There’s been plenty of news lately about the HMV Canada bankruptcy and store closing. As another record store chain goes down, it joins Sam the Record Man, A&A, and Music World on the way to oblivion. About the only record store chain I know of that’s still in business in Ontario is Sunrise Records, and it is a tiny set of establishments in a few scattered malls across the province.
Time was when music store retailing was a profitable if cutthroat business. A good friend worked as a Music World store manager for many years – he has lots of war stories. It wasn’t all that lucrative or stable a job but according to him the owner made out just fine.
Things are sure different today. According to recent polls the Boomers are the major cohort still buying physical media (viz. CDs – the Millennials are back into vinyl apparently.) But you couldn’t prove that from my purchasing habits.
I have a large collection of vinyl and CDs – no 8 tracks sorry – that I have accumulated over 50 years, but I don’t buy much anymore. Don’t play what I own all that much either. I did buy a few MP3s from the late Puretracks service – but I don’t do that anymore.
If I were to get a CD these days I wouldn’t be browsing in an HMV – Amazon and Chapters provide plenty of choice online. However, the real physical media killer for me and most younger folks is something called Spotify (streaming audio.)
Let’s take an example. Consider the 1967 Association album “Insight Out.” This LP/CD was recorded over 50 years ago. It’s likely paid back its production costs 25 times over. Its fabled prog rock producer is now 84. A couple of the key group members are dead. But if I wanted a CD copy of this obscure back catalog album, Amazon would be happy to sell it to me for $20.
In contrast, I can dial “Insight Out” up on Spotify with a couple of clicks. For that matter I can get all the Association early albums if I want. I can do it for free – or $10 a month if I want no commercials, local storage, and better quality streams. I don’t own a physical copy but I can play it anywhere Spotify runs – on my computer, tablet, TV via a Roku box, or even on my stereo by plugging in my tablet. I think I’ll listen right now – to “Wasn’t It A Bit Like Now!”
How can HMV compete with that? To be blunt, it can’t. My son-in-law summed it up the other day when he said: “Nobody buys CDs any more, do they?” Well – no, apparently.
I suppose it’s a question of value. The value of a CD is determined by its content. With streaming, and for that matter the existence of cloud based MP3s, that content value has become vanishingly small. No rational person will pay $20 for it online, let alone drive to the mall and look through the racks in HMV for it. It must really suck to be breaking into the music biz today.
Goodbye HMV – it’s been a nice ride but it’s over.
This is The End, beautiful friend…This is The End, my only friend, The End.