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Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Another one bites the dust. HMV R.I.P. Who cares?

Do consumers care that HMV has gone into administration today?

A personal view.

There will be a huge outpouring of industry opinion over the demise of HMV. So, where to start?

As ever, the BBC's Robert Peston provides some honest clarity and sharp insight so often missing from the trade press within the music industry on this particular issue.

Of course the record labels and industry pundits will bemoan the sad loss of the last bastion in high street music retail - claiming how terribly unfair it is that this once great pillar of the UK music industry has fallen to the sword of Amazon and iTunes. However, before you shed a tear, remember that it's no accident that iTunes & Amazon stole a march on the music industry establishment. Messrs Jobs and Bezos recognised the opportunity that the music industry perceived as a threat.

If you've not seen it, Steve Jobs' launch of the iPod in 2001 is still inspiring.

He saw the future, but for much of the early noughties, the music rights owning industries (record labels & music publishers) did their utmost to sue to death any business that sought for ways to satisfy the new consumer demand for digital music. The labels had made huge margins on CDs during the 80s and 90s and weren't about to relinquish that to geeks from Silicon Valley.

Some of you may remember the long battle that major labels fought to try to stem the tide of the mp3 format - They tried in vain to impose various digital rights management (DRM) controls, all of which eventually failed. By the time that the major labels realised they needed to embrace rather than kill digital (changing tack from litigation to licensing), they were too late. iTunes had already become the dominant player with Amazon not far behind. The future of physical music retail was inevitably doomed - it was just a matter of time as we watched Tower Records, Our Price, Virgin Megastore, Woolworths, Zavvi and finally HMV bite the dust.

Of course this is sad for the employees of these business, but do consumers actually care? This is where some personal perspective might be of interest.

Those of us with teenage children love to bore on about our offspring to friends and colleagues - The usual stories start "isn't it marvellous how they take to technology so naturally .... etc."

With two sons in this camp, it's always interesting to see how they engage with media content - how they find "appointment to view" broadcast TV completely archaic (and have done for many years) - how they laughed in disbelief when I first showed them a turntable and the concept of playing records (though bizarrely this is now cool again).

My sons wouldn't ever dream of spending money on CDs, partly because they know I'm lucky enough to receive many free samples from record labels. This is one of the nice perks of working in the synch licensing / music supervision market. Don't get me wrong, I'm very grateful for these freebies, although they're always converted to mp3 files, and it's actually easier just to receive links rather than physical product. Nevertheless, I still enjoy reading the CD liner notes - holding the physical item - it is of course a sign of my age.

However, when I offer to give some of these free CDs to my sons (even for their favourite artists) they do not want them. That's right, I cannot even give away free CDs to my children - they have no value.

My younger son (12) just wants to know if I've ripped the CD into iTunes and put the mp3s on the family server - so he can copy them to his phone. The older son (14) has a Spotify Premium account, so doesn't even want the mp3 files. For him, it's just about access - how important this is became apparent on the day I forgot to renew the subscription.

So, from this personal perspective, which I'm sure is very familiar to anyone with teenage children, how is a physical retailer of music ever going to survive against this backdrop? HMV's death is inevitable as they are simply irrelevant to an ever growing market segment.

As someone who grew up with the magic of records, saving pocket money to buy 45rpm singles, I have fond teenage memories of the local record store. (I still have all my 45rpm singles in the attic). However, those days are long gone, they will never come back, and the music industry needs to let it go. My sons love music as much as I did at their age, but it's uninterrupted (legal) access that matters, not collectible physical items. I used to boast to my friends how many albums I had. My younger sons boasts how many gigabytes of music data we have on the family server.

So, HMW R.I.P. Let's bury it and move on.

Take care,



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