HMV – an obituary


Farewell, then, HMV.  The administrators are now in charge, you will soon be disappearing from our high streets and, if you still have some HMV vouchers from Christmas, they’re already worthless.  I wish I could say that I used you a lot in the last few years and that I was really going to miss you, but I haven’t and I probably won’t.  It’s not that I’m one of the people to blame for your demise, it’s that you never had anything I really wanted to buy for a long, long time.  If it wasn’t a chart or mainstream album, it wasn’t in HMV.  I’ve bought a lot of new release albums over the last decade, but I’ve saved an absolute fortune by buying online and not in HMV.  Over the past few years, selling music has become less and less important in that shop, with the A to Z racks which used to dominate the stores being drastically reduced and stuck at the back of the shop.  The price of the back catalogue too, absolutely ridiculous.  It wasn’t unusual to see an album you could get for £5 to £6 on amazon for £15 in HMV.  In the last few years, the main products shoved in your face were DVDs, with huge sections of the store also given up to iPod, speakers and accessories for digital music on the move.  Useful, but not exciting… and, also, things that people didn’t tend to buy that often. Unlike the Coke and Mars Bars they bizarrely sold in their last few years – but, honestly, who wants to buy that stuff from HMV?

However, even though HMV really wasn’t the sort of store I was interested in frequenting, recently, I can’t help feeling deeply sad about the store’s slow demise.  Mainly because of the major role it has played in my life, right from when I was in my early teens, going into the Coventry, Birmingham and Leicester stores, looking at albums I wanted, longingly, actually discovering albums by artists for the very first time and the joy of buying an album when I’d saved up enough, or I had some birthday or Christmas money to spend.  Some of the greatest albums I’ve ever bought have been from the sale racks or bargain bins at HMV… and Woolworths too, but they’re long gone.  I remember going into HMV Birmingham during the week U2’s “Achtung Baby” was released and there being a massive graffitied Trabant installed on the ground floor.  It was exciting.  It made music seem as culturally important as I felt it was.  It brought it to life.  Today’s HMV experience seems like a world away from then – and I’m only talking about just over twenty years ago.

I recall going on shopping sprees in HMV’s Oxford Street store – and spending way too much money on my credit cards there, buying all these albums I just couldn’t resist.  Before the age of the internet, it was possible to really love an artist and yet somehow discover a minor album of theirs you didn’t know existed, just by visiting a music store.  Now, all you have to do is browse Wikipedia and you have a whole discography, with which you can go to amazon or iTunes and own within minutes.  It’s great to be able to do that, don’t get me wrong, but it has taken a lot of the magic out of those in-store “discoveries”.  Music was much more valuable back then, in many ways.  You had to spend a greater proportion of your disposable income to buy music, you owned less of it, it simply meant more to have that album in your hand as you left the shop.

I’m not going to point the finger of blame.  There’s no point.  We all know that the internet, rightly or wrongly, has killed a lot of high street businesses and that, in fact, HMV have done well to survive as long as they have done.  Unfortunately, there is now a whole generation of people who don’t believe that music is something that you should have to pay for, which is bad news for a business which has made the majority of its money out of selling music.  Younger people may just look at this writing as a bunch of wistful nostalgia, but I honestly think we have lost something irreplaceable.  Although, in all honesty, the HMV I knew and loved died a long time ago along with the big, bloated excesses of the music industry.  All this has done is give me a chance to reflect and mourn for what we’ve lost.

Best wishes to the staff and management of the stores, nationwide.

About A.D.S.

You are reading the musings of a music-obsessed forty-something who was brought up on The Beatles, lived through Britpop and now spends his time in pursuit of the best music around. This 'blog gives me an outlet to write about the huge number of albums I buy and the many gigs I go to. All of the opinions expressed are my own and if you don't agree with me, then I understand - music is a very personal thing. I like to receive comments, especially if they're nice ones.
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2 Responses to HMV – an obituary

  1. Bill says:

    My franchised local store closed down just before Christmas and the saddest thing about it was that I wasn’t even sad about it. About 2/3 of my music purchases had already moved to online because I wanted to be sure of the edition I was getting and I was tired of being viewed as eccentric for wanting special editions and things other than the new Delta Goodrem, Now-That’s-What-I-Call-Pretty-Bland volume 4927 or Andre friggin Rieu.

    As convenient as the internet is, I too miss the thrill of the chase. I finally found an obscure Pere Ubu track on iTunes and while it was wonderful to own it after 20 years, it was a hollow experience. Same goes for Amazon. When you approach the counter in a retail store, whether it’s noticed or not, there’s always a little part of you saying, “It is I, Bill, and you will notice that I am purchasing the new Waterboys album and be both professionally and personally admiring of my impeccable taste.”

    Now I only have that experience in second hand vinyl stores if I’m lucky. I really want to support local retaillers but it’s certainly getting harder and harder.

  2. You’ve hit the nail on the head. I’m beginning to wonder if this is why so many people are getting back into vinyl these days, because it’s one of the only ways you can attempt to recapture that authentic music purchasing experience and wear your music-loving credentials on your sleeve.

    Personally, I can’t get into vinyl. I have thousands of albums on CD and I really can’t begin to buy music on another format. That, and the fact that I don’t own a turntable!

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