HMV. You’ve done it again!

HMV 1921 WPAs HMV moves into administration there’s lament in the record buying public that this giant of the music industry may soon cease to exist. Really? Well, that’s how it’s being reported in the media, so it must be true. Actually, most of the record buying public stopped visiting HMV years ago, which is why they are in this current predicament.

The music industry has changed unimaginably since Edward Elgar opened the first HMV store on Oxford Street, London in 1921. HMV developed in tune with all the changes of the industry, becoming a force in the 60’s and quickly expanding through the 70’s, despite competition from Our Price and Virgin.

In 1986 the company’s new flagship store in Oxford Street became the world’s biggest record store when opened by Bob Geldof and Michael Hutchence. Oh, how their paths would cross in the future.

Strategic takeovers of book and games stores provided falling profits and further ventures failed. Now, HMV finds itself on the brink. Bad luck or bad planning?

Hard to say, but the nature of products in stores certainly had an effect. From being one of the true chains you could go to for vinyl imports and rarities, knowledgeable staff interested in serving you, there’s now large empty aisles flanked with chart sensations and housewives favourites. But why would a housewife go to HMV when she can pick CDs up in Tesco, along with her horsemeat?

Poor reporting has been telling us that a vinyl resurrection is taking place. Wow! Again, not particularly true though. First up, vinyl never actually died, it became rare and harder to find. A conspiracy is that the music industry did this on purpose to push CD sales. Secondly, the upturn in sales has been consistent for a few years now. Vinyl is killing the MP3 industry did you know? Most vinyl albums contain a record company provided password so you can download the digital version. Yes, they are giving it away free!

HMV failed to notice the change in music purchasing when iTunes appeared on the horizon. The BBC spoke with Philip Beeching, from Beechwood advertising firm, who said:

The day of the presentation came and we stood in the boardroom in front of the new MD, Steve Knott and his directors. For some time we had felt the tides of change coming for HMV and here was our perfect opportunity to unambiguously say what we felt.

The relevant chart went up and I said, “The three greatest threats to HMV are, online retailers, downloadable music and supermarkets discounting loss leader product”.

Suddenly, I realised the MD had stopped the meeting and was visibly angry. “I have never heard such rubbish”, he said. He accepted supermarkets were “a thorn in our side” but not for the serious music fan.

“As for the other two,” he continued, “I don’t ever see them being a real threat. Downloadable music is just a fad and people will always want the atmosphere and experience of a music store.”

It is a mistake that HMV and future MD Simon Fox continued to make. All threats became reality and the atmosphere and experience of a music store is also true, but the store has to stock the right product, and this, for me, is where HMV supplied the nails for its own coffin.

With Deloitte on the case I’m quite sure HMV won’t go kaput, but it’ll have to be slimmed and trimmed with a real focus on what it is. Being a bloated amalgam of total entertainment did it no good. One way to rise out of recession is for the companies and lenders to cut the life support. Lay an ailing firm to rest. While corporate mortality is low, it is the propping up of flagging businesses that is proving an irritation to those wanting an economic upturn.

The only people lamenting the potential loss of HMV outside of the business itself are the same people who used to shop in Borders for their music. Non-music lovers. I don’t want to buy in a bland coffee shop environment. Nobody mulls over the latest Nickelback release with a skinny latte. Ideally, you just walk straight past it, buy a dose of Led Zep followed by Queens Of The Stone Age, and you’ll be better in no time. I’d rather go up to the counter with an old King Tubby LP and the assistant asks, “Did you see the Tappa Zukie Horns Up we’ve got?”

Yes, I’m a record buyer and have been everyday for years, not a hipster who gets excited about the annual record store day. I’m in the crates as often as I can. The once a year vinyl shoppers can stick their 180gram Michael Jackson Bad re-release that you’ve wanted for ages. Nor am I an elitist. I’ve recently shopped in a chain store, bought downloads when there is no other option, I’ve picked up Deep Purple’s Stormbringer for $2 and a dodgy Clapton compilation simply because the track listing was great.

HMV used to cater for buyers like me but sold out and left us looking further afield. They undercut the independents, who then suffered, even with our backing. How HMV would love our custom once again, but the damage has been done.

Nobody likes being made redundant, and I offer my sympathies. But your management missed a trick, and unfortunately, it happens in business. And while the name and logo are iconic, the lasting legacy of our high street HMV is one of soulless, grey, mass consumed banality.

5 Responses to “HMV. You’ve done it again!”
  1. garythespud says:

    As far as I can perceive, the HMV group set Fopp up to operate a kind of niche business, similar to the model you;re discussing – vinyl, books, etc aimed at a more “knowledgeable” market. Customers who’d know a bit more about music. I quite liked it even and could happily spend £100 on books and cut-price CD’s. Wonder what will happen to this brand? HMV can quite happily sink, though as far as I’m concerned.

    • HMV took over the severely ailing Fopp in 2007. HMV was desperately buying up various chains in a hope to gain more market share whatever the sign over the door. Misguided, they spread themselves far too thin and failed to see the impact of downloads, an already growing market when they bought Fopp.

      The early history will be a sad loss, but the disappearing grey shops with numerous tv DVD box sets and 3 for 20 quid will be a fantastic broom sweeping through the nations high streets.

  2. Aneala Tate says:

    Another great read darl. Well done and keep it up! xxxxx

  3. fairdes says:

    An interesting and enjoyable article Alex. No one likes to see a business fail, especially a musical icon like HMV. But as you correctly say, they are largely responsible for their own downfall.

    When I lived in the UK in 2003 there was some joy to be had in browsing through HMV, Virgin and Tower record stores at Piccadilly Circus in London. Mind you, I didn’t know any better when it came to sourcing hard to find vinyl records until I was back in Australia and started ordering online from places like Piccadilly Records. On my last visit to the UK in 2010, I realised just how behind the times HMV was (Virgin and Towers had closed down).

    I think there are a many reasons why HMV is in the predicament that it currently finds itself in. They have obviously not moved with the times with sufficient speed nor have they have established a niche market that keeps them relevant and ahead of their competition.

    • Thanks for reading and commenting, Fady. As a young art student I recall visiting the Royal Academy (just off Piccadilly) numerous times with school, but spending more time in Tower.

      But when Virgin and Tower started to leave the high street HMV should have looked into why and apply any change to their business model to either take advantage of the situation or as a preventative measure. Unfortunately, it appears they felt buying up the market place would secure their survival.

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