Taking the long view on popular music

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Don't blame HMV for its demise

It's our fault - because we're too lazy to support our shops

An HMV store in central London (Getty Images)
An HMV store in central London (Getty Images)

Much has been said of the strange aspects of human nature exposed by the online revolution. The fact that we're mean to people, for instance, in a way we'd never be face-to-face – or the countless positives, like generosity with sharing information, researching stuff just for the hell of it, helping people we’ll never meet. But the HMV story this week shows that the internet has also become, quite powerfully, a justification for being tight-fisted, idle and, worst of all, proud of it. We’ve watched intelligent people from the entertainment industry make mournful pronouncements at the store’s collapse, at the same time as admitting that – “naturally” – they can’t remember when they last set foot in it. One such bloke I know lives in central London; he is a serious music lover who orders all his albums, including new releases, on vinyl, and has a vast collection. On Tuesday he said, it is a dark day, “but the fact is, the thought of going across town to buy something I could get two quid cheaper on line is now baffling to me.” This man is healthy, with the use of both of his legs. He has a good income, he’s generous with it, and he has time. Most importantly, he loves music and films and believes in paying for them. But get off a chair to do so? So forcefully have similar opinions been coming out this week, on Twitter and Facebook, they appear to be the views of any rational, media-savvy human being. But it’s only part of the story.

 
On Saturday afternoons, or late on weekday nights, or bank holidays, or any of the other times in which people are wont to relax, the flagship HMV store on Oxford Street is teeming with people (it’s hard not to be capital-centric here, because the smaller stores have been de-stocked as the company suffers). Some old photos from the ’60s have been doing the rounds this week making people nostalgic for a better age, but the fact is, the scenes of happy HMV shoppers 40 years ago are very much the same as those on New Year’s Day 2013 (sadly, so too are most of the prices). I know this because I was there. People are not in the music section any more, of course, but the film section  – and for really simple reasons, which are worth reiterating, if just for posterity. They want to see a movie, but they don’t know which one. They come here because there are hardly any video rental places now. They need the physical product to make their choices, because often, it’s simply a case of being reminded that movie "x" or "y"
exists.
 
In the next few weeks we will watch everything that happened to CDS being played out, fast-forward, in the DVD industry; in six months we won’t believe we ever “browsed” for films, or lived without Netflix – that’s inevitable, and it’s stupid to get sad about it. But please, let’s not blame HMV for its own demise – they lasted longer than anyone, and they did what they could. And let’s not blame the recession, or digital downloads in the abstract. The future of entertainment consumption has been decided, for all of us, by people who no longer think it’s acceptable to get off their rosy red arse and spend the price of their lunch on an album or a film they want to own.