Somebody wrote on Facebook – The Internet killed HMV. This is factually as incorrect as saying guns kill people. WE, the people killed HMV, albeit in a series of mostly unconscious but related acts:
Many people now download music for free without guilt or feeling that it is a criminal act. In the case of Ed Sheeran, apparently 9 million people have his album in the UK but he has actually sold 1.2 million copies. Go figure! No doubt, in Mr Sheeran’s case, he can make the difference up in merchandise, but it’s still a phenomenal statistic and most musicians are not in Ed’s position to make a living from T-Shirt sales.
We ‘graze’ on Spotify, Last FM et al without ever buying the music or considering that the artists who make the music have to make a living like the rest of us.
Our iPOD’s shuffle digital music without guidance or instruction from us, salami slicing our musical experience into slivers of music from artists that we may not even know the names of. Speaking recently with Bernie Tormé, he observed that bands now use his studio to record one song or an EP. Hardly anyone bothers to record albums because they know that people will only buy one track on iTunes.
Some of us cannot be arsed to go to a town centre to visit a music shop, if you can find one. Some local councils have also made it very unattractive to use town centres through draconian parking charges and makeovers that make it virtually impossible to run a music shop with character. I met Harvey Goldsmith a while back. He points out that that London’s nightlife is under threat through parking restrictions until midnight from ‘Government Grey People’.
A minority of people on Facebook today argued that HMV was disorganised and that the staff were not great at customer service, therefore they deserved their fate, in the Darwinian sense of the word. One or two said they feel intimidated by the ‘browsing’ mentality that HMV encouraged, especially those that did not know what they wanted. Perhaps these were weaknesses but not the major cause of their decline? On the pricing issue, HMV were undoubtedly dearer than the internet, yet, as someone that sells books on Amazon, I am deeply aware that they squeeze producers and publishers’ margins down to the point where some would consider it not worthwhile to make music, books and so on.
If we want to encourage original musical talent over and above the X-factor ‘karaoke music economy’, we need to change our behaviour. The food we buy at the supermarket is not free. We still contribute National Insurance but must pay for glasses and dentistry. Our water is now metered. Why, then, do we expect musicians and artists to work for nothing? That said, musicians have not been their own best friends by giving their work away etc. so it is a two-way street. Aside from the musical aspect of this story, HMV’s decline is testament to just how hard it is to operate in high street retailing in the current age. Looking forward 10 years, we may see the total reconstruction of high streets as a place for communities? Will shops still be part of that landscape?
One is reminded of Elvis’ rendition of Old Shep … Reader warning, this song can make you cry!
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