Arts blog: Farewell HMV, and everyone else

Picture: TSPL
Picture: TSPL
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HAS it really come to this? In the same week that HMV went into administration (taking Fopp, which it owns, down with it), Aberdeen’s last remaining independent music shop, OneUp, announced it is to close at the end of January.

Avalanche in Edinburgh may also close after this month (so enjoy it while you can – this coming Sunday, perhaps, when the band Randolph’s Leap, one of Avalanche’s biggest sellers in 2012, will play a gig in the shop at 7pm).

If all these shops disappear it will leave two of Scotland’s biggest cities with virtually nowhere to buy music – and, just as worryingly, will leave independent Scottish labels like Chemikal Underground, Rock Action, and Song, by Toad nowhere to sell it apart from online.

One issue for Avalanche – as readers of its owner Kevin Buckle’s frank and lively blog at will know – was that a small independent shop on the Grassmarket couldn’t compete with a big player like HMV (and also that indie music geeks – who should be Avalanche’s hardcore supporters – tended to shop at Fopp instead, thinking they were supporting an independent shop because of its healthy stock of indie music).

In theory, then, the demise of HMV and Fopp could actually help shops like Avalanche (and Monorail, and Elvis Shakespeare). This seems to be the opinion of Raymond Bird from OneUp, who told The Scotsman this week that, had HMV gone into administration a year earlier, OneUp might have escaped closure. Not everyone is convinced though. The counter-argument is that the indie music shops lost most of their hardcore audience – the Nick Hornbys of this world – to the internet years ago. And that the casual shoppers HMV hadn’t already lost will now end up there too, or in Asda.

HMV’s fate has prompted equal quantities of nostalgic anecdotes about its glory days and outbursts of frustration at its recent failures. You’ll find both in “Why Companies Fail - The Rise And Fall of HMV”, a fascinating blog from last August by Philip Beeching, who spent over 25 years working in advertising for HMV, and says he spent much of this time fruitlessly trying to persuade the company to sort out its online operation. Widely circulated over the past week, it’s essential reading for anyone interested in the reasons for the company’s fate. Particularly entertaining is Beeching’s account of the company’s three-day “conferences”, an annual jolly for head office staff which would take place at five-star hotels in Turkey or Spain. Everything – from the bar to the watersports – was laid on for free. One year Billy Connolly was a surprise cabaret act.

These decadent days are a distant memory now. But who’d have thought high-street music shopping could collapse so spectacularly? Virgin, Tower, Zavvi, Our Price… all gone. With HMV under threat too, the ritual of going into a shop to buy a record or a CD is actually becoming a niche activity – confined, perhaps, to semi-regular events like the Scottish Independent Music Fair, which started life last year – just in time, perhaps.