I was recently visiting HMV in Leeds. I spent a while looking for the classical music department, which I used to enjoy browsing. It took a while to realise the classical department had been now squeezed into two shelves between easy listening, branded retro clothes, weird T-Shirts and computer game consoles. It then hit me that HMV was no longer a record shop, but, a company trying to valiantly cope with the rapidly changing high street.
With new technology, there are always winners and losers. This goes back to the Luddites of the nineteenth century; unemployed weavers who went around northern towns smashing machines they thought had cost them a job. In a way, the machines did create structural unemployment, but for every job lost, new jobs were slowly being created in different fields.
Technology has been hard on music sales. Some of my students say they can't understand why anyone would buy a CD, when everything can be downloaded for free. Maybe I'm still too old fashioned to be buying CDs. But, even when I get downloads I go to Amazon and pay for them. I've never understood this idea that you should be entitled to creative art for free and not offer any recompense to the artist.
Having said that the greatest irony of visiting HMV was seeing a retro Leeds United top from the 1970s (a time of trophies and the strongest side in the country, not barely escaping from a division third from bottom, but, that's another post). The top was cool. But, at £40 a little on the pricey side. I noticed a website on the label, so when I got home I checked out the website. The price was £10 lower and there was greater choice of sizes. So thanks to HMV I was able to buy a retro top, cheaply on t'internet. Though I did walk away with a CD Bach's Top 100 Greatest hits so I think everyone is happy. At least HMV is trying to avoid the fate that befell other less flexible record shops such as Zavvi's
Future of High Street.
Ten (or even five years) ago, I think it would have been difficult to predict the rapid decline of record shops (record shop sounds very satisfying, even if they don't sell records) In the next few years, the interesting thing will be the fate of bookshops. Will people still like buying books, when you can read online and download? Books will always retain a charm that ipad screens can't match, but, then buying 7 inch black disc singles had a certain charm too. Charm and nostalgia is not enough to guarantee survival. I guess, the future of bookshops is to expand the ever growing number of Costa cafes, so bookshops just become a virtual place where people tapping away on their laptops can download Shakespeare's greatest hits. Though in an era of free wireless, it is hard to see a business model that is too robust. If internet shopping does become the norm, what will happen to the high street, surely there are only so many Starbucks and Costa coffee shops that can be supported. People say clothes shops are safe, but, I'm not sure. At least for men, the attraction of buying clothes online is quite high if it saves you £10.
Maybe shopowners should take a leaf out of the Luddites books and try smash up t'internet. Though, on second thoughts, maybe the only way is to accept the inevitability of change - even if it does mean replacing Schubert and Beethoven with retro furry dice.