So HMV went into administration last weekend. The press is full of stories explaining why this might be and, as expected, piracy is one of the stated factors. Now I’m not denying that unofficially acquired free music will put a dent into retail sales, but it is far from the whole story and I know that I, at least, went slightly in the other direction.
Back in the early 2000s, 2001-2005 to be precise, I experienced new music via three main paths.
- Radio (usually BBC Radio 1)
- TV (music channels on Cable)
- P2P music sharing systems (looking for new stuff)
All three of these got me interested in tracks and bands that I had not heard of otherwise, and in all three cases I would tend to go out and buy something if I listened to it a lot.
In 2005 I moved away from my parents, where I had a little office room of my own (too small for anything my parents wanted it for, so I got a study), and I ended up renting a small studio flat for about 18 months. This ate into my overnight downloading as the computer now was very definitely switched off when I wanted to get to sleep. That and I had an ISP with a download cap.
I also didn’t bother with subscription TV channels, as I was now paying rent and bills and was out of the house longer during the working day.
I also pretty much lost radio access as the train ride to work had very little in the way of decent signal. I got into listening to podcasts in a big way, and therefore didn’t even really listen to the radio outside of the work commute either.
So my three main avenues of experiencing new music all vanished in one fell swoop. To be fair, it was the compound loss of all three that stopped me going out and buying music. I only went online to download stuff if I’d already heard a track and wanted to hear more. At which point, I’d often go “Well, I have the album I want to buy a CD copy”.
It was then several years before services like Spotify, where you could legally listen to music on-demand, case around. And I am finding myself slowly drawn back to my old patterns.
A couple of albums I was always listening to via Spotify, I just bought from iTunes.
iTunes, yes. As to take it back to HMV, I looked for Hybrid’s “Morning Sci Fi” and “I Choose Noise” albums at HMV. I really did. For one thing, their music is so rich I prefer to have a CD-quality copy for home and only use the compressed version when out in the world. But they were only stocking a small selection. And even now, much of the music I want to buy, you just can’t get easily in shops.
Especially when it’s going through a band’s back catalogue of 5-10 year old music.
Oddly, chances are if I was still downloading back in 2004 (or if Spotify existed back then) I’d have bought these albums years ago. On a physical CD. From a physical store. After all, that’s why I bought “Wide Angle”.
Maybe I am a fringe case but, on the whole, I prefer to buy things I already know a bit about. CDs from bands I already like. Shows I have already seen, or are based on a concept I already like. Books from authors whose writing style I already know I enjoy. I ignore the hype and marketing.
I am open to new experiences, I just need to preview them first. Preferably legally now that the options exist.
I guess what it boils down to is that piracy is only one single aspect of why high street entertainment store are struggling. It probably does have an effect. Single-mindedly stamping it out without tackling other causes of retail sales slumps, however, won’t help. Have things in stock. Be able to get stock in quickly. And remember, you are tackling battle on three fronts. Online retail, digital retail, illegal downloads. There are three methods that are currently more convenient than physical stores and only one of the three is illegal.
On and don’t forget, they aren’t just a music store. They do video too. And as someone with slightly non-mainstream interests, I could often get the TV shows I wanted on Amazon about twice as often as I could at HMV or Virgin/Zavvi.