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.