Tuesday 25 January 2011

Friday 21 January 2011

Alex Kirst RIP

Former Nymphs and Iggy Pop drummer Alex Kirst has died following a hit-and-run accident.

Will dust down the Nymphs album tonight.

Previous posts:
The Nymphs - self-titled

Thursday 20 January 2011

Would you miss HMV?

Follow-up to yesterday's post, as latest news reports hint at further difficulties at HMV.

The Guardian asking shoppers at HMV's flagship store on Oxford Street whether they would miss the retailer should it fall by the wayside - responses were largely positive towards the beleaguered retailer. Fair to say that interviewing customers isn't the most impartial approach to take but the comments are noteworthy all the same.

Wednesday 19 January 2011

Mad about music? See a specialist.

There’s been much talk regarding HMV’s announcement of reduced profits and planned store closures. They’re not (yet) making losses but as the last of the big guns it seems conceivable that the UK could find itself without a major music retail chain.

HMV have survived through the demise of Tower (2003), Our Price (in decline from the late 90s, the final nail in the coffin was under the Sanity banner in 2004) MVC (2005), Music Zone, Fopp and Virgin Megastores (all 2007) and Zavvi (2009), as well as mail-order company Britannia Music Club (2007) and high street giant Woolworths (2009).

That said the above over-simplifies matters as at some point pretty much every chain listed has owned or been owned by one of the others. Our Price, bought by WHSmith in 1986, found itself with a sister chain in the early 1990s when a majority holding in Virgin was also bought up. In the meantime, disgruntled Our Price directors were putting together plans to launch a new independent chain but once this was discovered found themselves banned from doing so for one year in 1989 (I remember this well, as I started work at Our Price in August of that year and this was a very hot topic) before popping up with the Music and Video Club (MVC) in 1990. MVC was bought by Kingfisher in 1993, owners of Woolworths, later being sold to venture capitalists in 2005 and going into administration within 6 months. Some MVC stores were bought by Music Zone in 2006 before they themselves entered administration in 2007. Fopp bought up a number of the Music Zone stores and, true to form, ended up in administration the same year. HMV subsequently bought up some of the Fopp sites and continue to trade under that brand. 2007 also saw Virgin cease trading after a management buyout led to the formation of Zavvi. Virgin had previously emerged as the higher-profile name from its relationship with Our Price, particularly when the two were bought out from WHSmith by a division of Virgin in 1998 with many locations seeing their branch of Our Price closing in favour of a larger Virgin store (or being rebranded as ‘VShop’). Our Price was sold off to and rebranded as Sanity in 2001 but this proved a disastrous venture and by 2002 a switch back to the old name had been introduced at a few branches before Sanity entered administration in 2003, closing the final store in January 2004. Virgin had also taken over the few remaining Tower Records sites in 2003, initially retaining the Tower name. Zavvi went into administration in 2009, linked to the collapse of Woolworths as they used the latter’s distribution chain, Entertainment UK, whose administrators called in a debt of £106 million. Despite negotiating a lower payment the timing meant that Zavvi was left without stock during the critical Christmas period and was unable to source stock on favourable terms from anywhere else.

And so HMV ruled supreme, but despite having a clear run still finds itself in trouble. From personal experience I haven’t found music retail chains to be particularly dynamic and innovative and suspect that HMV’s position of dominance hasn’t been achieved by being especially savvy (although it’s diversification into live music could be what saves the name from disappearing altogether). True, they succeeded in running many of their rivals out of town in the 1990s but this was arguably by simply showing up with bigger stores. Pricing-wise they weren’t competitive. MVC on the other hand devised an interesting strategy by going down a ‘club’ route – sign up, get a membership card and CDs became typically £1 or so cheaper. Eventually Our Price responded to this in 1995 with its ‘Price Shock’ campaign in locations where an MVC resided but after a while this was dropped at short notice – given some slightly odd restrictions placed on us regarding ordering stock in the run-up to stock takes around that time I’m guessing this was having too much of an effect on the company’s cashflow.

So where to next? There's been some romanticising on the days where record shops were a destination in themselves; a place to hang out, meet friends, browse the racks and maybe discover something new, often at the recommendation of the knowledgeable staff. But the nature of buying (or rather acquiring) music has irreversibly changed and it's no longer necessary to leave the house to buy CDs. Downloading and streaming are here to stay, and if this is what the next and future generations chose to do then HMV cannot survive in its current form. Even its online presence seems confused as it offers items at a different price to those instore - they know they have to compete with the likes of Amazon but in doing so are sending out quite an insulting message to those customers that still buy in person. Sister company Waterstones has the same dual-pricing policy.

There are suggestions that the demise of HMV could lead to a return of the independents. According to writer Graham Jones, the number of independent retailers has dipped from over 2,000 to 269 during his professional career (incidentally, you can find out where your nearest one is here). Graham recently posted an article naming five of his favourites. Unfortunately even these stores face the same problems and in all likelihood the average age of their clientele is nudging onwards and upwards, but in terms of being able to offer something different this indeed appears to be a huge opportunity, even if only in the short-term. Their independent status should also enable them to be rather more entrepreneurial than their behemoth rival.

Either way music retail is entering a critical period, and one with far more at stake than when Our Price, HMV, Virgin et al were battling it out for market share in the 1990s.

Friday 14 January 2011

Dylan Hears A Who

Encouraged by my Ramones-loving offspring, a search on YouTube for Dr Seuss clips brought us to the below, and it seems there’s a tale to tell too.

Recorded by Kevin Ryan as part of a seven track download-only release entitled 'Dylan Hears A Who', (a nod to the 1954 book ‘Horton Hears A Who!’), Dr Seuss Enterprises took issue with the use of their copyrighted material. The website was taken down, the one remaining page clearly but politely stating the reason why. But with a little digging around you will find that the recordings can still be located …