17 January 2013

On the Potential Closure of HMV

On Monday it was revealed by the media that HMV would close. The next day the stores were open crammed with people bargain searching though the chain wasn't taking gift vouchers, if Ireland, where HMV is a separate entity, this was odd as the Irish branch had not yet filed for administration.

Today, all HMV stores in Ireland were closed and the company's 300 or so staff in Ireland were left in the dark.

The comparisons with GAME's demise are obvious. When that chain went into administration the shop floor assistants were equally out of the loop, the retailer's demise being reported to them not by management but by the media.

GAME left Ireland entirely and if HMV does there'll be Xtravision (which itself went into administration last year - though it emerged largely intact from its examinership (the Irish version of administration)), GameStop, Smyhts and Tesco.

That seems like a fair amount of competition, right? Except it isn't, in Ireland, HMV were the cheapest of the lot. For example just this week DmC was €47, in GameStop it was €55. Tesco are no cheaper, unlike the UK (for those curious it's no cheaper to ship new releases to Ireland from Amazon where the conversion from £ to € for DmC is €45 on top of which is post and package (Amazon charge for delivering to Ireland).

With HMV gone the average price of a game will go up by €8, and with HMV gone what's to prevent GameStop, already Ireland's largest games retailer from increasing their prices further? (Though admittedly the weak economy might be a deterrent in that regard.)

There were people throwing CDs at HMV staff yesterday when they're gift vouchers were denied and one grandfather who stole three games in exchange for the €40 voucher he had bought for his grandson that the shop assistants refused to take, because they had been ordered to. The staff didn't deserve that, they are looking at losing their jobs and were doing as they were instructed.

And that's the thing HMV staff, in my experience at least, were always nice and knowledgeable (my only grievance was being asked if I wanted to protect my games for €2 every time I bought one but again they were required to ask).

Of course it also highlights the demise of physical media, long foretold and effective in music for a decade. Netflix and Hulu took their tool more recently (although Netflix only launched in Ireland late in 2012), the rest went to piracy. And the demise in the gaming sector - an estimated 9% in the UK last year - as a result of fatigue with the current generation, the rise of alternatives in smart phones and tablets and the cost of games (ironic given HMV's status as cheapest for new releases) made this juncture inevitable.

All of this has been said with much greater depth and insight than I have afforded it here. But ultimately I enjoyed browsing in HMV, if it was posters in the basement, the games, or the box sets reduced from (admittedly) ridiculous prices to something affordable in the sales. In the end I suspect games on disc will be a novelty item much like the continuation of vinyl as a medium but that day is not quite here yet and until then I like getting my hands on something I can hold.

That's really the reason why I'll miss HMV if it goes.

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