Old Shep

HMV Dog

Old Nipper now downloads his 78’s on Bit Torrent from the internet one track per artist …

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?

HMV is gone and it certainly seems that the old dog did not learn any new tricks. Will we?

HMV is gone and it certainly seems that the old dog did not learn any new tricks. Will we?

One is reminded of Elvis’ rendition of Old Shep …  Reader warning, this song can make you cry!

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14 responses to “Old Shep

  1. Yes – I am saddened by HMVs death by a thousand cuts. The high street may well die through the pincer movement of local government parking taxes and illegal downloading. I still buy CDs – from HMV on-line! I have a simple solution to local and high street shopping. Remove the off-licence from supermarkets, and open up proper off-licences in local high streets. People would have to make a special trip to get their booze. It would be more controllable. And shoppers may stop and buy more at the butcher, baker, newsagent, greengrocer…
    (In the menatime – the you tube of Elvis was fun – and free???)

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  2. Interesting thoughts, Peter – but I’m not sure what ‘we’ can do about it. We are where we are – my children (18) certainly don’t listen to whole albums (in fact they rarely listen to a whole track, they usually flick onto a new one about 2/3 way through), though they do buy them on iTunes rather than copy them free. Why would they change? In business, don’t we have to adapt to customer demand, rather than say to customers ‘This is how it always was, you need to go back to it!’? We need to find new and innovative ways of making money out of music sales, rather than look to the past. I know that’s difficult – I love my 70s concept albums, and wouldn’t think of playing them on shuffle (though I do shuffle my Al Stewart tracks, say), but I have to accept I’m not typical of the music buying public.

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  3. Disagree …you can grow your own food and give it away. It is what it is and the business model should have changed accordingly. Blockbuster the same. The value has shifted from the song sheet and the recording to something else. What? Dunno really. Is it live performance, pre-made playlists, something more valuable in the proposition as with Gorillaz, penny file shares to make it a no brainer etc? All I know is file sharing is so big it is at the precipice of iphone demise as itunes police kills demand.
    So many industries failed to adapt so started to die…and so many more will follow. How about FREE electricity (solar)’ free car fuel (hydrogen from water), free films (Vimeo)….
    This is what happens when corporations are ruled by stockholders rather than empathy driven design thinking collectives.
    Music is the perfect industry that will not die but will radically change.

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