Seems bad news travels fast. Everyone’s here looking for a bargain. HMV hasn’t been this busy for a long time. Not in the run up to Christmas, nor the post-Christmas sales. But that’s the point. The irony is that the current blue cross sale started last week. Nothing has changed. Except, that is, that HMV has gone into administration…
The news is hardly surprising. Only a few years ago HMV peeled back it’s operations reducing its physical presence greatly; attempting to reinvent itself, slightly, as an electronic store, giving over much of it’s floor space to iPhone speakers and BeatsByDre headphones. Before that it bought out the failing Fopp stores when they overreached themselves, co-opting their “stack ‘em high, sell ‘em cheap” ethos. Neither worked.
HMV may have had a high percentage of the physical CD sales, but it was the last brick in the physical world of chain home entertainment retailers. As sales moved online to downloads and online sales of movies and music, exactly how could a real, bricks ‘n’ mortar store compete? Especially when not only rivals like Amazon and Play.com, but even the brands own online presence beats in store prices, and delivered to your door nonetheless.
Whatever happens next, it’s still a real shame for the last real high street chain for music and video. And worrying news for all the nearly 4,500 strong staff in stores around the UK. But I can’t help but wonder what this means for smaller DVD distributors now as well, particularly in Asian film. So many are still fixated on actual physical products in an increasing virtual world, often due to licensing constraints and overheads, yet surely now isn’t it time to look beyond that to download and streaming services?
Sure, we might have stopped looking in HMV a long time ago… But for many physical products are things of the past. There might be some of us who’d still rather have a physical item, much to the detriment of our partners who despair watching that ever growing pile of films mounting up that we never seem to get round to watching. But for many, downloads have become the way forward, and to ignore that is a perilous road.
The largest proper ‘indie’ distributor, Cine-Asia, has been all-but ripped asunder by investing in promoting itself to supermarkets – a move that Steve Rivers thought would save the label with ever-diminishing high street outlets – when returns of unsold copies allegedly pushed them into the red.
There are a few distributor labels that have been able to make it work. Examples like Masters Of Cinema spring to mind, who’ve been able to capitalise on making their editions of films some of the best in the world, a new Criterion Collection if you will. Yet however successful these labels appear to be, it’s worth remembering just low those profit margins are, like so many of our high street retailers.
And I really don’t want to lose any more…
UPDATE: Within hours of publishing this article, another timely indicator of the changing ways in which we interact with films and home entertainment came with the news that Blockbuster has also gone into administration.
UPDATE #2 (28/01/13): Slightly less well publicised was the closure of Jersey-based retailer Play.com. Recently bought out by Japanese retailer Rakuten, has also ceased it’s direct retail arm, becoming a ‘marketplace’ instead; putting over 200 employees out of work. A recent article in The Guardian lays out the implications for independent cinema retailers in the UK.