High street music woes strike a chord

Buying music has changed so much since I was a lad. Growing up in 1980’s Nottingham involved a weekly pilgrimage to Selectadisc, where I’d buy the latest Rush or David Lee Roth album. As my tastes evolved, I’d pick up a second hand rarity or two such as the original 12″ single of The Sugarcubes’ “Birthday”.

Whatever came home with me on the bus in that distinctive bag was part of the experience of buying music that will never be the same again.

With news today (http://tinyurl.com/24chgjp) that HMV is closing 40 stores following a 13.6% slump in sales, the future of high street music retail still looks uncertain. Buyer behaviour has changed, even for ‘Digital Immigrants’ like me (see http://tinyurl.com/2g4ncz8). 

The world has changed and we can now, via an iPhone and an App called Red Laser, instantly scan the barcode whilst you’re in a store and find out how much the CD/DVD is retailing for on Amazon, Play and a number of other online stores. Whilst the high street presence may capture footfall, how much of the potential revenue ‘leaks’ to online sources? I fear that stores like HMV risk falling into the “Woolworths trap” of ‘doing lots, badly’, with an unclear value proposition of the kind that ultimately led to the demise of Woolies.

I hope HMV survives and thrives, but to do so, it must work out what it is trying to be, and to whom. It then needs to clearly communicate this value proposition. Is it a Games, DVD or Music Retailer? Is it a price discounter or a destination store for connoisseurs where you can get good advice on your product selection? Can it successfully continue to be all things to all men, women, boys and girls?

For many, the act of browsing and buying music as a physical product is still attractive. I miss Selectadisc.


1 thought on “High street music woes strike a chord

  1. Alistair Smith

    The 1980s music buying experience had already begun to fade with the intriduction of the CD. As a somewhat nerdy boy, at least part of the attraction of buying a vinyl album or 12″ was that everyone could see you had bought a record. It was a talking point. Little CD bags never prompted the same interaction.

    I fear that HMV suffers from the same evolutionary process that has killed other retailers in recent years:

    – if I want to buy a chart CD, I can get it at the supermarket while doing the grocery shopping;
    – if I see something good on Jools Holland, I don’t need to wait until I get to a shop, I can buy digitally instantly;
    – and if I’m browsing digitally, I can listen before I buy.

    I’m not convinced that focusing on clothing, games or consumer electronics can bring a new dawn for HMW. Again, all are categories which are under heavy pressure from online and digital providers; band t-shirts are not exactly something people need to try on. Perhaps the more interesting question is whether the HMV brand has greater value used for something other than straight retailing: perhaps their music venues venture.

    But at the same time as being nostalgic about the music experience of our youth, we need to reflect that Spotify, Last FM, Ping and numerous other media tools give us access to a much wider and deeper range of music than we had as kids. And while that might mean “young people these days” don’t have to stay up trying to tape the Radio One Friday Rock Show any more, it’s got to be a good thing for bands and consumers.


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