Don’t cry for HMV
Cast your mind back to November 2008. Woolworths, a stalwart of the British high street, went into administration. Social media and the press donned their rose-tinted specs to ask what had happened to their favourite shop, the shop they hadn’t been to for years, the one they used to visit on the way home from school to shoplift pick ‘n’ mix.
Four and a bit years later, HMV (hot on the heels of Comet and Jessops) has met a similar fate. Like Woolies, its assets have been handed to Deloitte, the company that will be paid to establish which parts of the business can be hacked off and sold to pay HMV’s creditors. Like Woolies, it had almost entirely ceased to be relevant.
HMV has, or had, a famous logo. Ironically, it might well be one of the things Deloitte can sell off for a decent jolt. Ironic, because – as you well know – it depicts a dog listening to a wind-up gramophone. Nipper (the name of said dog) is listening to a recording of his master’s voice. In the original painting the logo is based on, he was listening to a phonograph, the cylindrical medium that lost the first format war – the one from which disc-shaped media emerged dominant.
Physical media is dying. Physical shops are dying. And yet we somehow manage to be surprised when a physical shop selling physical media isn’t trading as well as promised by bullish management forecasts. For many of us, the idea of visiting a shop in order to buy a new album, film or game is as odd and anachronistic as a dog listening to a gramophone.
If HMV wants sympathy, it shouldn’t expect it. It was part of a movement (that also included the doomed Virgin Megastores, latterly Zavvi) that helped to kill off the independent record shop. Its downfall was not being able to recognise that the same fickle public who ditched their local Record Corner (or whatever) for its plush storefronts would exact the same disloyalty as soon as something better came along. And come along it did.
A lot of sympathetic gush will be extended (some of it rightly) to the staff who will lose their jobs in the HMV debacle (ditto Jessops and Comet – and Game, which must be on the brink of a similar fate). Some of them probably care deeply about music and games and films. But jobs for people who want to recommend records (or films or games) are going to be in short supply when so many people are willing to provide them for free. It’s a shame they won’t be able to do what they want any more, but then nor can most people who feel it is their calling to carve stone, or blow glass, or fit horseshoes. Or sell pick ‘n’ mix.
But HMV isn’t coming back. Nor is Woolworths. Nor is your local record shop. Nor are gramophones or phonographs. The media will declaim the death of the high street as a sign of the entropy of civilisation. But it’s not – it’s progress. And progress is what we’re all about.
By Paddy Smith