Nick Frame’s guest column: Have HMV got their deserved comeuppance?
WALKING out of an HMV store some time back in the mid-90s, I remember having mixed feelings over a CD I’d just bought.
After finally getting my hands on an album that I’d wanted for two years, it ended up costing a whopping £16.99 (a sticker stubbornly sits faded on that Smashing Pumpkins casing to this day).
These days, would anybody in their right mind pay the thick end of £17 for a regular CD? Back in 1995 if you wanted to buy music that wasn’t in the top 40, you had little choice.
Independent record shops were disappearing fast, (largely thanks to the relentless onslaught of the HMV empire) Our Price could never quite cut it, Virgin/Zavvi was yet to make an impact and supermarkets were still waiting to launch any serious venture in to the entertainment market- not that they sell anything other than bubble-gum pop music today anyway.
During those pre-internet days, HMV was the place to go. It was the undisputed musical mecca for vinyl, cassettes, CDs, and movies on VHS and then DVD.
But with its seemingly-huge choice came a persistent downside - the prices.
Newly-released CDs would always set you back about £12.99, those falling from the charts and the front pages of the NME would cost you up to £16.99.
It’s a lot of money now, but it meant washing a lot of Ford Escorts back in the early 90s.
Even during the ‘sales’, you were lucky to get much of a discount - one album in my collection still has its scuffed price tag - ‘Sale- £11.99’.
Laughable that this was ever regarded as a sale price.
The problem was always a lack of competition, and like many, I rued having to fork out a small fortune for music.
How the tables have now turned.
With the endless availability of online CD sales, and then the digital download, the competition has finally caught up with HMV.
They had it had all their own way for far too long, and in my view, failed to cope.
Even in recent years, when it became obvious the shift in music-buying trends was beginning, they still failed to compete.
In fact, rather than try keep pace, they simply switched their focus to the DVD market and annoyingly eroded the number of CD stands.
They even attempted to branch into the phone market- another bizarre move .
But even before then, HMV had become the high street version of the 1980s’ Kays catalogue - you’d gladly use it to browse through the latest releases, but you’d never pay their prices.
The joy of browsing has always been an integral part of choosing music.
Even today, you’ll always spot music fans (including me) quietly sifting through the CDs, endlessly picking them out, turning them round, and dropping them back.
The difference today is that most will walk out empty handed, logging onto Amazon, eBay or Play.com on their iPhone as they go, expecting to find the CD for a lot less.
In most cases, they’ll succeed.
Clicking through pages of thumbnail-sized album covers on the web is not the same, even if the prices are more acceptable.
Besides my obvious sentiments surrounding music traditions, there is the more serious matter that 4,000 HMV jobs could be lost, although I’ve found the reaction to HMV’s demise pretty mixed.
Many are sympathetic, but like me are quick to criticise the company’s pricing policies.
However, also many recognise the sad decline of a British music institution.
One serious (and valid) concern is that HMV is the last high-street big hitter in this particular industry.
If a buyer is not found for the failing shop, will buying CDs or the recently-revived vinyl industry only be available over the internet?
I hope not.
Perhaps this is an opportunity for the return of the small independent record shops, the types found off the high street and run by those with an encyclopaedic memory for music and running it as a labour of love.
The type my dad used to tell me about before HMV’s musical monopoly.
For years I waited for HMV to get their comeuppance.
It feels like somewhat of a hollow victory now.
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