HMV: Shops can't live on nostalgia alone

The demise of HMV has seen many eulogising the once huge record shop. Some people bought their first record there or fondly recall seeing in-store sessions by bands they liked.

However, since the last record boom of the 90s, anyone flogging recorded music has struggled. Independent record shops have been undercut or not sold enough stock to pay the rest, vanishing altogether or becoming eBay stores. HMV stood alone on the High Street after Andy's Records and Our Price vanished, trying to diversify in a market they didn't understand.

While some indies thrived by offering a more 'boutique' experience, HMV decided to be the record shop that sold almost everything but. Of course, HMV have huge racks of CDs (often catalogued on shelves in a mystifying manner - Bob Dylan under 'D', Bruce Springsteen under 'B', or as one anecdote goes, Thelonius Monk under 'L', because staff were advised to ignore 'The' in band names), but they turned their focus to video games, t-shirts, posters and headphones. Walk into a branch of HMV, and you'll see the layout trying to push you into buying iPads, rather than records.

The truth about that is, people buying iPads will go to a Genius Bar because they trust - rightly or wrongly - that Apple staff will know more about the technology being bought and that, should expert advice be needed, the folks of the Genius Bar will be able to help. HMV, meanwhile, became a huge market place of just about anything they thought 18 year olds might want. It was unfocused with stock and the shops themselves became almost impenetrable assault courses of just, stuff.

And with the entire world shipping their music to their computers or Spotify, HMV stubbornly believed in the selling of things you could hold in your hand. Their online presence was lousy, yet they thought they were going toe-to-toe with Amazon. Amazon may be arses, but they know how to maximise the online pound. HMV went from being a record-flogging behemoth to a doddering granddad almost overnight. The shops looked old-fashioned (compare it to the relative cosiness of a Fopp, for example - also doomed it seems, thanks to HMV's involvement) and corporate with huge neon nonsense lining airless hangars. Their staff, browbeaten by management, weren't allowed tattoos and piercings. Not an issue for those that live in cities (as they're likely to have an indie nearby to aspire to), but in the suburbs, HMV could well have been the only record shop you could aim to work at... and your boss is telling you to dress conservatively and not share your enthusiasm for music? Anyone who has applied for a job at HMV will know that it is more akin to applying for a job at a chain pub or fast food restaurant - they want workers, not people to create an 'experience'.

It's the latter that helps shift records and HMV lost sight of it. And with that, everyone looked after themselves online or disappeared into musty old indies. With Amazon, it is honest enough to be little more than a warehouse, which HMV refused to acknowledge. Independents are weird and awkward in pleasing way, which HMV tried to iron out. And now HMV is being wound-up, people are now talking about how sad they are that it is gone, despite the fact they haven't shopped there since 1998. You can't run a shop on nostalgia alone, so with that, if anything good is to come out of the fall of HMV, we can only hope it is a renewed interest in independently run record shops.

If you don't know where your local indie is, there's a collaborative Google Map you can see by clicking here. If you do, and want to share it with those looking at the end of HMV like it is the end of their days flicking through racks, get on it.


  • Chewbacca
    You missed one important point: Modern music is shit. No, really, bear with me here. The kids will listen to whatever generic pop crap Cowell and co. deem we should be buying, but because it's for the kids, it gets bought elsewhere as the kids are too young to remember anything other than buying digital downloads. Adults have been pushed online as any decent music will generally have been almost double the price in HMV. Games--wise, the kids would generally go to GAME or Grainger Games. HMV didn't tend to carry a great range and even their used stuff was poorly promoted. In trying to be all things to all men, HMV ended up meaning nothing to anyone. *insert obligatory "feel sorry for the staff" comment here. Never mind, another min. wage job is always just around the corner guys.
  • Darth V.
    You have valid points Chewbacca but sneering at people who are losing their jobs makes you look a bit of a twat.
  • Jeremy K.
    @ Darth Vader Only a bit?
  • klingelton
    still - we do have the indie shops. i'm off to Jumbo's now to wank over music you've never heard of.
  • Gerry M.
    @Chewbacca "You missed one important point: Modern music is shit." No quite sir, Modern Music is too disposable in what it adds to society. I can tell you the last time I played my Brick in the Wall album on vinyl but I'd be fucked if I had to tell you the last song I heard on the radio today. And like you and sicknote and et al I share the comments about "boo hoo, poor staff...."
  • shiftynifty
    Brilliant article....says it all
  • Chewbacca
    @Darth Vader Ironic that you're calling me a twat after all the evil you've been responsible for. I'm right though, how many people had a "career" with HMV? Apart from the poorly paid store managers and H/O staff? Everyone else would just have been there to make ends meet or for a "Saturday" job whilst at school/uni. Perhaps my tone was a bit off, but they're not exactly the type of jobs that can't be easily replaced, unlike, say, a large engineering firm. Although tongue in cheek, I was actually trying to outline that these types of jobs really are quite plentiful, even in this day and age.
  • Chewbacca
    @Gerry Mandering "“You missed one important point: Modern music is shit.” No quite sir, Modern Music is too disposable in what it adds to society. I can tell you the last time I played my Brick in the Wall album on vinyl but I’d be fucked if I had to tell you the last song I heard on the radio today." So, you're agreeing with me - modern music IS shit?! Case in point - I heard a song a while back on the radio. Can't quite remember the specifics, but essentially it was a list of "old fashioned sayings" like "A chain is as strong as its weakest link". It wasn't that specific saying, but you get the gist. I was thinking "who the fuck listens to this utter drivel", then I realised it was on Radio1 and therefore probably around 8 million people... The point is, HMV always catered to the "low hanging fruit" end of the market, and when they all discovered the interwebs, they were fucked.
  • Spencer
    mof.... one of the best written BW articles in a while.... where once I would cock a snoop at the weeks old regurgitation this site often spews out .... today I am doffing my hat in your general direction in a mildly approving manner.
  • Colin
    @ Mof Has someone hacked your account on here because for the first time I can remember you actually seem to have posted something decent. Well done :) xx
  • tcs
    There's plenty of original music and talent around these days. But you'll rarely find it in HMV's doorway, or on FM... Thankfully.
  • Chewbacca
    @tcs That's what I'm saying. All you'll hear is "music" that appeals to "popular culture", in other words the lowest common denominator. If you study it closely, it's somewhat akin to a 2 year old banging a toy drum.
  • zeddy
    A lot of people who know what they like in music now buy directly from the band's website which could not have been done 15 years ago. I am damn sure I won't pay £5 more just for the privilege of purchasing form a middleman.
  • zeddy
  • Gerry M.
    It's a fact that there are more suicides in the under 25's when X-Factor is running it's season on the TV. Modern music is shit and HMV and selling this shit to suicidal kids in the same way that J1mm13 Sav1ll3 sold sweets to kids.
  • tcs
    @Chewbacca That'd be that newfangled 'pop music' craze them kids keep banging on about.
  • No s.
    Instead of going to HMV, go to a local venue and get some live music. If you think the local live music is shit learn to play and become so much better than everyone else or fuck off and get sweaty with your live role playing friends. "Fair play Norman, you did save wooly"
  • Ian
    Mof, brilliantly written, sensible and well-articulated post with solid reasoning and unusual evidence of research. Do more of this and you may regain some credibility among readers on this site.
  • P O.
    And now ♪♪ for HMV ♪♫♪ it's time to face ♪♪♫ the vinyl curtain..... ♪♫♫
  • Delhi K.
    Music is for weak people who cant dress themselves.
  • Chewbacca
    @tcs Well, yeah, pop music. It's fucking shit. Still, it's like crap beer - let the proles get pissed on it so we can keep the good stuff for ourselves. It's just a bugger decent beer is £3/bottle+ to import...
  • tiderium
    HMV's main problem was as a company it was overpriced for the products it sold. for example buy rocksmith (game for pc xbox and ps3) and hmv would donate £5 to the teenage cancer trust, admirable I hear you say, however they were £15 more expensive than anywhere else so you could buy the game from amazon, tesco, gamestation, et al and make a £10 donation yourself and still be better off. and when it had a sale its deepest discount were on things only a select few people wanted to buy like anime boxsets, or boxsets of old bbc programmes elsewhere in the sale things had like £1 off. hardly a sale. as for the thing about giftcards just now thats just plain wrong its like free money for the administrators. there should be a change made to the law that if a gift card has been bought then the company already has the money for it they then must honour that gift card. its basically theft.
  • blighty
    if there is still a need for this sort of shop someone else will fill it once again branson pulled out at the right time !!!
  • Dick
    @ tiderium "as for the thing about giftcards just now thats just plain wrong its like free money for the administrators. there should be a change made to the law that if a gift card has been bought then the company already has the money for it they then must honour that gift card." The company does have to honour gift cards. However, once it goes into administration, it no longer exists as the same company. The company you bought the card from has gone, so it's promise of goods in exchange for the voucher is no longer valid.
  • qwertyuiop
    Actually, HMV will remain HMV in every sense until it ceases to exist. If HMV keeps the name above its stores then legally it is still trading as HMV. Blockbuster continued to accept gift vouchers when it entered administration. There's no law which dictates either way, so for HMV to choose not to honor them is a dick move and will potentially cost them customers if they survive.
  • Redrum
    Gift cards are stupid anyway, the amount of them not redeemed EVER is usually expected to be around 20%. Free money to the shops however you look at it. Stick a tenner in an envelope granny!
  • Don’t m.
    [...] assessment for ING Direct. “Shopping around at other on line banks and credit unions throughout the last month roughly has made me realize how great ING is. I really wish Capital One does not [...]

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