HMV is a high-street staple. As a teenager, spying its neon pink sign from across a crowded shopping centre was a feeling not unlike finding an oasis in the desert, and swaggering out of the store with an album or a TV box-set was the closest you could get to a spiritual experience on a gloomy afternoon in Milton Keynes. Yet, in an increasingly virtual world, HMV’s viability as a peddler of physical goods has been placed under significant threat, and the company was forced into administration in early 2019. Seemingly out of nowhere, in February of this year, Canadian entrepreneur Doug Putman rescued HMV from the scrapheap, bringing it back onto our high-streets. Whilst HMV loyalists break out the English sparkling wine and bunting for the return of the British high street heavyweight, others question how long this will last, and how HMV can sustain itself in an increasingly hostile environment.
Founded in 1921, HMV has weathered the ages, with its logo of a dog listening to a recording of his departed owner (hence His Master’s Voice, for those of you who, like me, who didn’t already know this). This recent foray into administration, however, marks the second such time HMV has found itself in this situation in six years. Streaming sites like Spotify and Netflix constitute a many-headed beast for the survival of stores like HMV, offering you everything an exhausting trip to the shopping centre would provide you with in the comfort of your own home. This has spelled declining profits and rising costs for HMV, made worse by the ever-increasing rent prices for stores in cities like London. The nationwide-chain also faces larger, more encompassing problems, such as the very business model of an entertainment retail store.
‘Losing cherished spaces like this, where you can physically touch, discover and (hopefully) purchase films and TV shows would be nothing short of a tragedy, regardless of how unsustainable they are’
HMV sells no unique products. That complete box-set of Grand Designs you’ve had your eye on is exactly the same as one you could find on a quick search of Amazon for a much lower price. Alongside this, at this stage of brand domination in the market, even transitioning to an online store wouldn’t solve HMV’s crippling problems, as it would have to compete with Amazon on its own turf. From this point of view, the best thing HMV can do is make itself as comfortable as possible and await its fate, with many doubting that the company will live to see its centenary in 2021.
Recent trends have provided a sliver of hope, however. With the growing popularity of vinyl, HMV has seen a resurgence in relevance among retro-seeking customers looking for a cheap record-player and a quintessential copy of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. HMV’s Canadian branches have also found success in film, TV and music merchandise which adds a level of uniqueness to the store’s products. Mark Mulligan, a music industry analyst, recommends that switching HMV’s business focus towards merch and vinyl could provide HMV with improved longevity.
Whatever the future may have in store for HMV, its role as the UK’s largest music and film-based retailer cannot be overstated. Losing cherished spaces like this, where you can physically touch, discover and (hopefully) purchase films and TV shows would be nothing short of a tragedy, regardless of how unsustainable they are. Where else can anxious university-bound teenagers buy armfuls of Pulp Fiction posters in a desperate attempt to show the world that they too like films?
HMV is also a social institution. Even now, there is something endlessly satisfying about perusing the aisles of an HMV with friends, and scanning through the racks of DVDs, discussing your favourites, and laughing at hilarious B-movies. Some of the best discussions I have ever had about film and TV have been in an HMV, and when it eventually collapses in on itself like a botched soufflé, moments like this will be lost.
Image credit: Alex Liivet from Bournemouth, United Kingdom [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]