Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Trouble in store

I have no doubt that there’ll be plenty of navel-gazing, wringing-of-hands, gnashing and wailing about the demise of HMV and justifiably so. A significant part of our ‘high street shopping experience’ is about to disappear, conceivably one of the last links from the High St to the music industry suddenly gone.

Maybe those moaning most will not be doing so for some winsome mourning of misplaced youth, perhaps they will be the people who used the store most but I fear they’ll be those who long-ago stopped shopping in the physical world.

The writing was always on the wall. In a relatively short space of time we have lost Virgin Megastores, Our Price, Tower and numerous others I’ve already forgotten. The specialist independents haven’t fared much better. The lure of the record shop is not what it was.

I have a clear conscience here, I regularly used HMV not just as a showroom but also to buy things – albeit that the purchases had more frequently become DVDs than CDs since the store had moved far from being just a music retailer. In trying to master many disciplines its downfall may have been founded, but I’m no expert.

Sadly it seems the future is not in bricks and mortar, the online retailers can do it cheaper and we’re all about price. They also carry access to greater stock, to ‘independent’ reviews, to sound clips and, since we’re now less about physical (digital music sales finally exceeding those of hard-cased product in 2012), it seems to matter less. We also don’t seem to be too bothered if they don’t pay tax to the UK government, shit we’re in the global market now (except when it comes to mp3 pricing of course).

I’m still relatively old-fashioned, probably due to being relatively old, and prefer the physical – to be able to see, touch and feel a product. Sadly it seems that the bigger retailers (and not only those online) have now almost picked apart the entertainment retailers – Comet, Game, Jessops, HMV – so that some of us now have even less desire or need to ‘go’ shopping.

In the case of HMV – leaving aside their broken business model and leaden progress into the digital world – the music industry should still bear some of the blame. As we slide into an ongoing dependence on ‘pop’, focussing only on an audience that has no historical, nostalgic ties to a high-street-brand, the industry has not supplied the artists or the product that would keep people coming into a store like HMV.

The knock-on effect could be catastrophic. Most people don’t read a music/entertainment paper/guide and lack an arbiter/prophet to steer them. Their only knowledge of new product actually being on the market might’ve been when they saw it in HMV; I know this has happened to me. Without that ‘physical prompt’ who can say where the sales will come from.

The future of the High Street may lie in showrooms where manufacturers display but do not sell, it is surely a long-hard-road for retailers of all persuasions – maybe harder still for the music industry itself.

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