HMV: Independent Record Stores React

Independent record store owners consider a future without HMV.

Since HMV called in the administrators this morning, there’s been a lot of chatter about the end of records as we know them, that the physical format is dead in the water.

“The immediate fear is that some labels just don’t bother to put out physical releases anymore, thinking that people no longer want them. Or they do so and completely cut out the record shop.” Jon Tolley of Banquet Records wrote on his blog, “We NEED record labels like Wichita, XL, Sub Pop, Matador, Bella Union, and Rough Trade Records (the label) to not only want to put out physical music, but to find it also financially worthwhile to do so.”
‘Formats aren’t the issue.’
With or without HMV, it’s important to note that there is still demand for physical product. Yes, digital sales have been rising and yes, they’re an important part of the musical landscape now. If you want something immediate, right this minute, you’ll nip to iTunes, or stream it on Spotify, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. But HMV’s problems aren’t that people had stopped buying music; it was more that we had other places to choose to buy them from, that didn’t require a visit into town, that might be cheaper (although, if HMV does disappear of the landscape, I’m sure going to miss all those ‘2 for £10’ offers that have seduced me over the years).

It’s not even that downloads are dominating how we consume music, as Rough Trade’s co-owner Stephen Godfroy reminds us. “I might be mistaken, but I believe the total UK music sales are roughly 68% physical, so yes, physical formats are the country’s preference. With better offline music retail options across the nation, that figure would be higher.”

“Formats aren’t the issue,” he continues, “it’s the quality of retail that’s at the heart of this situation.”
‘Editorial quality has timeless value.’
If there’s still a demand for the physical product, it seems likely that someone will buy HMV and try to turn the business around. “I’d be very surprised if HMV didn’t evolve into a new smaller, leaner business, serving key cities around the UK.” Godfroy agrees. “I’m certain there will be a high-street music store of some description. As to how their presence affects the role of an independent retailer, it should only provide sharp relief to show off their merits, showing in contrast how independent music retail qualities are unrivalled.”

Whilst hope for the retailer still remains, imagine, for a moment, that HMV does disappear from our high streets. To buy a cd; you’ll either have to head to the supermarket, or to the nearest town with an independent record store – for those of us whose only local record store is HMV. Or, order your record of choice on the internet and wait for it to arrive. Whether this will effect the range of choice in your local independent remains to be seen; Godfray seems to think that won’t, saying; “Indie stores have an editorial quality and skill that has timeless value in a market that is increasingly flooded with releases.”
‘It’s an exciting new time to be creative.’
That’s not to say that demand wouldn’t come into it, particularly for those stores not based in major cities. Tom Butchart, owner of Sound It Out Records, based up in Teesside told us that in terms of how he chooses his stock, any closure of HMV would possibly have an effect on his curation process. “If HMV are to close, we will be the only music seller, apart from supermarkets, in our area, which might mean more people wanting pop/chart stuff, and we are quite happy to stock this if required. We don’t really get a lot of requests for chart stuff right now, so if it does increase we might actually learn a bit more about what’s going on in the charts, and what the youth of Britain are listening to! We have always welcomed music retailing, whether it be indie or otherwise, so we think there would certainly be a place for a mainstream high street store to function alongside an indie.”

He goes on to say that any closure would affect his business in other ways, too. “We have a branch quite close by - half a mile - and their staff often recommend us to their customers who are looking for vinyl,” he tells us, “This probably happens once a fortnight.’

It really does depend on how you look at it. If the physical format still has a demand, with or without HMV, it’ll continue to exist. And for the smaller record record store; maybe it’s a case of the challenge to adapt to a changing marketplace being an opportunity? As Tolley puts it; “It’s an exciting new time to be creative. To re-embrace physical releases and the experience of buying them. To help customers get exactly what they want and to turn them onto things they might not yet know. […] this silver lining might even shine past this mass of dark clouds over music retail right now.”