On a sombre note, Nipper the Dog is going to have to look for a new instrument to listen to. Somehow the image of him wearing headphones strikes me as distinctly weird (no matter how hip it may look!). The iconic HMV recently went into administration (a UK process which protects limited companies from their creditors whilst a debt restructuring plan is carried out). Naturally the response was one of grief, nostalgia and worry for the future, with some going as so far as to claim that physical media don’t have a future at all.
Will this statement come true? Eventually it will be so, but I imagine in the far, far, far off future. Just not in the present future ahead of us. However, how did this collapse come about? In my view, the obvious culprits would be the presence of online retailers (Amazon), download services (iTunes), streaming platforms (Spotify and YouTube), piracy (nay, no names!) and supermarkets (Tesco). But there are also subtle factors at play.
Basically, HMV struggled to establish itself as an online player. I can understand that Apple and its iTunes store/player is a huge behemoth, however, HMV had the potential to be a just as large player. HMV focused on tech, games, DVD, music, tickets, etc. and with a line-up like that, if it had focused on offering a digital download service, it could have survived for a longer period of time and even challenged Apple and Amazon. I’m not even go into its brand value, rich history and lore. But, it chose to stick to its roots and physical media, leading to the fall.
Finally, it failed to make any real connection with the new audience. There was no real marketing campaign that inflamed the imagination of the young populace – which focused on technology, price, accessibility and uniqueness. Apple’s iconic iPod campaign captured this essence the best. To be succinct, HMV failed to read the pulse of the rising generation and reinvent its business model into a sustainable one.
As a whole, the music industry is set to become the first real member of the media family to be fully online and digitised. Neil Saunders, the managing director of Conlumino, gives further credence to this, when he writes ‘by our own figures, we forecast that by the end of 2015 some 90.4% of music and film sales will be online. The bottom line is that there is no real future for physical retail in the music sector.’ Does this ring alarm bells for the book-publishing world? In a way, they are already feeling the heat. But at the same time, there is hope.
Publishers have already recognised the changing tide – they were some of the most enthusiastic proponents of the e-book in the 2000s (an experiment which badly burnt them). They are aware of the fact that this is an interesting time to be in, where they have to reinvent themselves. And the process is a slow and steady one, albeit painful at times. In this context, the pressing question is – Which company do people associate books when they think of books?