Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Things that go bump in the night.

HMVs troubles were hardly startling news. From its heyday when The Gramophone Company took on the name His Master’s Voice from the painting of Nipper, the first canine music critic, the music business has changed and HMV, like all the others, has had to adapt to survive. From cylinders to discs, to LPs and 45s, compact discs, the explosion of digital indie studios and now the Internet, free downloads and all the other pressures on a traditional business model.

It’s one thing to continually develop your product range – not everybody is content with fish and chips so most chippies also sell inedible burgers (with or without horse meat) and life-threatening kebabs as well, or lose out to competitors who do. But the day they make downloadable chips is the day that every fast food outlet will have to invest in something slicker than stuffing annoying leaflets through letterboxes. It’s digital, maaan! 

But HMV’s passing is not a tragedy, it’s a simple fact of High Street life. Big names don’t necessarily last forever. Woolworths, Allders, Comet… the list goes on and will continue to go on. And more importantly it has virtually nothing to do with whatever government is in power. It’s not as if they relied on defence contracts or provided social services. It’s not personal, it’s just business. 

Twitter, of course was lit up by the steady outpourings of grief and mourning for lost gift vouchers and unwanted presents. But as always Twitter is hardly the place to go for in-depth market analysis. It’s more a place where people go to complain that real life isn’t like it ought to be. It’s the Guvmint’s fault. It’s the fault of another company who played a better game. Maybe Twitterverse malcontents would prefer the world to be like this: 

Have an idea that you’d like to run your own business but, because of a lack of imagination, choose to ‘invent’ something that already exists and has a thriving, but near-saturated market. Your entrepreneurial spin? Set up shop in a deprived area where rents are cheap but nobody can afford to buy the stock. Appeal to some local EU-financed small business ‘initiative’ for funding, citing that evil capitalist forces are refusing to lend for idealistic reasons. Be awarded an annual, renewable investment grant but instead of using it for development – too tedious - simply live off it instead. 

Become a tireless campaigner for more investment for local business and saying “Boo” to the corporate bullies. Close your shop and take a job at the People’s Collective as a People’s Champion, fighting the corner of failing business everywhere and lobby for yet more EU funding for shattered dreams. Tell yourself every day that the purpose of business is not to make a profit but to provide services for real people, local people “your people”. 

‘Work’ your way to the top of the wriggling maggot pile of corrupt officialdom, all the while using your credentials as a former successful business owner, until you retire to the sunlit uplands of Euro Mountain, utterly convinced for the rest of your days that you were a force for good and laughing, as the last Sony Centre closes down. 

(PS: That’s Socialism my friend. You may already be doing it without even knowing.)

STOP PRESS: Blockbusters, the video rental store, has gone into receivership today. Same problem really; if you can get streaming video over the internet where's the market for disc and tape?


  1. I remember Sheffield, when it was in the throes of being "The People's Republic Of South Yorkshire" (a time when it gave the NUM a huge grant for new offices -- which they soon left -- but ignored the plight of striking steel workers, the city having tens of thousands more steelworkers than miners), handed out enough of the necessary impetus so a rabble of the feckless could open a Peace Shop.

    Yes, it was full of gaily-coloured ban the bomb signs and shiny badges and no doubt entertained many a deep discussion on how the west ought to abandon its nuclear weapons so Russia could keep theirs. But in the end it closed because despite the very best political ideals, no one gave a shit about it.

    But socialism never notices the depth of the shit.

  2. I despair of the incompetent handling of the HMV business over a number of years, and in particular the current board.

    Their pièce de résistance? The devotion of a significant proportion of each store to sell electronic devices that didn't play the formats that the rest of the shop was selling, and were significantly cheaper from electronics retailers or online.

    The intelligence of these people truly astounds me.

    If they had put an independent successful boss of a music and video retailer in charge, the story would have been much different. I refer to James Daunt at Waterstones, who I have mountains of respect for.