The times, they are a-changin’. Headlines in every major newspaper foretell the supposed “death of the high street” and a certain bakery chain has caused a strange mixture of delight and outrage with the unveiling of its new vegan Quorn sausage roll. For music and media retailer HMV, it looks like a rescue operation is going to be required for the second time in six years to save the company from bankruptcy, after it was announced the company had fallen into administration just after the Christmas period.
Back in 2013 the company was saved by restructuring giant Hilco, but even the efforts of a £50m deal with Hilco doesn’t seemed to have helped in the face of plunging sales and an “extremely weak” festive trading season. Of course, you have to empathise with the 2200 employees of HMV and FOPP whose jobs may be on the line in the months to come, but this news comes as little surprise from a company that hasn’t kept up with the demands of changing times, writes Penny Anderson in the Guardian.
But I would argue that there is something special about HMV, something worth preserving for both the average music consumer and more dedicated fans alike. Let’s not get too sentimental; like its steamroller competitor and resident destroyer of the high street Amazon, it too was once a giant in its heyday, its large economy of scale and one stop shop aspect leading to the closure of many of the UK’s independently-run record stores.
Unlike the neighbouring indie record stores, HMV was maybe never a shop for the avid music enthusiast with taste ranging into obscure territories (I am still bemused by what makes it into the “specialist” section) but it offered the masses a surefire way to pick up the latest releases and music from a range of genres. Importantly for someone like me, who grew up in a rural area, a trip to Cornwall’s capital of Truro meant ultimately a trip to HMV. This meant a chance for impatient 10 year old me to pick up albums that I didn’t want to wait for the delivery on, to own a physical copy of the album, and stare in wonder at the reams of other releases available, trawling through the CDs as I clutched the album I was willing to part with my cash for, conducting research in the way only a wealth of physical copy offers you the opportunity to do.
Physical copies are still important in areas such as these, and to percentage of people worldwide that still enjoy that completionist aspect of owning the “real thing”. Streaming services may offer you access to a catalogue you never thought possible, but they are forever anchored to the service of your choice; you can’t own the album, but in a way, simply “rent” it. And for the hard-core music enthusiasts amongst us? Well, there is another aspect to this that often gets overlooked, however minor it may seem.
In an era where tours and “meet and greet” VIP packages have become arguably the main source of income for artists, record shops such as HMV can breathe new life into this seemingly antiquated practice. Like their fathers before them, I still have many friends that line up faithfully for in-person appearances from their favourite bands at HMV’s flagship store in Oxford Street. In an age where so much of our lives has transferred to online, it is important that stores like HMV still offer fans experiences like this. Where else could a label host such an event? A music shop seems the perfect venue, and it has the space, the staff and the tills to deal with the demand.
But as discount club BuyVia announces it is due to enter rescue talks with the chain, it seems we are in for large change regardless of the result. BuyVia looks set to save a number of the stores around the UK, and engage in a large overhaul of the companies online presence, bringing the business up to date in the digital age. If all goes well, this deal looks as though it will keep select HMV stores around the country open, whilst others look set to close due to downsizing efforts to cope with heavy financial losses.
There is potential in HMV for the future that I hope can be salvaged from this, and positive outcomes I hope can be gained from the talks. It would be great to see HMV soldier on into the future, limping as it is.
Words by Luke Robinson