As you'll have heard by now, music retailer HMV is on the brink of falling into administration. Unless a buyer can be found for the high street giant, the company (which opened in 1921 on London's Oxford Street) will be forced to close its doors for good. This will mean the loss of over 4000 jobs and for many, the loss of a 'face to face' relationship with music.
For many years, all we had in the small town I grew up in, was a tiny music store. If you could even call it a music store; it seemed to be more concerned with selling the latest TV show winner's flash-in-the-pan albums than real music. Thus, my only real 'hands-on' experiences with music would occur on shopping trips to larger near-by towns. Then, somewhere around ten years ago, a HMV showed up. It didn't just ride into town one day and pitch its tent on the high street. No, instead it was the subject of much excitement and speculation. This anticipation was partly to do with anything new being news in a small town, but there was also a degree of genuine excitement; here was a genuine music store that would carry all the best CDs, DVDs and games. Here was entertainment, under one roof. (HMV if you want to use that as an endorsement, my twitter is at the bottom of the page).
In a small town, things like music and film are important. They're your ways out. They're your ways to live vicariously through rock stars and film heroes and heroines. They inspire you and drive you to escape. There was a bleak time when I had returned from a trip to Mexico and found myself faced with five empty months before university. There were no jobs and so I was on Job Seekers Allowance (or 'the dole' as it's correctly pronounced). After a bottle of Tesco Dark Rum, there wasn't much of the government's money left, but HMV's three for £20 DVDs got me through that time and helped my money stretch further.
Of course, these deals are partly what led to the chain's demise. At the end of the day, their inability to deal with supermarkets and online retailers was the final bullet. Perhaps this is due to the way the company was run, or perhaps it is to do the changing ways in which we consume our media. Downloads of music and film (both legal and illegal) undercut those dealing in good-old fashioned, tangible products and mean it is almost impossible for stores to compete. Even HMV with its fingers reaching across the country could not defeat Amazon.
The worst part of HMV closing down is that the music and film lover will have limited options when it comes to discovering new music. Sure there are record stores, but, especially in small towns, it can be hard to find a decent one. The closure of HMV will not mean a sudden surge of customers fleeing to record stores. Instead, record stores are likely to suffer a decline in sales as consumers accept that online shopping is the future. I digress. All this means is that the 'hands-on', the 'face to face', aspect of interacting with music will slip away and become tangled up in the annals of time. Many delayed train journeys, and half-hours waiting for late friends have been pleasantly spent browsing the CD aisles of HMV.
When, a few years ago and back in my home town, my girlfriend at the time found out she had been accepted for her dream job, she rushed to find me and knew exactly where I would be: HMV. Years before that, aged 13, with pop punk flourishing around me, I spent ages in HMV looking through the MXPX collection, debating which album to spend my paper-round money on. Green Day's International Superhits, Blink-182's Dude Ranch and Foo Fighter's The Color and The Shape, were all purchased after similar lengthily internal debates. Sure, these days you can go on Amazon or iTunes and see the album artwork and listen to a snippet of the song, even read what Greg from Market Rasen thinks about the album, but is it the same as holding a physical copy of the album in your hands? Is it the same as digging out a rare release at the back of the shop? Is it balls.
A friend of mine who claims to love music often asks to borrow my copy of the latest release. The last album was Gaslight Anthem's Handwritten. Each time I tell her to go and buy her own copy. Of course, downloading the album still supports the band, but if they really mean that much to you, don't you want to hold their album in your hands? Don't you want to rush down to the store on release day and grab the deluxe edition off the shelves and then read the lyrics along with the music? The inevitable closure of HMV is a drastic step towards the closure of all record stores. Let's not allow this to happen. Next it'll be our bookstores and a world without record stores or book stores doesn't bear thinking about.