For Whom the Bell Tolls

An editorial
by Chris Hibbard
Music Lover
originally written for http://www.labeat.ca

For Whom the Bell Tolls

Several years ago, Lethbridge lost it’s A & B Sound. A few months later, we lost our Music World. During this same period, Calgary’s long-time standing A&B sound locations shut their doors. Even the legendary Sam the Record Man on Queen St. in Toronto closed up shop. This slow, dwindling extinction of options for shopping for CDs was all indicative of a quantum shift into the digital age, and was all about the resulting changes in the way music lover’s like me acquire their music. Between Itunes and satellite radio networks, Napsters and Limewires, LastFMs and bittorrent sites, CDs just aren’t profitable anymore it would seem.

Now, if you enter the last remaining non-independent ‘music’ shop in Lethbridge, i.e. HMV, the CD section only takes up one tenth of the store’s floor space. The rest is filled with video games, Ipods, headsets, cell phone cases, DVDs and box sets of television seasons. Alas, two recent articles I came across would indicate that even this last-standing reminder of the 80’s and 90’s listening trend is headed the way of the buffalo as well – i.e. dying.

The first was a short blog posting on the Maclean’s magazine website. The article detailed how it was recently announced that the huge, multi-level HMV store on the corner of Robson street in Vancouver will be shutting down this year. The second item I found was a press release released last month by HMV’s U.K.-based parent company, the HMV Group, who have announced they are considering selling off all 123 of their Canadian HMV outlets.

The company is facing a great amount of debt, thanks to the slow decline of album sales in this new age of streaming video clips and single song sales. The president of HMV’s Canadian operations is a man named Nick Williams. Ironically, Mr. Williams said in the prepared statement that while the company is contemplating the closures, the HMV Group has “no intention of withdrawing from its position as the number one entertainment retailer in the country,” and it continues to work on an overhaul focused more heavily on “digital downloads, technology and related entertainment products.”

That’s right – in case you didn’t catch the irony in this, I wonder how this company can still consider themselves the number one entertainment retailer in the country when they don’t have enough sales to merit staying open. Moreso, in the future, how can they possibly claim to be the #1 retailer when they have no retail outlets at all? Now, I don’t often shop for CDs at HMV for a number of reasons, the main one being I just typically avoid the mall completely. Yet Mr. Williams, the big man on campus for HMV Canada, said that the company has plans to evolve its business, so that any changes moving forward will have a positive impact on the Canadian retail operation.

I’m happy that they intend on moving forward with revised business models and new growth plans, but I wonder what this all means? Are we going to see little HMV vending machines on street corners, from which you punch in the code for the new Foo Fighters album and it drops down by your feet? Will there be HMV kiosks in the mall where you walk up, place an order for the item you want, and then wait a few days for it to arrive in the mail? Perhaps there will be one giant HMV warehouse that only deals in online sales. Or maybe they’ll keep the stores open, they just won’t sell CDs anymore. For shame.

When some of the latest figures report that HMV is essentially $200 million in the hole, that’s an awful lot of product that needs to jump off the shelves. And how exactly will it start jumping, when there seems to be fewer and fewer people even shopping for music these days. I honestly just do not know how they can survive, now that everyone else is dead.

Sometimes I miss the good old days. The sad truth is that the CD market has been evaporating faster and faster since the late 90’s. As a collector of CDs, I hate to admit that the writing seems to be on the wall. For I really hope you can make it HMV – I really do. There are a ton of recording artists out there who spend big money to make new albums, and there are less and less places for these to then be sold. So if HMV kicks the bucket, I hope they have a big public funeral, for there go the last of the giants. And know this – if they do have a funeral – I’ll be there to play Taps on a trumpet; after first taking advantage of any major going out of business sales of course.

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~ by Chris Hibbard on April 17, 2011.

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