Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Retail vs Digital: Physical music in a new age

This blog is to primarily focus on Scottish music, and I will make special mention of Scottish independent record stores here, but this is a UK-wide story and it's well worth talking about.

Today, HMV has gone into administration, putting 4,000 jobs at risk and the strong possibility that the UK will be left without a high street record store. HMV is responsible for 38% of all physical music sales (via The Guardian) and there are towns and cities where HMV is the only place for people to buy physical CDs and records, and to lose that it really will mark a change in the sales of physical music in this country. 

The market has been changing drastically in recent years, there's been a massive boost in digital sales and streaming. Applications like Spotify, which it is well documented does not provide artists with a decent payback for all their plays, and digital downloads via sites like Amazon and Bandcamp have all expanded and changed the way we buy and listen to music. HMV was stubborn to these changes and did price itself out of the market, I am guilty of browsing CDs in their stores then going online to purchase purely because it is cheaper to do so. 

It is also important to mention the dominance of HMV, coupled with the boost in digital sales, has meant for independent record stores. One Up Records in Aberdeen has followed Avalanche Records in Edinburgh by announcing its closure at the end of the month. Avalanche has turned to online sales and are still hosting in-stores but the store itself is gone. These stores have felt the strain and are having to succumb to the new market. We, as music fans, should support and celebrate these stores whilst they are here. You'll still be able to find yourself an independent or two in Glasgow (Love Music and Mono), and there's Groucho's in Dundee. Don't just go on Record Store Day, go more often and get your physical fix from them than from a major. Perhaps if HMV disappears the towns with independents left might see a little boost in sales. We can but hope. 

I also want to mention the fact that bands use sites like Bandcamp and Big Cartel to sell their physical CDs to fans directly. The physical format is still important and bands are still using it, despite the digital age. Chances are if you want a CD from an unsigned band you'll find it by going directly to them at shows or their website. The independent labels continue to support the physical format as well as most releases can be found in the physical format (limited run or not). It is through these people that the format should continue to thrive in the new age. As long as it's available to the fans and fans know where to purchase it then we should definitely have less to worry about. It is not a forgotten format, people who love music also want physical music and they'll find it wherever it's being sold.

It is the major labels and their continuance with the physical format that is most affected by the possible closure of HMV. They may react by cutting out the middle man or they may react by completely changing the formats they sell music by. It is hard to tell at this point. But HMV dipping into administration will have an impact on physical sales and as a music fan I will definitely be watching how the industry reacts at all levels. We are in a new digital age but the physical format remains important, long may it continue.

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