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HMV becomes the latest casualty of high street slump

Posted by Joe McNamara on 17th January 2013

HMV has plunged into administration, joining the likes of Jessops, Comet and GAME as more high-street retailers fail to adapt to a world dominated by ecommerce and ‘digitisation’. While its 239 stores will remain open while the situation is assessed, HMV is no longer accepting or issuing gift vouchers.

In December, I asked whether anybody was actually going Christmas shopping and, ultimately, my assertion that not enough people would hit the shopping centres, was the final nail in HMV’s coffin.

However, what is interesting about HMV is just how and why the industry left it behind. It’s not as simple as the ‘death of the high street’, online retail and so forth. The mortal wound was inflicted much earlier than that. In January 2001, at Macworld, San Francisco, when iTunes was officially launched.

Okay, so there are probably people yelling ‘what about Napster in 1999’ now. Of course, that was the trigger to start the trend of music downloads one day overtaking CD purchases. But iTunes, heralded as the platform that saved the music industry, in doing so changed it forever.

It’s more than people buying CDs online

Plenty of people had built up impressive, personal and unique music collections before the 21st century that they may never wish to part with for sentimental value or because they can’t be bothered to make the transition completely.

Fundamentally though, people just lost interest in buying CDs. MP3 versions of best-selling albums became available for download, as well as individual files giving users far more control over their own music – allowing them to create customised playlists, etc.

Unlike sites such as Napster and LimeWire, iTunes also filled the niche of gift cards. The sad truth is you can spend £15 on iTunes far more flexibly than in HMV. Ecommerce giant Amazon also rained on HMV’s parade here – and until recently Amazon’s contribution to the music industry was purely a case of people buying more online than in stores.

I say until recently because this week Amazon has announced that customers purchasing CDs will now receive an MP3 file to accompany. The new AutoRip feature confirms an entry of some sort to the online music market, but also undermines the necessity of the disc. However, perhaps this is the kind of change HMV should have made to compete with its online counterparts.

Photo credit: The Drum

Joe McNamara