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Music Buying Made Difficult

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It was my recent trip to New York that brought it home to me. Walking around this most fraught and amazing city I tried to find somewhere to buy a CD from an American singer I like called Greg Laswell. But not one place could I find and on asking waiters and the concierge they couldn't help either.

Does no one buy CDs in the U.S. anymore? Probably not. But why is that? Has a lack of demand meant no supply or has a lack of supply meant an end to demand?

It got me thinking that perhaps the music industry wanted us to move to download all along, rather than buy a hard copy. It's cheaper to produce and easier to deliver after all. So are the constant cries of poor sales for CDs from the industry just a smokescreen to what they actually wanted? An end to CDs?

But I'm just being cynical according to HMV spokesman Gennaro Costaldo. He says he doesn't think the industry has deliberately steered people away from CDs towards downloads as such - not least because even now CD albums still represent a major chunk of their revenue that they can ill do without.

"However," he says "while the Industry has certainly done its best to embrace the Internet and the opportunities it presents, including through the way the charts are increasingly presented, I suspect that in its haste to be seen to be progressively embracing it, parts of it have also unwittingly helped to undermine the perceived value and desirability of the CD and hastened its long-term decline.

"If that's the case then that would be a real pity as there are still a lot of music fans that like the idea of buying and collecting physical product - and perhaps making a digital copy which means they can have the best of both worlds. As a retailer we always firmly believe that consumers should be free to decide for themselves and not have a choice imposed upon them.

"We find that when you give people choice they tend to respond to it - just lately, for example, we have seen a small resurgence of interest in vinyl, which has encouraged HMV to introduce the format back into a number of its stores. If demand is there, then the Industry should help nurture and respond to it."

Despite what Gennaro says, as with all technology, I have a growing feeling of being pushed towards a 'choice'. HD is better, 3D is apparently better - but all more expensive in whatever field, and requiring outlaying more cash to replace redundant systems. It's a sign of the corporate and capitalist world in which we live and you either go along like a lemming, or stop and say 'no I don't want forced choice' I want my choice.

My love of music means I download a lot but also want hard copies too of albums I really like. I probably buy more music as a result of downloads and the stats would back that up to some degree, with singles sales at record levels because of downloads. But while digital music sales account for 25% of total music sales in the UK, the industry continues to suffer from declining sales of physical formats, with singles down 27% year on year to £6.9m and albums down 14.5% to £863m. Could that be because there are less places to go to buy them. Yes supermarkets stock the mainstream stuff BUT proper music choice is quickly vanishing from the High Street.

My view is the industry has wanted this to happen and in pushing us towards download, failed to fully work out how to maximise revenue. The artists get my sympathy but not the industry as a whole. It made enough hay while sun was shining quite frankly.

So is there a place for music retailers in the UK I rather cheekily asked Gennaro from our last remaining High Street name.

"We absolutely believe there is such a place for indie and specialist stores and chains. Out and out record stores are sadly becoming harder to sustain - although there are some notable and wonderful exceptions, as we saw recently with Record Store Day, but shops with broader entertainment offers that also incorporate film and games can still play a vital role on the high street - especially at peak gifting times of the year such as Christmas.

"That doesn't mean that retailers shouldn't look to continually improve their offer to customers to remain relevant in a changing popular culture landscape, and at HMV we have been diversifying into new product categories to reflect the way people increasingly discover and consume entertainment content, such as through personal technology devices, including tablets and smart phones, speakerdocks and headphones.

"If the high street suffers then so, in all likelihood, will our communities - so we all have a vested interest in supporting our local independent and specialist stores - so long, of course, as they continue to provide the right service."

Gennaro argues well and is closer to it all than me but my cynical side believes consumers are more often than not sold choice when in fact we are getting, is exactly what the big machines want us to have. It's not much to ask for a proper choice.

After all, all I wanted was to buy a CD in New York!