DS Says Thank You For The Music To HMV
This week the sad news was announced that HMV has gone into liquidation. This news has come in the same week that both Jessops and Blockbuster have had to yield to financial pressures and falling revenue. That is three major chains of retailers closing before the month is out. Based on this rate, is the UK likely to see another 36 major chains close down before the end of the year? And if major retailers are failing to stay open then what does this mean for the independent stores? This article hopes to explore this very debate.
The HMV music company was founded in 1921 as the first (and flagship) store was opened on London’s famous shopping strip, Oxford Street. Originally selling instruments for music to be played on such as the gramophone and the radio the store saw an overhaul in style and selling technique with the birth of the singles chart (and concurrently the birth of the teenager) and began selling more contemporary music to the masses.
Throughout all the internal developments, externally HMV grew and expanded by opening new stores across the country. HMV was always very brilliant at adapting to the new music needs of the customer and the veritable change in the music ecosystem such as the development of CD’s, beginning to sell movies as well as music, and indeed music memorabilia.
With the launch of Apple products such as the iPod many music companies felt the impact of digital downloads but relied on the diehard music fans who liked their music in CD, vinyl and cassette format to hold them afloat. Sadly the likes of Music Zone (2007) and Virgin Megastore succumbed to the pressure of digital downloading. In 2009 Virgin Megastore became Zavvi after the company was sold, however, this move was like putting a plaster on a broken leg and the store became defunct just over a year later. This should have been the coup de grace that saved HMV; by being the only major music shop on the high street surely it should have benefitted from the loss of Music Zone and Virgin Megastore/Zavvi.
Sadly this was not the case. In 2012, the UK saw the full impact of the digital download when for the first time in the history of music sales that tangible copy of releases were outside by downloaded versions. It is with no unequivocal doubt that this has been the prime reason why HMV has had to close down.
The Impact of Online Shopping
Online shopping has been on the rise for many years. The convenience of being able to shop any time of the day, whether you are about to go to sleep or whether you are commuting to and from work just has the element of ease to it which a planned trip to the shops just cannot provide. And with actual worldwide resources available it is no wonder why we are turning to online shopping.
As consumers we have been charmed by the ease and cost friendly nature that it provides. Gone are the days of the disinterested shopping assistant replying to your enquiry for a certain album with “If it’s not on the shelf then we don’t have it.” Yes, gone are the days of paying for your item and looking into the eyes of the slightly hung over student worker who grunts at you in affirmation when you cordially ask “Do you accept card?” And yes, gone are the days of lining up in a mile long queue waiting to be served. Now it is all done at a click of a button, as fast as your internet provider has promised.
Yet the above mentioned music shopping traditions are also what was part of what made tangible music shopping great. Shopping in HMV allowed you to enter Alice’s rabbit hole to a world where music was coveted and a great rarities, import or B-Side album could really make your day; a cornucopia of sound and music education.
You could argue that HMV tried to play the game. They opted to offer mp3 downloads on their website, but surely this did nothing more than hand the pen to the guy who signed their death warrant. They seemed to go along with the philosophy that if you can’t beat them, join them but just couldn’t compete with the competitive prices or variety offered by competitors, iTunes and Amazon.
What This Means for High Street Retail?
The current economic situation in the UK sadly means that high street retail will suffer. More and more companies will close down and online consumption of products will continue to rise. There is no point in complaining about it. We will all suffer the effects of (already high and) rising unemployment; the fact is that it is just cheaper to sell online due to lack of overheads such as wages, property rental and utilities.
The irony is that we are to blame for this situation. We chose cheaper prices over customer service. We allowed the online takeover to…well essentially take over. Our bellyaching over it now isn’t going to change this matter.
What is sad is that the social aspect of shopping is now under threat. We can’t ask our computer if this dress makes our ass look big, or snort in derision when the shoe shop assistant tells us that they don’t have the size 5 we asked for but they do have a size 3. And we will no longer get that happy feeling when you discover the perfect top to find that when you get to the counter that it is now a discounted price. For some, the very act of shopping was more fun than anything that was actually purchased. With the closure of HMV we are now one store down to do this with.
With the supermarkets now being the only major shops that seem to be selling music (and mainly the top 40 or middle of the road releases at that) will they start slashing back the prices to compete with online stores or digital downloads? Or will this be the perfect opportunity for them to whack the prices right up because in our consumerist culture want will always override need.
What Does This Mean for Independent Record Stores
Will this mean the death of the CD? Or will it become something to be revered much like the way vinyl has become “cool” again due to indie hipsters insisting that it be pressed? Will underground CD stores pop up and make us reminisce about the old days when seven inches of plastic (now now!) would satisfy us in a way nothing else could? Or will CD’s still live on? We will just buy them online now?
Over the years the industry of indie cool has meant that vinyl sales have still been consistent. Ok they haven’t been as popular as it was in its heyday but the as a product it has begun to be celebrated, rejoiced and revered. The annual Record Store Day has promoted vinyl for years and also encouraged us to shop at independent music retailers. The question is, will these record stores be able to survive now that their main outdoor retailer has closed down? Or will they face the same fate?
The overall feeling is that of sadness. The act of music shopping is and should always be a tangible experience. Without stores like this people will not be able to spend hours on end holding CD’s and having the internal debate, joyously agonising over which CD warrants their hard earned cash before eventually bowing down to the inevitable and buying both. No longer will we be able to rush to our favourite record store and pick up the new release from our favourite band on special edition two disc release with accompanying t-shirt and vinyl record too. This was a part of our growing up and sadly the youth of tomorrow will never know the joy of spending hours in HMV before spending their pocket money and begin to fall in love with music; the loss of ever feeling nostalgia. Online shopping is like taking pictures on a digital camera, the instantaneous nature of being able to view the picture doesn’t allow you to remember the feeling that came with taking it; the same goes for CD buying. It sounds strange but this DS writer can tell you exactly where she bought her favourite records, the anticipation of riding the bus or train home to play them and the warm feeling that comes with a well bought purchase. Now that is gone. Essentially, this is just a devastating blow to the UK music scene.
So HMV, DS bids you a fond farewell. Thanks you for the music.