Music Features, Spotlights

Spotlight: Dry The River on the HMV dilemma



drytheriver Be you a clued-up music aficionado, suited and booted City trader, or just your average ‘5-CDs-a-year’ Joe, we imagine you’ll have heard quite a bit about HMV in the press recently. It’s fair to say, they’ve seen better days.

For some, the firm going into administration seemed long overdue – the latest in a long line of flagging brands failing to keep pace with the digital age. For others – us included – it was all about shedding a solemn tear for the place where only a few short years ago, you could still peruse a reasonably well-stocked singles section, nab a two-for-£10 deal on a duo of Greatest Hits albums, and buy the latest instalment of FIFA, all in one sitting.

With the future of the retail chain still looking very much less than certain, Dry The River’s Matthew Taylor has kindly chipped in with a few of his own opinions including what exactly HMV meant to those artists whose CDs it stocked. Here’s what he had to say…

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There have been a lot of articles in the past couple of weeks about the mistakes of HMV and its timely crumbling into a pitiful heap of unwanted crap. People are asking who’s to blame, submitting theories on why it’s happened, asking where they are to go now, et cetera, et cetera…

It’s true – HMV were not doing enough to keep up with the way people discover, enjoy or buy music, and it’s a small miracle it lasted as long as it did without changing its aesthetic or its approach to selling music in years, despite rapidly evolving consumer behaviour.

But, alas, it’s finally happened. And it’s not looking good for a re-opening too soon. Last week’s live tweeting of the mass-sacking of over sixty central employees serves to prove that if HMV is to agree to any kind of takeover and continue selling physical products on the high street, it will be a much smaller operation on far fewer high streets. If it does survive, reasonable guesswork says it will be between 50 and 100 stores that stay open. ‘Flagship’ is the term, I believe. At the time of its capsizing, HMV had nearly 300 stores in the UK.

And so, if it is taken over, HMV might still be there for you – if you live in the city. In Bristol, Manchester, Birmingham, Glasgow. You might even be OK if you live in Hull. But not everyone does. People live in Morecambe. People live in Bletchley, and god help them, people live in Redditch. And these places, where people live, do not all have forward-thinking independent record stores, like Bristol does, and like Manchester does. They don’t have alternatives.

So here is where I raise my concern. My concern for the ‘mid-level’ (what does that mean?!), seemingly-successful-but-honestly-struggling artist. The artist who was in the racks at every HMV, in most major and non-major towns in the UK, and who is now on the same racks in a cold building, with its shutters down, with some wee on.

There are two other types of seller that buyers can turn to and to whom we can pin our false-hopes. There are trendy, independent record stores – usually short on floorspace and selective of their stock purchasing, and then there are supermarkets. Not everyone has the critical rating that gets you on the shelves in Rough Trade, etc., and certainly hardly anyone gets the TV exposure, advertisement synchronisation or ear-pummelling Radio 1 play that gets you stocked in the supermarket. (Not unless you’ve done something dirty. Some integrity-munching, dark and foul act that it’s better we don’t even suggest possibilities of. Pull your trousers back up. Disgusting…)

Emeli Sandé, The Script, the X-Factors, McFly – they’re all gonna be fine. They’re already smiling on the shelves in Tesco. A survival of the shittest, if you will.

But what happens to us struggling bands? Not shiny enough for Tesco and not dirty enough for the indies? Our physical CD sales vanish, that’s what. In 2012, CD sales accounted for over 30% of our total sales (yes, true). We need that 30%.

Some people will start ordering CDs from a certain online retail outlet, of course they will. But not all of them will. And this move to the internet will no doubt increase the popularity of MediaFire, Torrentz and the like.

On the high street, there won’t be impulse-buys. No more ‘pop in to see what’s in’ buys. No more ‘I’ll pick that up on the way home for the car’ buys. No more ‘what’s this playing in the shop’ buys. The sales will fall. They will continue to fall.

On the graph of perpetually falling sales, there has been an almighty gradient change. Imagine a sex-education picture of an erect penis, just for a second. That was sales in the ’80s and ’90s. Now the picture on the opposite page of the textbook – the wilted, flaccid excuse for a penis. The drooping, limp, pitiful and downright ugly form of what once was. That’s us right now.

I’m slightly harrowed. And the record labels, they are proverbially and physically shitting themselves. They owned the stock that sits in HMV – HMV couldn’t even afford to buy it from them. It was paid for once it was sold to the consumer. The labels are already down.

What a situation. It will be interesting, and probably disheartening, to see how it transpires. Meanwhile, I’m going to go and see if Sainsbury’s has got the new Frightened Rabbit album.


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