The Norwich HMV store on the corner of Gentleman's Walk and Davey Place.
PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAY

Poll and tell us your views - Special report into demise of HMV

Wednesday, January 16, 2013
2.31 PM

Much-loved music retailer HMV is in deep trouble - and it has been a long time coming. KEIRON PIM looks at how a high street institution lost its way.

We asked people shopping in Norwich what they thought of HMV’s troubles.

Sylvia Robinson, 64, who is retired and from Norwich said: “It’s in trouble because people are buying online. That’s the reason it’ll eventually go I think.”

Matthew Clark, 23, who is unemployed and from Mile Cross, saidL: “It’s much easier to go online. It’s cheaper as well nowadays. I used to go into HMV back in the day, years ago though, but the past couple of years not at all.”

Julian Bailey, 64, retired from Bacton said: “I always think it’s a terrible shame when people lose their jobs, but it’s hardly surprising because the internet’s so easy to use. I’m afraid I’m as guilty as anyone; I use Amazon and I find it so convenient.”

Halley Johnson, 35, who does admin work from home in Norwich, said: “I use an online service to check up and then I get someone else to buy it for me because I’m not in town that often, but I don’t use Amazon because it annoys me. I buy CDs and my children both like to have actual CDs.”

On Saturday I visited both of Norwich’s HMV stores in search of a DVD requested by my daughters. Neither had it in stock so I went home and ordered it from Amazon.

Multiply that small example across Britain over the last decade and you have the story behind a high street institution’s collapse into administration.

It is fair to say that when Comet went bust, the public’s emotional response divided between sympathy for those made redundant and anger at the prospect of being unable to spend their gift vouchers. There was no sense of personal loss or that a part of one’s past was disappearing also. But the prospect of HMV possibly following them into oblivion is quite different: it is a shop that has meant something to every generation for the last 92 years.

Just as people reacted to Woolworths’ closure by reminiscing about buying bags of pick’n’mix sweets there as children, now they feel a twinge of nostalgia recalling teenage Saturdays spent buying singles with their pocket money, or calling in at lunchtime and rapidly splashing £50 on a clutch of CDs in the carefree days before the economy and parenthood combined to put a halt to such financial recklessness. (OK, that might just have been me.)

And like Woolworth’s, HMV’s appeal has for too long lain in the realm of nostalgia rather than in answering the 21st century consumer’s needs. People in their 20s have grown up downloading from iTunes and MP3 sites. When CD sales are in decline and yet the leading High Street music store is dependent on selling ‘physical’ products, it’s indicative that there’s a serious disjunction between its market and its business model. Where once we flicked and browsed through the racks, curious as to what surprises might take our fancy, increasingly we delegate that search activity to the algorithms of Amazon or YouTube, which tell us what we might like based on our or other visitors’ previous behaviour.

Around 20 years ago a leisurely crawl round Norwich’s record shop circuit formed my idea of an enjoyable Saturday, if not that of my accompanying friends. To Lower Goat Lane for a wander around Lizard Records and Andy’s Records, across to St Benedict’s Street for Soundclash and Circular Sound, to HMV, Our Price and Virgin in the city centre, and over to Out of Time on Magdalen Street.

Of those only Soundclash, Circular Sound and Out of Time survive, along with the classical music specialist Prelude Records on St Giles Street.

Yesterday Paul Mills, who has run Soundclash for 22 years, said: “I really think HMV threw everything away. They messed up their website for online sales and lost out to Amazon; they messed up on digital downloads; then they decided to downsize the side of their business that they specialised in, which was a mistake.

“HMV locally has two shops within five minutes’ walk of each other, so they’re employing double the staff and double the overheads.”

Assistant Editor David Powles gives his views.

Music is one of those things that can define a generation. However it isn’t simply the music we enjoy that can so often spell out the era we are from, but how we are listening to it and where it has been purchased.

Go back to the 70s and early 80s and music fans would have likely listened to their favourite bands or groups on records and record players purchased from mainly independent stores.

And when the popularity of record players dwindled, there was genuine sadness at their demise from those for whom music plays a major part in their lives.

During the late 80s and early 90s tapes and tape players soared in popularity, while independents stores largely managed to survive. There was, however, a surge in multi-national chains and many reading this will fondly remember going to places like Our Price, and to a lesser extent this region’s very own Andy’s Records.

Music in the late 90s and early noughties, meanwhile, was largely accessed via CDs and CD players, with independents sadly becoming less able to survive as the likes of HMV and Virgin Records were able to buy in bulk and undercut them at every opportunity.

And this is why the news that HMV (somewhat ironically a victim of being undercut by the internet) may be no more has led to an outpouring of genuine sadness from people of a certain age.

Music does, after all, bookmark much of the important moments in our lives – and when the thing that has helped us to access it disappears it’s no surprise that makes people melancholy.

When news broke on Tuesday night that HMV was likely to go into administration, social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook (generally popular among thirty-somethings who would have grown up with the store) were brimful with people’s outpourings, from memories of queuing at midnight to buy the new Oasis album to spending hours in their listening booths trying to decide what to buy.

And I’ll admit I was one of those people – the fact that I have steadfastly refused to ever download music means many an hour has been spent thumbing through CDs in Norwich’s two HMV stores, as well as some of its best independents.

Times change, however, and it seems likely that the next era of music will be one defined by iPods and iPhones, downloads and internet purchasing.

And that in itself makes me sad – to think that a certain generation of people will miss out on the joy of spending hour upon hour trawling through music, to discover a long-forgotten album by Pulp, Gene or some other of my favourite bands reduced to a bargain price.

For more on this story see today’s paper. Tell us your views in the comment section below.