Music and entertainment retailer HMV has called in the administrators. The recession, the failure to adapt sufficiently to the digital revolution and so on, after they spent years raking in cash on over-priced CDs, have made this inevitable. Over four thousand jobs are at risk, thanks to what one analyst in the BBC coverage to which I linked calls a ‘structural failure’. They made little tweaks, giving more prominence to DVDs, computer games and MP3 accessories, but tweaks weren’t enough. A revolution was needed, and it never came. The parallels for the Christian Church are obvious. Many a time have I quoted the Seven Last Words Of A Dying Church: “But we’ve always done it this way.”
But I watch the collapse of HMV with genuine sadness. A part of my youth and young adulthood is disappearing. As a teenager, I used to take the bus up to central London, to their huge store in Oxford Street. I would go there with my best friend during the school holidays. We would go up to the singles counter and think of all sorts of old records to request. In those long-before-the-Internet days, it was one place where I could buy something relatively obscure. So when I was first stunned by hearing the long version of ‘She’s Gone’ by an unheard-of American duo called Daryl Hall and John Oates, it was to HMV Oxford Street that I went to buy the album which contained it, ‘Abandoned Luncheonette‘ (still a great album, BTW). But as supermarkets have invaded the space and only sold high volume titles at big discounts, the joy of rummaging around the back catalogue disappeared from HMV shops. When they were available – such as when I started buying CDs by new country artists such as Mary-Chapin Carpenter and Lyle Lovett in the early 1990s – the prices were so high as to need a mortgage. It was a good job I was a single man way back then.
Now, at least part of the Internet supports the ‘long tail’ theory and I can get old titles on Amazon or iTunes. But the rise of digital and the idea that ‘there is no real future for physical retail in the music sector’, as that analyst puts it, leaves me sad. Yes, I do sometimes download, but another part of my youth was as a hi-fi fan, and you can’t tell me that compressed, lossy files match up to what you can hear on a high quality sound system.
I don’t suppose anything more than an Oxford Street rump will survive the attentions of Deloitte, if anything. I will miss you, HMV.