The End Of An Era? Goodbye To HMV…

This afternoon I did what I quite often do on a day off and headed into my local town centre in Windsor for a wander. I generally do this a couple of times a week. I go for coffee, do the food shopping. And I always have a look in HMV.

Not today though. Because it has gone. I posted this photo on Twitter and it caused quite a reaction…

HMV Windsor

Now I wasn’t particularly surprised at the stir this caused considering who I follow on Twitter and who follows me. There are a lot of independent musicians and fans of independent music who may well have little need of such a chain and probably haven’t visited a branch of HMV for years. But HMV has been a big part of my life for as long as I can remember, so I thought I’d drop a quick post here partly to say goodbye and partly so you can share your thoughts too.

When I was learning music as a kid I dreamt of the day when I could walk into a big record store and find something that I was on. Sad but true. Now (well, until today anyway) I can walk into pretty much any branch of HMV and find at least one record that I’m on somewhere. Which is a great feeling. And I don’t get that feeling when it shows up on iTunes; even for my own records.

HMV Vintage Poster

But this is by the by. Obviously the massive shift in the music industry and the change in the way that people buy their music has had a huge effect on the high street. Richard Branson shut down his Virgin Megastores years ago. He saw it coming. They were largely bought up by the European firm Zavvi, which lasted all of five minutes. Fopp (my record store of choice) went bust when they tried to expand and got partially rescued by HMV. So they are doomed too which is a bloody shame as they were possibly the best high street music retailer (even after the HMV takeover) for both commercial and more esoteric music.

We can all see where HMV got it wrong. They failed to keep up with online trends, sporting one of the shoddiest websites around. They failed to compete with online giants like Amazon and and lost out. Perhaps high street record stores were always doomed to vanish the minute music consumption shifted to digital from physical media (even given the supposedly renewed trend for vinyl). But I really thought that there was room for at least one big chain to survive on the high street. And HMV was the last man standing.

Vintage HMV Advert

I suspect that many of you reading this will probably say you buy your music (whether physical or digital) almost exclusively online anyway and won’t be sad to see HMV disappear from our high streets, citing it’s out-moded business models and pricing policies. And you’re probably correct. But I will miss browsing around the stores and finding little gems. I buy a lot of CDs folks, and I buy them in shops. I like to see what’s just come out in the new releases, see what’s on offer. I’ve bought a few albums having heard them playing in Fopp. I’ve even bought a couple of albums because (sharp intake of breath!) I like the cover. Yes indeed. I am particularly good at that it turns out. I like to happen upon things in Fopp and occasionally take a chance on something I’ve never heard of if it’s a bargain. I’ve never done that on Amazon.

I do also buy a lot of music digitally, either via Bandcamp or iTunes (yes I still use iTunes!). I like having the choice. If it’s an album by someone I love, I will buy the CD. I’ll always be first in the queue at Fopp when a new album comes out by someone like Bjork, Antony & The Johnsons or Sigur Ros. But I want to go to a shop. If I have to order it online I will most likely buy the download. It’s cheaper and it doesn’t take up valuable shelf space!

I know this blog post probably makes me sound very old-fashioned and over-nostalgic, but I really will miss record stores. And yes, I know there are still some independent record stores out there, but they are few and far between and even fewer stock anything I’d be interested in at a sensible price. HMV often did. And Fopp always did.

The same argument applies to DVDs too. I often pop into HMV and pick a cheap film to watch later in the evening. Can’t do that anymore. In fact as I walked through Windsor this afternoon the thought occurred that there is now not a single shop that sells music or films. Not one. And I’m sure mine isn’t the only town centre where this is now the case. @PintoDexter commented saying there are no dedicated camera shops on the high street since the demise of Jessops earlier this month, but at least you can buy camera gear in other electronic stores. You’d be hard pushed to go out and buy a CD or grab a film to watch tonight…

So tell me; will you be sad to see Fopp and HMV go? Am I really the only one? Do you think this will have any knock-on effect on the music/film industries? Do post your comments below…

This Store Is Closed: HMV

9 Responses to “The End Of An Era? Goodbye To HMV…”

  • Dawn Says:

    Great post Simon. Having once had a xmas job in HMV’s then-rival, I got to see from the inside a lot of things that high street record shops did wrong. And yes I buy most of my music now either online, or from the artist at a gig, but it doesn’t mean I won’t miss HMV, for the reasons you’ve mentioned. And it makes me very sad that our kids may never know the joy of wandering around a record shop, browsing, and taking a chance on a new CD just because it’s there. In fact, it’s just struck me as I type this that if it wasn’t for HMV I probably wouldn’t know you or be reading this now – it was in HMV on a miserable afternoon in 2005 that I happened to spot a certain Adventures in Gramophone CD, remember David Ford telling me how great Duke Special was, and purchase it on the off-chance that I’d like it. And the rest, as they say, is history. I just never thought that HMV would be too… R.I.P Nipper the dog and co.

    • Simon Little Says:

      Hi Dawn. It is exactly that sense of joy that I will miss too. And it is a joyous experience for me. I don’t know why; it just is. Music has been my life since I was a kid and record stores have always felt like my little haven on the high street. I really hoped someone would buy up HMV and sort it out, but looks like it’s too late now they’re stripping out the shops. It is a terrible shame that future generations won’t have that anymore…

  • Baxter Tocher Says:

    Thanks for posting this, Simon. I feel very sorry for the staff that worked in the HMV shops – my first ever job was managing an independent record store for five years, before the cheap pricing of Woolworth (who needs product choice, right?) forced it to close. One thing I haven’t seen anyone address yet, though, is the fact that HMV made a significant move into downloading by buying 50% of the 7digital download store in 2009. I’ve yet to find out what happened to that 50% stake. Does anyone know?

  • Simon Little Says:

    In stark contrast to my photos from today, Dave Douglas just shared this post from Flavourwire. The Most Beautiful Record Stores In The World…
    Nice to see Rough Trade East in there 😉

  • Kevin Says:

    I can imagine it felt great to see records in there that you played on. Much respect to you for that!

    As expressed on Twitter, I just feel that the concept of a music/video store like HMV can’t exist anymore.

    Even if you were just passing by, popped in and bought something the truth is that it’ll be cheaper online and in a lot of cases music will be higher than CD quality. If I did actually want to get something from HMV it meant either driving into town or getting a bus into town, both as expensive as each other taking into account ticket prices/fuel/parking, and paying for a product that can be found online for cheaper.

    Personally, as I buy all music, books, et cetera online I definitely save money by using Amazon Prime and getting Next Day delivery on basically everything.

    The truth is, though, that I do actually like CD covers too… but that is outweighed by my preference for higher-quality audio and not wanting something lying around permanently after I’ve copied it to my computer once.

    It’s sad that so many people lost their jobs, best wishes to all looking for new work, but can anyone say they are not surprised HMV held on this long?

    • Simon Little Says:

      Hi Kev. Thanks for posting. Obviously if you have to travel somewhere it adds to the cost, but that applies to any shopping from your clothes to your food. It’s the experience I will miss. If we are just talking about physical media (I do download about 50% of my music) ordering CDs and films online is a pretty joyless exercise for me. I will miss the experience of going into HMV and having a look for a film to watch that night. I missed it today in fact. It’s the immediacy of going into a shop and buying something without having to wait for it to arrive that at lot of people enjoy. Last week I bought the second season of Boardwalk Empire from HMV. I checked he price and it was a pound cheaper on Amazon. So I bought it in HMV, took it home and started watching it that night. Even the old ritual of going into Blockbuster and renting the latest movies has now vanished. Although I personally haven’t done that for years, but still!
      The joke is even when I buy a CD I stick it straight into my iTunes and play it from there so I rarely even play the actual CD. But browsing in record stores is a big part of my personal music discovery and helps me keep up to date with what’s out there. And when you bear in mind that I am by profession a part of that industry, imagine what it means to your average music-lover. The guy that doesn’t read the music press or access the right online music discovery channels. I have found a lot of great albums because they’ve been recommended in Fopp. I think this kind of curated music recommendation is still quite important; especially for new bands and artists.
      As for audio quality in the download vs CD argument, I would hazard a guess that your average listener wouldn’t even notice a difference, or even possess an audio system capable of showcasing the difference.
      It is indeed sad for everyone at HMV losing their jobs, but also a terrible shame for all the emerging artists and bands in the future that will never see their albums for sale in a shop. If I was in that position and my debut album was about to drop, I’d be bloody gutted right now…

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