Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

HMV's demise was sadly inevitable

The moment I saw Napster in the year 2000 I knew the game was up. It was just a matter of time.

HMV has sadly had to call in the administrators. I feel very sorry for those who are going to lose their jobs. I have experienced redundancy myself and I know it can be very difficult, especially with the economy the way it is at the moment.

I have seen some, mainly left-wing activists try to blame "austerity" for this outcome. I'm afraid they are very wrong-headed about that.

This day was inevitable. The idea that a business model to supply music, TV and films to the public that relies on physically creating the media, boxing it up, storing it in a warehouse, shipping it between depot locations and ultimately to a store, unloading and sorting the products onto the shelves, paying rent for city-centre locations, paying lots of staff to man/woman the stores and interact with the public and all the other costs associated with running an enterprise such as HMV could survive when the public can now purchase those things electronically and download them to a computer or set-top box immediately was unsustainable.

It's nothing to do with austerity. To try and argue that HMV should have survived is the equivalent of 15th century people trying to shore up the position of the scribes as the printing press came of age. Unsustainable.

Even though in 2000 Napster had a clunky interface, not that much variety and you needed to be quite technically savvy to use it combined with the very slow dial-up internet speeds making it impractical to download lots of music that didn't matter. I had seen that downloading music was possible. It was obvious that the infrastructure of things like iTunes and Spotify would come in time. It was also not much of a leap to see that Moore's law and the trajectory of increases in download speeds and storage capacity would soon make TV and films downloadable too.

Napster in its original form was shut down soon after I first used it. But its successors both legitimate and less so have completely revolutionised the world of entertainment consumption in just 13 years.

That was going to happen no matter how the economy was doing. You can't stop progress and we shouldn't want to stop it.

We need to adjust to the new reality.


martijn said...

Very true. More generally, in the bigger scheme of things bankruptcies tend to be a good sign for the economy: it means that the economy is working and that non-working parts of it are gotten rid off. (That's not to trivialise the impact bankruptcies have on many individuals and families!)

asquith said...

I'm on Spotify now, rediscovering stuff I stopped regularly listening to (I actually still listen to most of the music of my teens, but I dropped some stuff and I'm going back through it now). This is actually a golden age for music.

So long as there is a safety net and reasonable prospects for ex-HMV staffers (questionable in today's times) the only real problem is what to do with the empty shops. I mean where are today's 15 year olds going to hang round talking bollocks and wishing they had girlfriends?

Did anyone watch Newsnight last night? Wasn't bad, and I felt the best points of all were made by that John Vincent, the co-founder of Leon.