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R.I.P. His Master's Voice

15 January, 2013 - Source: Else

It is with sadness that we read the news of HMV's impending demise as the Great British High Street continues to crumble.

  • R.I.P. His Master's Voice
    R.I.P. His Master's Voice

It is with great sadness that we read the news of HMV’s impending demise, yet another casualty as the great British High Street as we know it continues to crumble.

It was on the cards, and has been on the cards for years. HMVs 8% decline year on year has been unsustainable and this year’s lack of Christmas footfall, and the continued cost of keeping doors open on the high st, has inevitably taken it’s toll.

HMVs 8% decline year on year has been unsustainable

Undoubtably there are a number of factors that have contributed to the demise of a national treasure; not least being way behind the curve of online retail when the future of entertainment was inevitably going to be digital, or the lack of a level playing field with the likes of Amazon making it hard to compete with their UK corporate tax avoidance.

Rather than recognise and play to their strengths, or focus on what was unique and defensible about their brand, they instead chose to take on the wrong people on at the wrong game.

To say HMV represents an institution to a nation of music and film loving people is an understatement. For generations HMV was where we discovered new music for the first time and where we built up our beloved collections with the tapes, cds, videos and later the DVDs and games that helped to define us as we grew up.

In recent times HMV has lost it’s identity, and has looked desperate in its attempts to flog a dead physical format. Whereas a trip to HMV used to be about getting a fix, having an edge, being defined by your interest and love of music and film, now has felt more like walking into an entertainment pound shop, where the stuff we care about is devalued, piled high next to the checkout, discounted and unloved… how I’d imagine walking into an Amazon, if the physical store really existed.

If it finally disappears from the high street, the one thing that I’ll really miss, and I speak from experience of working there, is the energy and passion of the staff, and their desire to impart in-depth knowledge and taste on a recommendation hungry customer base. Ok, HMV has never been quite as cool as a trip to Rough Trade, or rifling through the racks in Honest Jon’s, but for many HMV has been THE destination for good honest music and film, discovering, listening and buying.

The way we buy and consume music and film has evolved and no longer fits the format of physical format or retail. The way we consume it dictates where it should be, in the cloud always available, instantly shareable and connected at the point of discovery. We don’t own, we have access to our entertainment of choice, and we’re continually discovering more of it every time we listen to a track or watch a new TV show or film on demand.

The way we buy and consume music and film has evolved...

We now suffer from attention deficit disorder when it comes to our music, we’re the victims of too much choice and too many sources of inspiration. With physical album sales slumping and online single sales soaring we’re snacking on tracks, not indulging in listening to whole albums in one go, or taking the time to pour over the liner notes, enjoying the artwork or reading the thank you’s.

Our collections are the data we record, it’s the data that defines us not the stacks of CDs or records. With Spotify, iTunes and Last fm I get recommendations from sources I implicitly trust. I discover, I listen, I spread the word, everything connected in an infinite 6 degrees of qualified data driven separation…

If you do (shock horror) decide to buy music in digital format, which we do increasingly year on year, it’s cheaper, more immediate and distributed instantly to all my devices.

With the benefit of hindsight, and some of us here have past experience in trying to solve this very problem, we know HMV could have been the place to discover music and film in a way that a no machine can replicate, connecting people in a more human way, and combining digital connectivity with real physical experiences… an online retailer with the benefit of a physical footprint.

It may have been a long shot, but if it missed the boat with online retail, then maybe HMV could have joined the dots by connecting physical spaces to the digital world that our entertainment lives in, deepening our engagement, rewarding our fandom by letting us ‘Get closer’ to the things we love, being there when it happens and engaging with other like minded folks. They tried and failed with venues, and importantly failed to connect it all back to retail.

Our local record shop, Rough Trade East, comes closest to what HMV could have been; staff picks, albums of the month, in store gigs, coffee shop, exhibitions etc all adding up to up to a retail experience that makes it impossible to come out empty handed and, more often than not, with something you’d never heard of.

Ok it’s a bit niche and a bit cool, but could HMV have taken that idea to the masses making its physical locations, and passionate, knowledgeable staff delivering the promise of ‘Get closer’ – being a cultural landmark again in every town in the country. It’s what they used to be about.

We may never know, but with HMV stores being such an institution in the UK, rather than trying to take on the likes of Amazon and iTunes, the opportunity to connect the way we consume online with physical experiences in a retail environment could well have been missed by the last bastion of entertainment on the high street.

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