# A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

Miscellaneous - February 2013

  by Benjamin Howarth

published: 24 / 1 / 2013

Miscellaneous - February 2013


In his 'Condemened to Rock 'n' Roll' column, Ben Howarth assesses the reasons behind HMV's fall into administration and asks whether it has a future

Another year and another column about crisis at HMV: This time last year, I began my column with almost exactly the same sentence. The temptation was strong to simply resubmit exactly the same column again, changing 2012 to 2013. This year’s crisis was HMV’s biggest yet, and if it survives for now another slump will surely kill it for good. Initial media coverage, as HMV slipped into administration, focused on its proud history – it really was the company that launched the British music industry, and brought music ownership into ordinary people’s homes. Then, as soon as HMV was saved, media commentary quickly changed tack. HMV was branded a ‘zombie business’ – sucking resources out of the economy which would otherwise have gone to growing business – though in HMV’s case that would be Amazon, which doesn’t pay tax. Annoyingly, the TV economists have a point. HMV clearly made an immense blunder by leaving the internet to a start-up business (Amazon should never have been allowed to grow so fast so quickly), having ruthlessly run its high street competitors out of town, while charging absurdly high prices for everything but a few sale items. But, music fans will suffer if the last high street chain goes. With its cometition vanquished, Amazon will have no need to keep its prices so low. But – though temporarily saved – HMV’s prospects look bleak. And yet, with more music available than anyone can ever hope to listen to, well informed shopkeepers are arguably more in demand than ever. Before the internet, your local record shop either stocked a record or it didn’t. HMV’s flagship Oxford Street store – lined with row upon row of back-catalogue albums that you quite literally couldn’t buy anywhere else – assumed a near-religious status. The choice was staggering. Old timers, of course, can shake their head in disgust. Three decades ago, one walked into a dusty independent record shop a Wham fan with an M&S jumper, only to re-emerge as a lifelong punk half an hour later. Remarkably well-informed sixth formers doing Saturday jobs would thrust Swell Maps albums into your hand, while openly smoking pot and carelessly strumming along to the Clash. These fictitious people exaggerate somewhat, though no doubt some independent stores really were very good. Staff at my local offered an unrivalled knowledge of underground American 80's hardcore, but had no interest in ensuring that Steve Lamacq’s album of the week was in stock. I was just as likely to be found shopping in HMV. HMV is, of course, famous for selling records. One of its few remaining assets is its respected brand name. Except, most HMV stores don’t really sell music anymore – in the smaller high street outlets, you may just be able to find a shelf of 2 for £10 CDs, drowning under a huge pile of T-shirts, Beatles mugs and Jeremy Clarkson paperbacks. In recent years, even the DVD and Video Games sections have shrunk alarmingly. Whoever ends up managing HMV (at least for the next eight or nine months until the next crisis and enforced buyout) should be taking a long hard bath with themselves. Every time HMV narrowly escapes closure, we are told that the store plans to diversify and focus on growth products – usually whichever electronic fad everyone already bought cheaper in Argos over Christmas. Anything goes, except focusing on actually being a good music shop. Last year I proposed that HMV make a few small changes to encourage regular music buyers back into their stores. I see no harm in making the same suggestions again: HMV could, for example, ditch the uniforms and let staff wear their own band t-shirts. They could devote more space to unusual recommendations from those staff. They could also ensure a prominent display for any bands – whichever genre – that happen to be playing locally that month. They could even have a small section for local bands. My ideas may not arrest the decline, but they would at least make HMV a more pleasant browsing experience, distinct from buying records online. This certainly couldn’t make things any worse. Barring a remarkable change in people’s shopping habits, the era of the High Street music shop is coming to an end. It would be nice I think, if when HMV eventually closes, there were a few people who would genuinely miss it.

Also In Condemned to Rock 'n' Roll

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