Jan 14, 2013

Hugely Monetarily Volatile: the decline of HMV

While journalists across the UK rush to be the first with a 'His Master's Voice silenced' headline, let me share a few thoughts about HMV, who at the time of writing look set to call in the administrators.

The news is tragic: a true end of an era for chain record shops. I work in a wonderful independent bookshop that knows a thing or two about retail the age of the internet. It is no surprise that HMV couldn't see out January: they launched a massive post-Christmas sale in an effort to avoid breaching banking covenants. It's all about cash flow and HMV were struggling.

The Chief Executive Officer link with Jessops and Threshers will be raked through by the press and maybe suggests a management problem. But let's be honest. How many CDs did you buy a year from HMV?

I still shopped at the Manchester HMV, although the last thing I bought was a while ago. Orbital's Wonky perhaps, because Piccadilly Records had sold out. I've been in since, but I'm not a gamer and I've limited need for the many accessories that adorn their once CD-rich racks. Money talks: if I'd wanted to HMV to survive, I would have spent more with them.

We don't shop local any more, do we? I remember when shop-local campaigns burst out onto the high street, encouraging us to plough our pound coins into the local economy when we began to notice the desolation of the high street caused by major supermarkets. And yet those people who still buy from grocers and from butchers think nothing of ploughing their money into Amazon, me included. Shop local be damned.

HMV will now be in the hands of administrators as they negotiate a future. The shops remain open for now, I believe. The chain sells over a third of all physical music and more than a quarter of all DVDs and Blu-Rays (dammit, modern world, we need a collective term for those formats). I worry about the impact on distributors and its effect on the wider industry. And I worry about Fopp: I hope the administrators see its value.

Spare a thought for the staff, and spare a thought for what has been lost. HMV was once great. Have a look at these kitsch photos of an old HMV from the 1960s. Maybe now this is the age of the independents and we should all finger their racks at the earliest opportunity: the likes of Piccadilly Records are more relevant than ever.

Meanwhile, old Woofy, or whatever the dog is called, sits staring into an abyss. It listens for its master's voice, but all it can hear is faint ZX Spectrum loading bleeps as an echo from the past translated as "one day, HMV, these computers will find you and we will destroy you - it just may take thirty years. Hold on while the tape loads..."

Further Fats: His master has spoken (2007)

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