Decline of HMV reminds us it’s time we valued music

15 Jan 2013 @ 8.52 pm
| Opinion

HMV on Coney Street, York: its decline is “incredibly sad”. Photographs: YorkMix
Writer, musician and storyteller Miles Salter mourns the loss of a retail giant

I’ve just come back from York’s Coney Street, where I spent £20 on four CDs, each priced £5 in the traditional HMV new year sale. (Dire Straits, The Rolling Stones, The Clash and Iron Maiden, since you ask. I have, as Alan Partridge once said, my finger on the nub of youth.)

But my purchase was tinged with sadness that we are about to lose HMV forever. The news that they have called in the administrators is incredibly sad. HMV have been part of growing up in the UK for decades. Many of us will have spent time and money in their shops since the 1970s.

Their famous flagship shop in London’s Oxford Street was a place to see what was happening in the world of music in the 1980s and 1990s. I once interviewed HMV’s former CEO, Brian McLaughlin, who was rightly proud of what the chain had achieved and told me how it had taken years to get the business to become a slick retail machine.

What is happening to our high streets? In recent weeks we have lost Comet, Jessops and HMV, with thousands of jobs being lost. Many people point the finger at online stores such as Amazon for the decline in fortunes of high street retailers. We all have a choice to make on where we spend our money. Perhaps we should be more inclined to go to shops rather than use the web.

I have used Apple for iTunes and Amazon for books, CDs and DVDs – and a good resource they are too. But perhaps I should have spent it in places like HMV instead.

Jessops on Spurriergate, shuttered and with closure notices on the window
Jessops on Spurriergate, shuttered and with closure notices on the window

In the 1980s there was a campaign against home taping that urged people not to copy music illegally. As a 15 year old I made lots of copies of albums, but later, when I had money of my own, I spent hundreds of pounds on cassettes, records and CDs. More recently, the people who have helped themselves to music via file-sharing sites have contributed to HMV’s collapse.

Music has become, for many, a disposable product, something that is not valued. It is everywhere – or seems to be. The music industry was once worth a vast amount to the UK economy. In the last decade its net worth has dwindled as listeners have helped themselves to files on the internet.

As somebody who spent time and money on recording my own album in 2007 (Miles Cain, A Way Of Being Free), I know how much it costs to produce a good musical product. Studios, musicians, duplication – it all adds up. By buying product through retailers such as HMV, consumers help to keep thousands of people in work – not only musicians and record company staff, but retail staff, designers, lorry drivers and many more.

No man is an island. We are all in this together. Illegally ripping off music from file sharing sites has helped to contribute to the loss of thousands of jobs. I haven’t done it and I hope I never do.

It may not be game over for HMV yet. As I write this, the FT are reporting that Hilco, a retail restructuring group, may be interested in buying the music chain. We shall see.

But music – and the industry that surrounds it – is worth the support of all of us.

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