So another high street store looks like it’s going to bite the dust, HMV has called in the administrators. Then just the next day Blockbuster has followed suit. I couldn’t be bothered to change the music themed title I’d already come up with though, there was probably a pun in there about the bust in blockbusters but I’ll leave that to the BBC. …Oh, yeah, yeah they’ve gone with it, smooth!
Nobody seemed that surprised about Blockbusters going, or Jessops. The rise of on demand and streaming video along with camera phones becoming common place respectively sealed the fate of these two chains. It seems most of the concern and surprise relating to HMV was mainly feigned, but HMV is a staple of the high street, generations have grown up shopping for records there. There’s a good chance the majority of the population of this country bought their first record at HMV. I remember buying my First CD, Blur’s The Great Escape and have a vague recollection of my first Cassette being one of the Now That’s What I Call Music series a couple of years earlier.
Buying a record and owning the physical item, putting it on and listening to it run through while you take out the inlay of the CD or Cassette and reed it’s contents or admire the sleeve art of a Vinyl Record is a feeling that hiring a movie – no matter how good – can never really reach.
But it seems even that has not been able to prevent the demise of this city centre stalwart. The unstoppable trudge of “progress” from analogue to digital then from offline to online is indicative of our current cultural need in instant gratification. People hear a song on the radio or an advert or Facebook or Youtube and they want that individual track, not an album, not something an artist has put months into creating. And definitely not a space invading, time consuming inlay or art work. Apart from the immediateness of downloading tracks there is of course a big cost saving, which probably more than anything is driving the online market.
This culture of instant gratification is not just confined to how we buy and consume music but how music is even produced. The majority of the record industry is nothing more than a production line churning out homogenised pop track after track with burned out pop star has-beens piling up in the gutter. This music industry had no time for you to browse your options, it wants you to buy what it has provided you. It doesn’t want you to sit and listen to an album, it wants you to move on and buy the next need to own track!
HMV did not adapt to the times, it has little online presence and few can compete with the might of itunes or the illegal download fraternity. It tried to stay afloat by diversifying into hardware such as head phones and MP3 players but ended up a confused jack of all trades. We can not blame this recent spate of collapses on bankers or credit crunches, these companies have fallen foul of the consumer, this is the inevitable outcome of the ever expanding, all encompassing digital world.
So for the short term at least our high streets continue their trend towards a barren wasteland populated only by mobile phone shops and chain mini markets. But the collapse of HMV highlighted an area of some interest, independent record sellers are doing quite well. In-fact sales of Vinyl records is actually increasing year on year and had been for a while now.
If every action has a reaction then here it is. People are seeking out a world free from the internet.
Where there was concern that large chains would push out independents, more recently it is these large chains who can not specialise for niche markets that are being pushed out of the shopping landscape altogether, with a few carving out a living online.
In the future we can expect to see independents and small chains selling items and experiences not easily consumed on the internet blossoming in the shell of the dead high street as councils are forced to drop their rates and re-evaluate the landscape of the city centre. The next decade has the potential to change our city centres more than that have in the last 30 years. The knock on change for consumer society could be dramatic, let’s wait and see.