In the same week that David Bowie got himself back in the top ten of the UK singles chart, another old music icon is having the exact opposite turn of fortune. High street stalwart HMV went into receivership after fighting the changing tide of fashion and economic downturn for some time. While HMV is still on our high streets as I type, and open for business, what the near future will bring is open to debate.
Despite cursory attempts to address the changing world of media entertainment, HMV should still essentially a record shop (or to be precise, a purveyor of music in material form). While it may now be one of the more obvious places to buy a new iPad it is failing in its original aims by giving up the ghost on material music package all to easily. It’s all very well that it’s more latterly been somewhere to pick up a cheap DVD box set, a computer game or a mug with Justin Bieber’s…um…mug on it. But when prime product, such as recent boxed sets from Led Zeppelin are hidden from view (with just a token notice in the DVD racks), it does make you wonder what even veteran record and CD buyers are going to be attracted in for, let alone the new generation who can probably get their games, blu-rays and DVDs cheaper on line, not to mention their music.
HMV is an iconic British brand, dating back to the 1890s and the dawn of the recording age. It took its name from Francis Barraud’s iconic painting “His Master’s Voice”, a portrait of ‘Nipper’, the dog whose head is cocked listening to the gramophone record. This, of course, remained in many forms as the company’s logo. From Edward Elgar’s involvement in the opening of the flag ship store in 1921 to the chain’s eventual dominance in the 1980s, HMV is the granddaddy of the high street record shop. I’m not alone in saying that I’ve taken it completely for granted. Even in a changing technological and economical landscape, I’ve not really believed that HMV would fall. Its existence seemed a good thing. While independent record stores probably seemed more worthy in their aims, certainly if one’s music taste was more underground, HMV has their welcome place. To think another great brand might disappear is a sobering though indeed.
But, to be blunt, they failed to sort their business sense out a long time ago, and working with an outdated model of commerce has left them looking like yesterday’s boys. They stopped stocking music in a way that might have complemented the digital revolution, rather than stubbornly continuing as if there was no change. Put some mobile devices on sale and display by all means, but as a record shop I want to see that Led Zep boxed set where it belongs. In the window or on a shelf. You know, where it might get seen and someone might buy it.
Hopefully, His Master’s Voice will call loud and proud again. Here’s hoping.