Opinion: HMV – The final nail in the coffin…or a fresh start?

Well. The news has finally sunk that another record shop has called time, only this time it’s one of the longest serving and culturally ingrained bastions of music. Granted, it’s not one us staff or readers here probably frequent that often, given that our taste is somewhat more wilfully obscure than what they offer but it is certainly one we have been in at some point though, and love it or hate it…their sale often throws up some surprising bargains.

They had it coming obviously. The writing had been on the wall from the moment they dismissed the internet as a passing fad and refused the chance to work with Apple at the dawn of the iPod. Stubbornly sticking to a business model which became instantly obsolete with the advent of MP3s they still manage to account for 40% of physical music sales. Think about that for a minute…40%...that’s nearly half the Adele albums sold last year…that is a LOT.

Embattled against a growing online presence where Amazon rule roost (and don’t pay tax – Ed.), HMV failed to deliver on what could have been their saving grace by joining in the digital revolution. Being pretty much the only place apart from supermarkets where you could buy CDs on the high street, they could have expanded on their brand through innovative digital sales. What did they do? They offered HMV points…possibly the most useless gimmick ever.

Anyway, that’s all past and has been well documented in recent days, we need to look to the future. What happens now for those of us who still buy physical products? You could argue that your local independent record store will see an increase in traffic (however when Tower Records in the US collapsed independents saw almost no uplift) but somehow I can’t see the general demographic of youngsters flocking to these shops. That 40% of sales has got to go somewhere and while a portion of it will go to the supermarkets to get their Michael Bublé, it looks like Amazon has won the war.

Amongst all this doom and gloom, a little grain of light at the end of tunnel has come to my attention. Whilst talking to my local independent retailer, he mentioned that his shop has seen a steady influx of youngsters venturing in to buy vinyl…this ‘new’ trendy format. What was it they were buying? You may think it was the new Jack White album but the majority of sales were by artists such as The Beatles and The Stones. It seems a generational impact is being seen where our kids are raiding our record collections, wanting to build collections of their own and going to independents to do it.

What I hope we will see is the development of such places to the point where they become synonymous with the local area again. Much as we have returned to a desire to buy local produce, record stores will become more regional and focus on the music the surrounding area likes. This may sound odd but in conversation with another record shop owner, he told me that the death knell in the first place was record companies telling stores what to sell. The upshot was piles of unsold Luther Vandross albums in the grimy, industrial towns of North Wales…see what I’m getting at?

I’m going to leave this argument /discussion now as I want you to carry on the conversation…if you have read this and have something to add, then feel free to start typing. My point of view is built on what I know from my area (North Wales), what is it like for you? Do you have a record shop left? Will you go digital? How do you see the future?

If you're keen to support your local independent, you can find your local one here.


  • Editor

    I wish I was as optimistic as you about this Martyn.

    Indies may well thrive eventually, but it’ll take time. Those kids that are buying vinyl are encouraging but I willing to bet that they are the exception not the norm & many towns & cities don’t even have an independent record shop any more, HMV themselves saw to that.

    It’ll take time for people to fill that void with new stores and can you imagine going to your bank manager & asking to borrow money to open a record shop at this time, in this climate? It’s a brave thing to even consider!

    Sadly, the biggest problem is we have created a generation to whom music has no value. They don’t even understand that downloading a torrent is illegal, it’s just something they do. Music is a commodity to be swapped on their mobile phones. This is the root problem we have to address. To educate people that if they don’t pay for music, if the artists, who put in years of learning, practising and creating, aren’t compensated, then it will wither and die.

  • Gilbert

    I think we assume that moving to digital music sales was a logical shift for a store that sells physical records if only they had thought about it some more. HMV had more in common with the greengrocer than itunes. It’s a bit like saying people who sold horseshoes should have started selling car tyres but missed the boat.
    In any case, the jobs would still have gone once the shift happened. HMV may have survived but would have 40 staff doing mail order and another 40 managing and another 40 doing IT, not 4000.
    It also seems odd to say on one hand they should have seen it coming and then say independent record stores will fill the gap. Isn’t it the case that the gap just isn’t there any more? People who want physical copies will just buy them by mail order. We will adapt.
    Times and technology change. We all embrace that – this is a consequence. We did it. All of us. And we wil keep doing it.

  • Kev Scott

    This article sums up pretty much everything I’ve read about HMV. They never adapted (how many companies have suffered such a fate? Polaroid springs to mind as the worst culprit); they made assumptions on the future based on the past; they misjudged everything there is to misjudge when running a high street business.
    People have been asking where this 40% of sales will go – the answer is that likely at least for a while half of them will remain with HMV. Some 150 of the stores are profitable and will therefore be acquired. Amazon won’t scoop up all sales. Plenty branches will close though and that will leave countless towns across the UK void of a place to buy a CD that doesn’t feature in the top 20.
    The day HMV went tits up Stuart Braithwaite from Mogwai said how sorry he was to hear the news and was promptly bashed for it. What was such a independent musician doing backing a high street beast? He replied that 51% of ALL sales of the last Mogwai album were sold in HMV – and Mogwai are hardly a band that find themslves on the back of a Tesco delivery lorry.
    The truth is that physical music is on its way out and so there is less room for purveyors of phyiscal music. Okay, there will always be purists who buy CDs or vinyl but I can see vinyl outlasting CDs – I still buy CDs and the first thing I do is put them on iTunes so I can add them to my phone. Okay, it’s a genuine shame that a teenager can’t browse their local record shop, but they can download anything they want, when they want it.
    The times they are always a changin’. If you remain tied to the past, you’ll end up missing the future – as HMV have proved.

  • http://westoxon.org.uk Neil Buchan

    On a personal note, I ordered a single CD (less than a tenner) on the 14th Jan (day before they shut up shop). When I heard that they had gone into Administration I thought “well that’s one CD I will have to reorder elsewhere, but it’s only small beans”. On the 15th I got an email that my order had been dispatched and was on its way.

    From what I gather the first response of some wanker was to send “dispatched” emails for all pending transactions without any intention of fulfilling these orders. I had some sympathy before this happened. I just hope that the person who made this decision has his balls fester and become custard.

    Now that this has happened, I never want to see that dog, that horn, or those three letters HMV in the high street again, because their last act to me was one of deceit and theifery.

    Custard anyone?

  • http://opinion.hmv.ca Denis Cote

    I did’t know until this morning that HMV was folding. I really regret this situation. I appreciated the great service and the time they took in providing information. I will miss the physical experience of holding and feeling the product compared to the cold relationship you get on the net. I guess the new age experience of having relationships online is catching up. HD Audio will also have on impact. But you need good internet and in the rural area its not always available. I miss SADC and DVD Audio which the new generation never understood since MP3 was their level of quality. Fortunately, they are waking up tp the reality of quality sound and seem interested in the new HD Audio (DSD)which in fact is the old SADC. Hope HMV will survive!