Buyer or not, is there still room for HMV in today’s market?
You know what I like about HMV? The fact it’s got a little bit of everything, but not usually anything you want. No, wait – it’s the way they overprice things in the face of nearly no high-street competition. Actually, who am I kidding? The thing I love most about HMV is the fact it’s usually really busy and hard to move around, even though the tills are always quiet.
And so I can go on to an ultimately tiresome level (if I haven’t already), but these factors – and countless others – have led the company to call in the administrators. The weirdest thing is that nobody seems surprised; most people were initially more excited about the possibility that a wide variety of boxsets could soon be available for even cheaper than the “buy one, get one half price” deal it offered during the Christmas rush – perhaps telling of the trouble ahead, in retrospect.
It may just be a sign of the times – an era where companies go bust, people are bankrupted with ease, and banks are owned by the government – or just the general lack of enthusiasm for success that many Britons show symptoms of. Still, something happened to me in HMV just before Christmas that is testament to the company’s demise in the modern market – and its possible lack of a future, whether they find a buyer or not.
I was in the CD section looking for a Michael Ball CD – “Heroes”, to be exact, and for my mum, not me – and they had one copy. £15. For a CD. For my mum. So instead of heading to the till to buy the CD my mum wanted, I went online to use the Google “stores near your location” feature. There I found nothing, because all the other major CD chains had already fallen by the wayside in the last four or five years – Woolworths, Zavvi and Music Zone to name but a few. Supermarket selections are seasonal, and limited at best – particularly in Leeds city centre – and they weren’t even showing up on the search.
Weirdly, Amazon didn’t have it, though I put that down to the CD’s sparse physical release. This led me to eBay’s Buy It Now function. It came to £6.70, free delivery, and it would be first-class post so it would arrive at home for my mum ahead of Santa’s birthday. I ordered it in two minutes flat while rather churlishly standing in front of HMV’s easy listening CD rack, staring at Michael Ball’s soft face and hearing his wonderful voice belt out another show tune that my mum told me was a very good rendition.
And so the internet proved once again – and through almost-ubiquitous 3G technology (among younger generations, at least) – that it’s better to shop around. With the exception of Music Zone, the aforementioned companies that went under now sell online: Woolworths here, and Zavvi (currently plaguing my inbox daily with terrible deals) here. Whether it’s eBay, Amazon, Play.com or one of the many supermarket offshoots online, the internet is king – and even that platform is surprisingly limited for its retailer variety.
If it wasn’t for older generations with more traditional, less tech-savvy approaches to shopping – and eagle-eyed bargain hunters snapping up the better deals on the high street alongside them – it’s hard not to disagree with the idea that HMV would’ve crashed and burned a long time ago. Yet it hung on, rising out of the ashes of its rivals, to still find itself the biggest fish in the high-street pond for optical (and audio) media. Now, in 2013, the internet has caught up with it. It continues to in other ways, too.
Aside from internet sellers, we now have the often endless adverts for LOVEFiLM and Netflix, while Sky has invested in NOW TV and Tesco bought out Blinkbox – themselves benefiting from plenty of airtime. The average DVD costs £6 or £7, so why not pay the same each month for every episode ever of Breaking Bad, or It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, or even 24 – and the rest?
These kinds of services – while still limited, especially when compared to the US version of Netflix – are even scratching away at the desire to torrent. Why bother finding a good downloadable film or TV show on a virus-laden site, I’m sure they ask themselves, when you could instead stream the entirety of Modern Family in instant HD on Xbox, PS3, PC, Apple TV, tablet or phone?
The problem is that HMV propped itself up on hard copy forms of media that are just not sellable these days. Where there was once a CD rack, there’s now iTunes, Spotify, Grooveshark and torrenting. Plenty of TV shows are indexed on BBC iPlayer, 4oD and digital service catch-up options with Sky or Virgin Media – and even TiVo-based services such as Freeview HD+.
Meanwhile, games are, well… games may provide the answer for how HMV may stay upright in years to come (or at least the companies whose DVDs and CDs are being sold).
The UK’s high street gaming industry hit the buffers last year. Gamestation, bought out by Game to stretch its empire to new levels, helped the firm as a whole collapse in on itself in a very ironic way: by overplaying the second-hand games market that undermined new games sales. Gamestation closed entirely, and Game shut down most of its stores, but it needed to; after all, why would you buy a new game when you can get it pre-owned for 30% off, and often just days after release?
Given the outright popularity of the Steam platform on PC – which could soon roll out elsewhere – it seems that even the game producer obsession with including “exclusive” content, offering in-game unlockables for new buyers, has not proved to be enough. Even more desperate measures could be on the way. Rumours are that Sony has filed patents to completely restrict game content to new buyers only, effectively meaning that everyone needs to own a copy of a game to play it, and that rentals would close down.
And so the situation comes to an even more ironic end: rental shops will be truly dead and buried. It’s just like what has happened to Jessops in the face of camera phone abilities, or Borders because of Amazon’s Kindle and independent sellers, alongside supermarket shelves.
The same thing will happen to HMV, if it doesn’t think of a new way to reach customers. There’s no stopping the internet; much like Zavvi and Woolworths, it may be the only place for Nipper and his cylindrical phonograph in 12 months’ time.