Maybe HMV goes boom.

Posted on January 3rd, 2013

If your eyes all just the slightest crack open, through even the most bleary haze it’s starting to smell like HMV hasn’t got long left on our collective High Street. It is as clear as the mixed metaphor on that last sentence’s face. With Apollo Global Management buying up chunks their debt with unknown intent, them failing to meet loan agreements & their share price falling 40% , their sales dropping by something like 10% every six months, them selling off the Live elements of their business aka MAMA Group & the Hammersmith Apollo, it’s really difficult to see what can save them. Then add to that the vast changes in the entertainment industry, the continued growth of digital streaming of movies & music, MP3 stores, torrenting, direct to fan services, and the complete unpredictability of what people are actually willing to buy, it is bleak to say the least.

What makes it worse is the lions share of HMV’s problems are of their own creation, they’ve removed local knowledge from their stores, and turned their staff from specialists to shelf stackers by centralising buying procedures, pushed customers toward the internet by narrowing their catalogue, lost any member of staff with the vaguest bit of talent to Apple Stores, and somehow been both too far ahead yet at the same time sorely lagging behind the digital revolution. They once even spent vast sums of money launching a digital subscription service that did not work with Apple products whilst at the  time the iPod was their biggest selling MP3 player. Not to mention their constantly shifting focus from music to DVD to Games back to Film then Accessories, oh wait wasn’t vinyl going to be the next big thing, leaving customers unsure of what HMV really wanted to sell them. Now it’s not like the staff sat there in silence whilst all this was going on, in my 7 years working for them every crazy twist and wrong turn was met with staff bellowing common sense but it would seem the doors to the boardroom were too thick to hear us.

There are a few ways in which HMV could survive, but I’ll talk about that in a minute, lets assume for now that HMV are past saving, keeling over and ready to have their organs asset stripped. What does it mean for we music lovers? Well while I’m still lost in my glow of New Years positivity, let me dream for a minute. Could this be the rebirth of the independent record store? Could the indie killers death leave enough space on the High Street for crate diggers to rise again? The continued existence of Spillers Records, Banquet, Rough Trade, Sound it Out, Piccadilly Records in these shittingly tight economic times suggests it is possible but dare we hope? From my dealings with Spillers & Banquet, they both prove that if you actually give a shit, actually care about what you are doing & selling, if you support your local community and music scene, then you can carve out not just a profit but a legacy as well. (Not to say Rough Trade et al don’t care, I just haven’t met them yet, I’m sure they’re all lovely!)

Now, I know this is a really idealistic view, I understand stand how hard it would be to wake up tomorrow and even begin to comprehend what it takes to open a record store, but it could happen, I meet people in every town with the gumption & energy to do it, and hopefully with the barrier of HMV removed, maybe some wonky haired, wise eyed, megging wearing indie kids will make it happen, especially if the music industry showed some foresight and helped them, if Labels & Distributors gave indie stores the same kind of discounts they give HMV, I’m sure they’d surely thrive.

As for HMV there are plenty of theories on their true future, maybe Apollo will buy enough debt to force HMV into closure leaving them free to asset strip. Maybe Universal Music Group, who are liable for HMV’s rental agreements if they were to fold, could take over & restructure the brand, or even rebrand as a ridiculous UMG Megastore. And to be fair HMV are not dead yet, they could grow a pair and steer that ship into the future yet.

Whether you care or not, HMV has been a part of our musical heritage for nearly 90 years, I would personally mourn it’s loss, but if its death could inspire us to fight for the music industry and support the thing we love, them maybe it is no bad thing.

> 12 Responses to "Maybe HMV goes boom."

  1. Jon

    I hurredly bought some Christmas presents in HMV this year and was surprised to find that they had pretty-much price matched Amazon for the items my family wanted… perhaps there is some hope. But they’ve screwed the pooch totally on the vinyl front. Back in ~2007 I’d regularly buy 7″s from HMV because you could find loads for 99p-£2, which is about the right price point for two tracks IMHO, and cheap enough for me to take a punt on something I’ve never really heard of. Now it’s all 12″ 80s reissues at >£20 a pop, or >£100 boxed sets for bands with the word ‘Stone’ (or ‘Stones’) in the name. Clearly they’re targetting the deep-pocketed mid life crisis brigade, and fair to them that’s a valid and valuable market segment, but they’re doing it to the exclusion of all else, including potential growth segments.

    When they sold off Waterstones, suddenly the big W had a big change of retail heart, switched strategies on discounts (finally moving away from “3 for 2” deals for everything), brought in a loyalty card scheme, experimented with cafes etc… basically as soon as they were unshackled from the HMV mothership they started innovating. That speaks volumes about the boardroom.

  2. johnson

    Totally agree. I also worked for them for 7 years (83-90) and then they were great at what they did (I worked mostly at their old Oxford Street store as the independent product buyer – they even stocked “The Fucking Cunts Treat Us Like Pricks” by Flux of Pink Indians then !).
    Their lack of realisation about what made them good and their hunger for growth was badly judged. I got head hunted by Virgin Megastore at a point when they were desperate to copy HMV’s success, that bland ‘corporate” mega brand was their undoing. HMV have done well to stay in the game.
    Its a shame somebody can’y come along and keep say 10 big stores and re-energise the specialisms it used to do so well. Maybe a dream team of Richard Branson and Spencer Hickman could sort it….

  3. steve

    in my 5 years there I found much the same pushed pillar to post between departments I was, and still am a gaming specialist yet found myself working specialities of all departments where whatever knowlege I had was mere parrot talk of my betters there, I had no depth and the minute customers pushed past the veneer scraped too thinly over the vacuumn underneath I would visibly have to rely on blagging or asking others. When I eventually made the transition back to games it wasn’t long before I was whisked off to sell products I hated (never will understand the love people have for tablets or apple) and sure charm, confidence and raw sales talent made me a highly successful sales assistant across the entire company I was second place in number of warranty sales. Yet when I needed the company to pay back some of the love, care and dedication I had shown them over the years of ever growing thin, they let me down. Out of options, unable to face another fight against the company I fired off my C.V. blitzed some interviews and handed my notice in as soon as something came up. Ironically, this bit of talent they lost is no longer in the retail sector but is working for a company partially to blame for the woes of hmv and in turn is owned by the single biggest threat out there. A shame really, ever since I first started in retail I wasnted to work at hmv and I was proud to wear that black, pink and white top.

  4. Lucy

    Sadly Indie shops will never get the discounts that HMV can because they can’t buy in bulk, what would be in it for the suppliers? I’d love to see HMV continue, perhaps scaled back from 200+ shops to the 75 they had when I worked there in the early 90s. There are still a lot of loyal, passionate staff there, in store and HO, many of whom (like my other half) have worked there for over 20 years. For their sake, and the music-loving public, I hope there’s still a future.

    • dan le sac

      In real terms supplier prices are a mess, a flat lower rate would do far more for the industry than encouraging HMV too over stock themselves just because it cheap! I still have a lot of friends there but I find it really hard to watch the companies decline after spending 7 year there.

  5. Garry

    What they don’t realise is that a solid product knowledge and a good bit of customer service can buy brand loyalty. I shopped at my local record store Mono for years and paid their inflated prices purely because I felt that they deserved my money. They introduced me to a ton of new bands, and I regularly asked for a copy of “the record you’re playing right now on the stereo” because they were always playing what they loved. The big superstores don’t realise that it’s always preferable to a customer to visit a small shop with all killer stock, than a warehouse of last-minute Christmas gift CDs (your Now 194’s, etc).

    Also, maybe if HMV could resist filling their stores with clueless minimum-wage sacks of shit rather than by people with their fingers on the pulse (who cost maybe that extra £0.50/£1.00 an hour), they could start rebuilding their empire.

    • dan le sac

      A couple of points here, firstly it’s important to note that Indie stores are only more expensive because the stock costs them more than it does for High St stores. So the prices are inflated by the industry, not the stores themselves. Secondly, HMV have always tried to employ “people with their fingers on the pulse” but as they’ve removed more & more responsibility from staff it doesn’t really give them the chance to shine.

  6. Kev

    For the last few years I worked for HMV 2008 – 2010 I was telling anyone who would listen that HMV would do well to focus on specialist products where it shined brighter than anyone else and include a more South-Korean esque ‘PC bang’ hybrid style store (wiki it) which doesnt really exist much here at the moment but you can bet it will in the coming years with the growth of e-sports and everything that is online. But instead it followed the trend of every other retailer in the the stack it high and cheap, a trend that was already failing and putting companies out of business. When I was hired by HMV in 2005 I was told I was being hired for my knowledge and passion, as was everyone else up until that time. The lies you tell yourself cause you the most harm HMV.

  7. Zoe Rose-Higgins

    I am sad they will prob close as there aren’t many places left to buy cds, even though they don’t have the best selection anymore. But I did get your album and love it!!

  8. Daveo

    HMV sell (apparently) 25% of all the headphones in England – and there’s part of the problem. They don’t know what they are. The music section in our local store is about 1/5th of the floor area, the rest is DVD, Xbox games, speakers/iPad/iPod gear and nominal tee shirts and books. If you went in to get a copy of say Tame Impala they may have one copy in stock. Lesser knowor up and coming bans don’t exist. However, or local private music store is wall to wall CDs and vinyl – the vinyl section having doubled over the last 6 months. So, I won’t mourn HMV – It’s bad for the staff, and its one less musical outlet, but in my head they went years ago.

  9. name

    It’s sad, Sac (see what I did there) but it is their fault. In simplest terms they just don’t provide anything that isn’t replicatable online. Price matching Amazon isn’t enough, you have to offer people a reason to go to the high street, and that means an experience that cannot be replicated online. This has been bloody obvious to whole sections of the retail business community for years, and HMV’s answer? Stock more accessories. FFS.

  10. Pingback: So What If HMV Dies? | Song, by Toad

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