The last call from His Master’s Voice?
On Friday 28th December, HMV announced that the chain was going into administration for the second time.
The announcement has put 2,200 jobs at risk. Will a buyer be found? Or will one of the big names of the high street become the latest casualty?
Put it this way, we used to have quite a battle on the high street when it came to buying our favourite music. HMV, Our Price, Virgin Megastore, which then became Zavvi, Andy’s Records. Plenty to choose from. Tower Records, The Vinyl Exchange in Manchester, Rough Trade and Sister Ray Records in London as well. Not big chain names but just as important as the ones that were.
Then some of the names started to drop off the radar. Our Price went, Virgin became Zavvi which then disappeared, Andy’s Records too. Woolworth’s going under didn’t help, but HMV stood tall. Why? It sold the same as the other shops, but it just felt different every time you went in. The excitement of spending your HMV vouchers became a tradition on a birthday or Christmas.
Then the internet started to play a massive part, and took the wind out the sails of the good ship HMV. Amazon flexed it’s muscles and made your shopping choice just that little bit harder. But, come on, who out there can honestly say, when a new album comes out and you’ve pre-ordered it, “Do you know what? I’m really looking forward to seeing if my album is there or not, when I get home!”. A record shop guaranteed it being there. HMV prided itself on that album being there. The high street loved you shopping there.
Sure, HMV had it’s flaws. Some of the prices were a bit over the top. And the under one roof shopping experience, with all the tech, books and merchandise available, might have sucked the fun out of some just looking for music. But to compete, they had to match the internet with every move. And that’s where they were going to struggle. You could shop at home on a rainy Tuesday instead, it’s all a manner of convenience now.
Amazon and it’s cohorts, however, have their flaws too. The prices, again, were over the top. 20 quid for Wrong Creatures by Black Rebel Motorcycle Club on CD. Really? The guaranteed delivery that isn’t always guaranteed. eBay has now become an extension of that, just under a different name. No friendly greetings and knowledge by the staff, a person, which you get when you visit a record shop. Personal service is critical in the high street, and when you get even just a smile and an hello, it feels good. A laptop or an iPad doesn’t give you that.
Independent record shops might just benefit from the struggle of HMV, but to me, they fitted in nicely with them. What you couldn’t find in one, you can find in the other. Diversity in every record shop you go into. People making a trip to Rough Trade, for example, whether it’s just for simply saying you’ve been there or to buy something. Or both. HMV would still draw you in though, because you wanted to go in there. It’s a name you know, and know well.
Spotify is the download choice. Mariah Carey has just broken the record for the most downloaded song over Christmas. Over 10 million people downloaded All I Want For Christmas Is You. Terrific news if you’re Mariah Carey. Apps, like the Now! app for example, are becoming big business. But pass your local HMV and see Now! whatever on CD, and the temptation will always be too great to go and buy it. That physical copy just feels that little bit better.
Call this an old fashioned view, but I love the record shop. Whether it be HMV or an independent one. And I find it an absolute crime that HMV, and many other businesses, are becoming extinct one by one. Institutions are just collapsing, and the fact that 2,200 employees face an uncertain future is one I take personally. My friend, James, works in the Colchester branch, and this is sadly familiar territory for him.
It’ll be all over for music shops in Colchester if HMV goes, unless someone comes in and saves it. Every town and city should have one, business rates being reasonable, of course. I plead with people to go out there and give them the support they deserve. Give the independent ones the support they deserve too. A world without a music shop of any sort is unthinkable. It’s not that we don’t care about music, it might just be that we don’t care how or where we get it from, anymore.