Long live vinyl and the CD - and may HMV survive
SO it's goodbye to that strange period between Christmas and New Year, when it appears everyone becomes a little larger around the waist and slightly disoriented about exactly what day of the week it is. Well reader, this is Tuesday, and what's more its the first day of a brand new year. Have you stated your 2019 resolutions yet? Have you broken any yet?
I'm a man of simple tastes, and maybe that makes me a hard person to buy a Christmas present for. In truth there is not much I need, and a few days relaxing with family at home, catching up on movies, playing games that we don't seem to have time for during the year along with a night out or two is what I enjoy about the festive break. I regard it as an opportunity to recharge batteries, take time out of work for a while and take stock. I will also opt for a few walks with the family dog, exploring new parts of the country and revisiting favourite haunts like the Cregagh Glen, and a run or two, such as in Castlewellan at the weekend at the brilliantly organised ‘Christmas Cracker' and well, that was pretty much all I wanted.
There was one thing I specifically asked for from my kids and it was related to the present I got at Christmas last year, a record player. During the year I retrieved many of the old vinyl LPs which I had collected as a teenager but misplaced in a variety of garden sheds and roof-spaces, but the one I could not find was Born In The USA by Bruce Springsteen, and so that made my very short list and the boys delivered via HMV in Belfast city centre.
Over the Christmas break news emerged that HMV was entering administration for a second time in only five years. While I'm a little older than the key target demographic, I would be a fairly regular shopper at HMV, especially in the run up to Christmas. To me, the Donegal Arcade store always seems busy, but the facts don't lie and sales have continued to fall after the 2013 sale to restructuring company Hilco, which saw value in the business back then and believed that there was a market for physical CDs and DVDs amidst the growth of streaming services.
It did look like HMV had overcome the rise of the download and in 2015 the retail giant even outsold Amazon as the biggest seller of physical music in the UK. However, streaming has overtaken downloads and physical sales and it seems that His Master's Voice has not found a way to differentiate, to stay relevant and to compete.
Comparisons have been drawn with Waterstones, which split from the HMV group after the last administration. Management there commissioned extensive, detailed research and acted on the results; the children's book section was doubled in size in each store, cafes were introduced, local Waterstones' management was granted autonomy to host special localised events.
It has worked, and Waterstones seems set for long term sustainability. It may be the case that streaming books does not carry the same potential and therefore the same threat as streaming music and movies, and surely there is not much that can compare to sitting down with a good book, especially round Christmas or on summer holiday when time slows down a little.
Belfast retail scene took a hammer blow this year with the Primark fire and footfall was dramatically down as we entered the Christmas season. However some positive intervention by City Council and the retail organisations, aided with funding from central government helped to counter the downfall and by all anecdotal accounts sales and footfall both made a big recovery during December. If HMV were to disappear from the high street, that would be another big hole in our retail offer.
But maybe all is not lost. The Entertainment Retailers Association points out that when you total up sales of music, video and games there is still a market of nearly £2 billion worth of physical products. I know that I love a CD for my car and plenty of DVDs popped up in Christmas stockings in our household. I even had to sit through Mamma Mia 2 (don't ask), which is not yet streaming on Netflix or other services. So there may be a way for HMV to find a buyer, re-imagine its core offering and survive. I hope so, in the name of all those albums I recovered from the attic and which sound better when you drop the needle and play.
One of my nights out over Christmas involved a friend's ‘vinyl party' where we all had to bring an original copy of a cherished LP. The biggest conundrum was which one to bring, and among a crowd who are all of ‘a certain age' it made for a great night of music, chat and craic.
I can't see a streaming party holding the same appeal. Long live vinyl, long live the CD and lets hope that at the end of 2019 HMV is still up and running in Belfast. Happy New Year.
:: Brendan Mulgrew (firstname.lastname@example.org) is managing partner at MW Advocate (www.mwadvocate.com). Follow him on Twitter @brendanbelfast
:: Next week: Claire Aiken