As the future of HMV grows increasingly bleak, the question that now has to be asked is whether the same can be said of the physical CD? There was a time towards the end of the 90s when I could be found in my local Virgin Megastores, most Mondays after school, with an arm full of the week’s new cassette single releases. But as the humble tape was phased out into the 00’s, I eventually moved onto the CD (albeit later than most, as you could get 2 tapes for the price of 1 CD!). My cassettes became hard to store, as they multiplied at a similar rate to mating bunnies, and so eventually all went in the wheelie bin. My CDs were the only organised part of my bedroom, and possibly life, throughout my teen years. But as I got my first computer in 2002, they became redundant to the mp3, and eventually I waved goodbye to 1300 singles for about £80. I still bought CD albums out of habit until just a few years ago. Catalogued meticulously as ever, though hardly played, they began slowly to take over the living room until last year one of the many “Give us your stuff for a penny” websites took them away for a fraction of the price.
I now sit with 2 crates of CDs that I could not bear to part with, and I must admit the temptation of a new Patrick Wolf album last year was a little too much, and so it sits on my desk, played once before being ripped to my laptop. My itunes now boasts over 25,000 tracks. Add that to the music readily available on sites such as YouTube, Spotify and Grooveshark, and this small piece of equipment has everything I ever want to hear available at my fingertips in seconds, whilst still allowing me to exercise my OCD for organising my music, with tags, playlists and artwork (far more practical than the spilling out bookcases I’d come to know). What’s more, when I plug in a pocket-sized iPod (other mp3 players are available!) I’m skipping off to work with most of my music library with me.
From what I’d gathered by speaking to friends, whilst I was still buying physical albums up until a couple of years ago, I was in the minority. But if we’re to believe recent figures, 70% of those purchased last year were still physical. Of course were not taking into account anything that was streamed or illegally downloaded. For instance the fact 2012’s biggest single, Gotye’s ‘Somebody That I Used To Know’ sold 10million copies worldwide, as opposed to 360 million YouTube views. The single sold 1.3million of those in the UK, which alone dwarfs the half a million sales of physical singles sold in total here last year. I couldn’t even begin to imagine where these half a million CD singles were discovered in the first place… but certainly not in HMV anyway.
I had considered that the digital world would put a strain on HMV (we have already lost Ourprice, Woolworths and Virgin Megastores – later Zavvi). Added to that are the supermarkets selling CDs at cost price. HMV however was always the best place to find older catalogue albums, until places like That’s Entertainment! started popping up on the High Street selling off older releases out of cardboard boxes at £1 a go. Despite all this, HMV appeared to have changed their business model to fit in with the change in customer buying patterns, opening their online mp3 store as well as pushing music to a smaller area of their floorspace and focusing on other areas of home entertainment, gifts and merchandise. Sadly though, it may have all come a little too late and I do believe it will lead to a further decline in sales of the physical CD. Supermarkets usually only stock the top 40 albums, other artists will have to look to online stores and even more so, downloads. The consumer landscape for music will no doubt look very different in 12 months time.