THE WAY I SEE IT #26 : By Darren Murphy

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IT WAS hardly surprising this week when HMV announced administrators were to be called in. I suppose we are all now well aware it’s not only small businesses that are sinking fast in the current economic climate, but high profile chains also.

With all due respect to other large chains that recently closed their doors, like Comet and JJB Sports, the plight of HMV has unsettled me more. I feel rather contrite admitting it’s unsettled me, it seems indeed to be selfish considering up to 4,500 of HMV’s staff now have the agonising uncertainty of unemployment looming above their heads. It unsettles me because life is becoming so much more difficult for the purist, the person who loves nothing more than to own a physical copy of a CD or a DVD. A physical item that they can cherish and love, as if it was a sports trophy, won through sheer guts and determination.

Okay, maybe I’m being a touch eccentric. However, there are people among us whom love nothing more than spending two hours in a record store. Usually searching for that hidden gem of a track or at least checking out the cute rock chick we’ve scoped, meticulously browsing titles in the heavy metal section while you try pretending to be interested in the same kind of music.

In the past I’ve written about my hatred for e-readers like the kindle, much preferring a physical book. This is much the same; the ability to download music and film is ensuring an activity is about to be lost forever.

Are we determined to digitalise our entire existence? The NHS are currently looking into going paperless, does every NHS patient have access to a computer? I think not, but that’s another issue.

I’m beginning to envisage a time where we ourselves are merely 3D images, being beamed from futuristic television sets. As we go about our business without ever getting our morbidly obese backsides up from the couch. Its madness I tell thee, we are en route to living a life of virtual reality.

By 2015, it is expected 90.4% of music and film sales will be online. I’m not going to sit and lie — of course I’ve purchased CDs and DVDs online, we all have. Whether it is unwillingly or unknowingly, we have all contributed to the demise of HMV. Admittedly, the iconic 92-year-old retailer has to accept some of the blame. The failure of bigwigs at the company to adapt and meet the rapidly-changing market head on led to the brand being left behind the times. Perhaps the lack of competition in the high street with HMV being the last nationwide entertainment chain lulled the hierarchy into a false sense of security. Who knows?

Could HMV have offered a British alternative to iTunes? Would that have been enough to stop the debt spiralling to a reported £176.1 million? Again, who knows?

What we do know is that we are on the verge of losing another major high street chain. When will it stop?

The knock-on effect is inevitable, although it’s unclear what mark it will make on the record labels and film companies that rely on HMV’s sales. It’s worthwhile noting that HMV accounts for 37 per cent of all sales on the physical music market. It isn’t the recession that has dragged Nipper the dog from His Masters Voice to be put down, it’s digitalisation.

The chief executive of HMV is bullish about the company’s survival and insists the chain still has a part to play on British high streets. I for one — and I’m certain I’m not alone — will be hoping Trevor Moore is correct. There is something special about a store filled to the hilt with rows and rows of CDs and records. It’s much more than just store, it’s a focal point of likeminded people and a shrine to the purists. It would be a crying shame to see HMV fall out of the top 40, especially after so many hits.