I went down to the sacred store
Where I’d heard the music years before
But the man there said the music wouldn’t play
This morning I heard the sad news that that music store HMV has appointed an administrator. If a buyer isn’t found for the struggling retailer, it could see the end of a British institution. Starting life out as a gramophone company in the 1890’s, their first store opened Oxford Street, London in 1921 by composer Edward Elgar. Following the demise of Virgin Megastores (renamed Zavvi after a management buyout then went into administration) and Tower Records, HMV are the last remaining large high street music and video retailer in the UK. With the onslaught of online retailers and music downloads, high street retailers have being fighting on two fronts for more than a decade and in recent years have been losing.
This sadly isn’t the end of the demise of traditional media retailers. Booksellers could follow in the footsteps of music stores. With sales of ebook readers and tablet computers, book sales could go the same way as CD’s. Home video has been given a stay of execution in the form of the high picture and sound quality of DVD and Blu-ray, but how long will that last? More and more people are streaming and downloading movies and the quality is improving all the time.
The real sad thing about the changing way we consume media is not just the tactile and physical pleasure of owning a book or record but the social aspect of it. Whether on your own or with friends, there is something special and magical about browsing book and record stores that you don’t get from downloading and online ordering. Looking a book covers and reading a the first page or looking at album artwork and sleeve notes are all part of the process. Talking to friends who are shopping with you or the staff in the shop about the product, and listening to recommendations of other artists or authors has always been a great way of discovering new things. Online retails try to replicate this, but it is far from the same thing.
Online ordering is a solitary experience, but it does however give the purchaser the same solid item to have and to hold that a virtual download does not offer. This may seem like a small point, but it does prompt the question, have you ever given or received a book, CD or DVD as a gift? I imagine most people reading this has probably done both. I would also suggest many people will have lent or borrowed a book, CD or DVD from a friend. I have introduced many people to movies, music and books that I love and have gratefully received the same from friends and family. I have never given nor received a virtual book, movie or record and wouldn’t know how to! I still own every CD or Vinyl record I have ever owned, I’m not convinced by the security of my backups and with it the security of my downloaded music. My parents have recently given me some of their old records some of them dating to the 60’s. Will people in 50 years time be sharing their old MP3’s?
I am not a total Luddite and appreciate many forms of technology, I’m just not impressed with the effect they seem to be having on retailers and consumers alike. The real threat to the music industry in the modern age may not be piracy, but apathy! It isn’t all bad news, there is a wealth of music and books in circulation. And I still have the last bastion of sanity in my hometown, Birmingham, The Diskery; A privately owned second-hand record store specialising in vinyl records that is still going strong after more than fifty years.