ensure a steady stream of youngsters during the day. The other branch is in Tardeo.

Music channels fuel cassette and CD sales. ''The college crowd comes here a lot,'' says Geeta Khatri of Planet M, opposite the VT station, the busiest junction in Mumbai. The Times group, which runs it, plans to open branches in cities around the country.

But what about people whose tastes may differ from MTV and Channel (V)'s? ''We do get people looking for classical music and jazz. They come in during the afternoons and on weekends. Thatís what we are all about Ė- to cater to all kinds of tastes,'' says Michel. ''Even if a particular kind of music does not sell much we store it. Thereís that one customer who walks in once in three months looking for it. And thereís nothing better than the smile on his face when he finds what he has been looking for.'' Says Khatri, ''You name the cassette and we have it. And if we donít, we get it for you.'' The bright new stores offer a wide range from Western classical to qawwali, Indipop to jazz, and of course Hindi film music, which sells the most. Other language titles too are stocked.

The new initiative in music retailing, many claim, has resulted in increased sales. Could sales have zoomed because of the novelty of the setting? ''No, itís not just novelty. Music buying is serious business. With cassettes priced at Rs 125, people canít keep making whimsical purchases,'' he Michel.

Not everyone thinks there is a boom though. Mehmood Curmali, who runs Rhythm House, one of Mumbaiís oldest music stores, feels the increase in sales is marginal. ''But the market has certainly become more competitive with each store trying to build its own brand image,'' he says.

Planet M sells books, T-shirts and mugs, apart from music. ''You can say itís a kind of departmental store with 75 per cent music and 25 per cent other stuff,'' says Khatri. Some stores prefer to focus only on music and not to resort to ''any kind of hype'' to promote their store.

All agree that a huge number of visitors just look around and donít buy anything. But this doesnít bother them. ''They may just listen to the music and check out whatís available but the next time they come, they will be tempted to buy,'' says Michel. ''If I happen to pass by I might just take a look, like I am doing today. But otherwise it doesnít really matter where I buy my cassettes,'' says a retired executive as he glances through some CDs.

Stores like Planet M have become popular for a leisurely stroll. ''I just wanted to see what itís like,'' says Arya, a ninth standard student.

Each of these mega-music stores is trying to establish a distinctive indentity through aggressive advertising. One shop claims to be the largest in Asia, while another says it is the largest in the universe. They all eye the youth market and position their shops accordingly.

One question is whether retailers are losing their way in multi-product merchandising and forgetting what they should be doing in the first place Ė- promoting music. ''To sell music you should have a passion for music,'' says Curmali. ''Itís not about selling pieces of plastic. Itís whatís inside that matters.''

Kripa Iyer in Mumbai

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