Tuesday, 3 February 2015



41. HMV


I have recently come to realise I have not bought online a DVD, or blu-ray disc, or a CD, for nearly two years. For me, the reason for this is very clear: unless I am trying to find something very particular, I prefer to browse a shop until something jumps out at me, something the algorithms of a website like Amazon cannot hope to replicate. To use an online shop, you must know what you want in order to start looking - a shop only requires you to get yourself through the front door.

This is why HMV holds what I have found to be an important part of my weekends, when I have been in a town or city where one is based. Once, my local high street had Our Price and Woolworths, and an independent record shop - ironically, given the usual trajectory of the high street, only the independent shop remains - was the first place to look, now taken by HMV in Portsmouth and Southampton, with supermarkets only stocking only the best-selling items. 

The more of a pilgrimage the trip to an HMV becomes, the more you become determined to leave with something - I have often left without a DVD, but it was only after a long scan of all the shelves, coupled with a chronic indecision between a number of items that feels like the brain freeze encountered with eating ice cream. 

Incidentally, the last thing I bought from an HMV was the film "Billion Dollar Brain" (1967), a preposterous Cold War thriller starring Michael Caine as Harry Lime, and directed by Ken Russell, of all people - it started with a thought of buying this particular film, but I would rather try my luck in a store before waiting a number of days for a copy bought online to arrive in the post. It was only £4.99 on DVD...

The first half of 2013 was inevitably difficult for me and many others when the HMV Group went into administration. Having previously sold the Waterstones book chain, Curzon cinemas, and the Hammersmith Apollo theatre, HMV was down to a single business that was being outmoded by the move to online shopping - all the red sale signs everywhere made me feel sad to the point where I thought I can't go in anymore, unable to face shop workers that may lose their jobs, and particularly after Hilco, a restructuring specialist that did so well with Woolworths in 2008, took over.

What saved HMV was customers, distributors and many others that continued to stock new items each week, and made people continue to go in - the news that it may have disappeared may have caused people who had not gone for years to take one more look in. Despite a third of stores closing, the rest were working well enough, and the business survived.

The results of the Christmas 2014 shopping period were the most heartening of all - simply put, HMV sold more DVDs, blu-rays, CDs etc. than Amazon. I am not about to give up my main source of films, and seemingly the same is case for many more of us.

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