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.