Interview: Dan McAvinchey

B.J. Black: Let's talk about managing change - after a good 15 years in business, the Guitar Nine store is no more. Was this a tough decision when you finally had to make the call?

Dan McAvinchey: Absolutely, it was a very tough decision to make, however, it had to be made, due to the numerous shifts in the music business over the past 7-8 years. Guitar Nine started as a web-based magazine (or e-zine) in 1996 - an information-heavy, feature-rich set of columns and articles that would appeal to musicians in general, and guitarists in particular. We added the e-commerce section of the business about a year later, in 1997, and later that year we began selling CDs by outside guitarists and bands. So the online magazine has been going for over 16 years, and the e-commerce aspect of the business wound up completing a 15 year run - not bad considering the narrow focus our store had on instrumental music.

We shipped our last order on June 12, 2012. At that point, the web site had come full circle, as it immediately returned to its roots as a guitar-focused e-zine, with new columns and features every two months, six issues a year (February 1, April 1, June 1, August 1, October 1, December 1). I even made a point to drop the 'Records' portion of our name, settling on 'Guitar Nine' as the official name of the e-zine and web site. I hoped that would help, in a small way, to make it crystal clear that we were out of the CD/DVD business for good.

B.J. Black: But why now, why 2012? CD stores began consolidating in 2003 or so, and started closing altogether after iTunes started shipping hundreds of millions of downloads not that long after that.

Dan McAvinchey: Our business held together nicely through the period 2004-2007, while iTunes and other digital outlets were beginning to create a shift in consumer behavior. Like a lot of businesses though, the economic meltdown hit us hard in 2008, and we started down a path of double-digit declines in sales each year. So throughout 2011 I realized sales would never again recover to the point where it made sense to keep going - I had to look toward the future and move on to something else.

I began contacting artists in December of 2011, after all, I had a large inventory of CDs and DVDs to deal with, and over a thousand artist/label accounts. From December through June of this year, I gradually reduced the stock until our closing date of June 12th.

B.J. Black: Didn't you still have regular customers who were begging you to keep the doors open?

Dan McAvinchey: Yes, of course, we had customers who had been with us 10 years or more, and they didn't want to see us go. When I contacted the artists about shutting down, one of the things I reminded them of is that virtually all of them currently had other outlets for selling their physical products. So I think it was harder for our customers because it would immediately become harder for them to track down instrumental guitar music, just like it had been prior to 1997. It's not that it wasn't for sale anymore, but it just became harder to find because it was back mixed in with all the vocal stuff on Amazon, CD Baby, etc. There's still hard-core CD fans out there, and there always will be, but there's just not enough of them unfortunately.

B.J. Black: Was it ever a possibility that you would stay open as an outlet for digital instrumental guitar music?

Dan McAvinchey: Once digital downloads became a popular choice among segments of the consumer market, I looked at it, and thought that competing directly with giant companies such as Apple and Amazon (and later Wal-Mart, along with dozens of streaming audio sites selling 'all-you-can-eat' monthly plans) was simply not going to work in a niche market like instrumental guitar music. You could make a few sales, but not enough to make a business work.

One key difference: when many of the artists we worked with began selling physical products on our site, they had no real presence on the internet, and their online sales prior to joining us were modest, or non-existent. Consolidating these like-minded artists on a single site had the makings for a great niche business - which is exactly how it worked out. In the digital market, these artists may already have been on all the large sites selling downloads and streaming audio, and even selling downloads directly, meaning potential future sales were divided up among all these outlets. Adding Guitar Nine to the mix in that scenario certainly did not have the makings of a good business.

B.J. Black: What did closing the business end of your web site mean for you personally?

Dan McAvinchey: Before I answer that question I just wanted to mention how great the artists that I worked with were when confronted with the changes in the web site. Many expressed heartfelt concern for myself and my future, and really took time to talk about what being associated with our web site meant to them. That was an encouraging thing to hear at a tough time in my life.

Now, to answer the question directly - I needed to get a job! A lot of people kind of thought I would just open some new business of some kind, but that really wasn't an option, since I had sunk my life into Guitar Nine, and keeping it going through 2009-2012 meant I had nothing left for a new, self-financed venture.

So I did what a lot of people do - I reinvented myself (partially) and took what I was good at and was marketable (web site development), and I fortunately landed a web developer job at the University of North Carolina. It's like night and day compared to Guitar Nine, but I was lucky enough to be able to leverage the skills I had and repurpose them to help the university.

B.J. Black: Is it time-consuming to keep the web site going as an e-zine?

Dan McAvinchey: It takes time, but for the most part, guitar players around the world are creating the content - writing columns, doing interviews, etc. I take on the role of editor-in-chief, and I edit and format the content for the web site, exactly what I was doing in the beginning in 1996 when I also had a full-time job. It's the kind of thing to which I can devote a weekend every couple of months and get the job done. I probably wouldn't be able to do a complete web site overhaul or anything like that - the university work is my focus and my priority. But it's definitely a non-profit labor of love, as any Google ad money gained must directly pay for server rental and other maintenance.

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B.J. Black: Glad to see the e-zine continuing, there is certainly a lot of great instructional and inspirational content available.

Dan McAvinchey: Absolutely. There's over 850 guest columns contributed, along with everything I've penned. There are over 170 interviews, and many hundreds of artist reviews. The Home Studio Registry is still going strong - and that reminds me, I need to update my own listing! In spite of the shift from physical products to digital music, artists still have music to promote and careers to expand, and they find giving back to the musical community by writing articles a great way to do that.

I always used to say in the past that anyone reading should feel free to write in and offer suggestions and future direction ideas for the site - but just bear in mind now that by doing that, you're also volunteering to do the work! I'm happy to host the site and do the editing, but beyond that, we need people to actually implement ideas, instead of just suggesting them.

B.J. Black: That sounds like a fair trade! Thank you very much for doing this interview and best of luck to you.

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The Guitar Nine web site ( has undergone a radical change over the past 12 months. Founder Dan McAvinchey had found himself caught between a shrinking (yet loyal and dedicated) base of CD buyers, and the momentum created by consumer shifts towards experiencing music in a digital, downloadable (or streaming) format. In business for over 15 years, McAvinchey found himself making the hard choices, and permanently closed the e-commerce portion of the web site in 2012.

School of Journalism's B.J. Black recently had a conversation with Guitar Nine's Dan McAvinchey, discussing the changes in the web site over the past year.