- Thu, 2011-01-06 16:59
HMV has long been one of the sturdiest music retailers on the British high street, looking on impassively as shops like Fopp, Virgin Megastore (or Zavvi as it latterly became) and Tower Records have struggled, and in many cases failed. As 2011 dawns, however, it seems that old reliable is facing difficulties too, as the news breaks that diminishing profits for the HMV Group have forced them to earmark 60 stores for closure. Of those 60 stores, forty will be HMVs (the HMV Group also own Waterstones, of which 20 will close), representing roughly 15% of their outlets. Not a killer blow by any stretch of the imagination, it is nonetheless indicative of the falling demand for physical shops selling physical music.
The initial reaction to the news is one of mild sadness. A significant proportion of many people’s CD collections will have passed through the doors of HMV. Their impressively varied catalogue of stock always makes for an enjoyable browsing experience, crowds allowing. Where else can you go looking to replace your scratched-up copy of The White Stripes’ debut album and come out with Iggy & the Stooges’ Raw Power and the Sonic Youth b-sides collection, having only parted with an extra tenner?
But does the retreat of HMV really matter? The experience of stumbling across a cheap copy of an album that might not have been on your radar may soon be replicated online. Amazon is bound to have the same records for similarly low prices, and with programmes like Spotify and iTunes constantly improving their recommendation software, discovering new music is increasingly becoming a passive process as much as it is an active one. Moreover - and perhaps more importantly - independent record stores may benefit as those still fond of flicking through a rack of CDs at their leisure are forced to seek out their local alternative to the chain-store.
The slimming-down of HMV may turn out to be a boost for independent record stores or it may just be another move in the direction of online sellers. It may be a bit of both. It may be neither. It will only become clear much further down the line what effect it has on the sale of music, but what it can tell us right now is that the music industry is continuing to undergo serious changes as it comes to terms with the pressures that it faces in the modern world. We don’t know what 2011 will bring, but we’ll be looking on with interest.