Simon Columb on the demise of the high street entertainment store…
When I was 16 a friend and I were keen to go to the cinema. Checking our change, we were short by mere pennies and were mortified at the prospect of spending another two hours simply hanging about the shopping centre – something we had already spent the morning enjoying. I had an idea: Let’s go to HMV and meet someone. We didn’t know who, but we knew for sure that at 16, on a Saturday, someone we knew was bound to be in HMV. Lo and behold, barely 10 minutes into browsing the store, we spotted friends and convinced them to (a) spot us the ten pence and (b) join us to the cinema.
Only a few years ago, a friend and I decided to use an afternoon wisely and take advantage of an offer at HMV. We would both purchase a DVD, and watch the two back-to-back in the afternoon. They had to be films which we had not seen before and, after a good hour of discussion, we settled on Sexy Beast and THX 1138.
These experiences cannot be replicated in the online, digital age. These shops were physical spaces where people met and argued their appreciation of cinema and music. The ‘random’ selection – and enjoyment through comparing the potential double-bill is not as much fun staring at a computer screen. The argument over the physical product – holding one next to the other and arguing which would be the honourable purchase (“I know it’ll go down in price… but it’s numbered, so it won’t lose too much value…”). Holding the special editions and personally seeing the value in the extra few pounds to justify a tin box. HMV will not just spell the end of the historic brand itself – it also marks the end of a High Street entertainment specialist. If I suddenly have an urge to appreciate art-house or independent films – I cannot pop down the shops to buy the product – Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s simply don’t stock it. I could download it; I could buy the film from an online-retailer; I could watch a low-standard version on YouTube. There is no need to leave the house now.
But I like to leave the house. I don’t like staying at home moving between the PC and the TV to enjoy cinema. I like to watch films at the cinema and I like to browse in HMV for too long – and I like to pride myself on finding the strange-shaped case of a Band of Brothers box-set (especially when I know that this particular version is hard to find and worth paying a little bit above the odds.).
I don’t believe this is the end of the entertainment store – though it may be the end of HMV. Second-hand shops like CEX are appearing everywhere. But the joy of browsing pristine copies – and knowing that the store will stock the copy you want, is over. Second-hand stores sometimes stock them; sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they exclusively deal with games and mobile phones; rarely do they stock CDs.
I appreciate the frustration many had with HMV – and considering it had a monopoly over High Street entertainment specialist stores for the last five years, you would imagine it could have prospered if it was managed better. It is not just a loss to the employees of the store, but it is a loss to the high street. No more “HMV sprees” or “Fopp drops” – now we shall merely buy online, directed by flash graphics and algorithms attuned to our previous visits. Something about that seems robotic and cold – His Masters Voice, calling us into the warmth of the shop, has been silenced.