Retail is detail - my thoughts on HMV

BANQUET RECORDS - more than still your local record shop

Well, its been a long time coming. We were talking about this for a little while. Even as long as five years ago when people were talking about how indie stores were folding left right and centre, we were very vocal to point out that our indie has a longer future than HMVs and the like cos we can adapt to changing demands.

More recently there’s been a lot of doom stories about HMV’s demise. This facebook status and conversation was only a few days ago!! Talk of administration carried a 'when' tag rather than an 'if' pre-fix. This morning, we received a letter from the Banquet label’s distributor that they werent supplying HMV anymore until they paid their October bills. That’s when this situation became imminent to us. But even then, we never saw it as being this quick. I’ve had a few gripes with HMV over the years. Some of the favourable terms they get from suppliers are unfair. Some of their market dominance is unhelpful to the indie. And there’s indies smaller than us who must feel this even more. I don’t really know how HMV got to where they are. I dont know if they opened up in towns that already had indie stores, or whether as downloading was more commonplace they were able to sell DVDs and games in a way an independent record shop couldnt. But i do know that when i started shopping at (Beggars) Banquet there were about a lot more record shops in Kingston (two Our Prices, The Record Shop, the two dance shops i never went into, does Woolworths count? Borders?), and in time we saw and then lost Tower Records, Virgin Megastore (altho the advent of Uniqlo has done wonders for me) and i do know that, apart from Tesco and Asda, HMV is the only high street chain that sells significant numbers of decent CDs and records… I mean, a decent number of significant records. I mean, ah, you know what i mean.

So there’s many negative impacts of any HMV closure. If indeed it does happen - maybe it won’t. In the immediate short term, my thoughts are with the staff. HMV staff are certainly not the enemy. Max use to work there, and Jane used to work at Our Prices. Music fans are music fans and people are people. Losing your job - if this happens - is not a good thing for anyone. Im also gutted for any labels that suffer in this. We saw a lot of labels screwed when Virgin went under, also when the SonyDADC fire happened. We are also a label ourselves, altho its a tiny part of what we do, but if we dont receive money for CDs and records that have been sold, well thats not helping anyone. If this is to happen to such an extent that bigger labels get no cashflow at all, then some labels run the risk of going bust themselves. Obviously that’s disastrous.

But my real concern is for the continuation of the physical format. If you’re reading this you probably understand that physical formats are important to many people, probably you but not necessarily you. If its not important to you, then it will be to people whose music you buy. So it should matter. The immediate fear is that some labels just don’t bother to put out physical releases anymore, thinking that people no longer want them. Or they do so and completely cut out the record shop. Im not talking so much about punk bands and punk labels… For as far as i can see we’ll do well with Run For Cover, No Sleep, Alcopop and BSM… Im talking more the bigger UK indie labels… We NEED record labels like Wichita, XL, Sub Pop, Matador, Bella Union, and Rough Trade Records (the label) to not only want to put out physical music, but to find it also financially worthwhile to do so. God knows how the majors will react to this. We’re already seeing loads of direct-to-customer only releases from Universal and EMI. If this stuff continues, then we’re in some real trouble. And without this indie selling 100+ copies of a Haim record for example, there’s no indie to sell the indie label’s releases. I’m also wary that there’ll be some horriffic “cool” nu-HMV come in its place. "Hey guys, vinyl’s real cool right now, and look at these places with decent record shops. Lets go into those towns and undercut them all." This would be a disaster.



However, I refuse to join in with the thought that music retail can’t exist without HMV or a similar replacement. The thing about Record Store Day and the celebration of indie record stores is that they’re all different. We’re not in competition with Rough Trade, Piccadilly, All Ages, Punker Bunker or Phonica. We’re all indies and we all need each other to do well to “keep fighting the good fight”. And now it seems increasingly more so. Music retail is about to change more radically than (m)any of us have ever seen.

Yes, there’s so many bad things about HMV going under (IF they do) but IF they do, then its an exciting new time to be creative. To re-embrace physical releases and the experience of buying them. To help customers get exactly what they want and to turn them onto things they might not yet know. If we can create a market environment in which the market leader is no longer given an unfair advantage to remain there, in which the customer is a friend more than a revenue stream, in which the struggling indie becomes slightly less so, and in which the bigger indies are able to contribute to the structure of future market growth, then this silver lining might even shine past this mass of dark clouds over music retail right now.

This is huge. A massive change in how people buy physical formats of music. But lets embrace the change and make music and local music communities all the better from it.

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  13. sambeeton reblogged this from banquetrecords and added:
    Good sensible stuff from Jon about the physical record industry.
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  27. soundisnotasleep reblogged this from banquetrecords and added:
    A really nicely written piece on HMV’s current troubles by independent record store Banquet Records.