Anyone happen to catch the slight joke in today’s post title?
A mostly straightforward but still poignant article prompted my topic of choice. The title joke might be a play on “envy” but I’m not so much looking to take away what good things someone else has. “Jealously” just didn’t make as good of a letter pun.
Jealousy and Relativity and the UK based entertainment retailer HMV.
The engaging writers with the guardian have made space on their website for a report on the tumbling Christmas to New Year’s sales of HMV. It’s not the happiest of reads -but then again, that depends on who you talk to. As with many other large businesses, portions of the consumer population sometimes voice opinions of discontent for being ripped off because chain retailer pricing is marked up far too high or fluctuates irrationally. So the subsequent reporting of decline for said big business can often be like sweet “revenge” for those irate consumers.
Not to mention, those individuals who might not have been scarred by bad experiences but simply prefer the atmosphere or hard working ethic of independent mom and pop music stores.
These are fair opinions and both have long been repeatedly presented by consumers in the ongoing race/battle/whatever you want to call it between smaller start ups and corporate entities. I’d like though, for a moment, to offer my personal experience and median view of this debate; particularly when it comes to a long-standing giant like HMV.
For something that still seems like just last month, it’s already been three years since my trip abroad to London for post-collegiate study. (I will take a moment to acknowledge that in the music industry, three years denotes quite the large amount of time for change, however, bear with me for argument’s sake.) The first time I walked into an HMV, it was for this rather unorthodox assignment presented to all of us by my professor, in the form of small white envelopes, containing little plastic cards. Gift cards that is. We we told to go to HMV at some point during our stay and purchase music. Preferably music that is unique to the UK and not available in the States. If you know me on a more personal level beyond the one liner in my blog’s bio, you know just how much I flipped out at this mandatory, scholastic request. I could never imagine going to another country and only buying American material. what a waste that would be!
Anyway, when I walked in off of Oxford Circus and saw this,
I almost didn’t move out of the doorway because I had no idea where to start. The most frustrating thing I tend to deal with when I go shopping for music is trying to remember the laundry list of artists I promised myself I would pick up “the next time” I was in the store. Sure, I write these things down, but inevitably I walk out with something entirely different from what I “planned” to purchase, so, my list is never fully checked off. When I did finally start making a lap around the store, I knew it was going to be quite a while because not only did HMV have an enormous selection, but they had multiple booths throughout the store wherein you could scan and preview tracks. What does this mean for me?
Lots of digging, and lots of random pick-up browsing to find something totally new I would like upon initial listen.
In effect, I’m almost looking to respond to another comment that was posted yesterday on the guardian’s piece that poses two thoughts:
“Browsing? Hah! Nobody “browses” in a place like HMV. Browsing implies you’re open to the possibility of coming away with a record by an artist you hadn’t previously heard of [or] possibly asking the person behind the counter for a recommendation. If I want to browse for music I’ll go and find a really good independent record shop, the kind who’ll actually stock stuff that didn’t come wholesale from a big-name record label and make a point of hiring staff with a real passion for music.” (Cit. user: JakeGrey)
That’s exactly what I did and even then I wished I could walk out with triple the amount that I did because you want to explore so many different artists and take home their work. One of my favorite discoveries/purchases came near the end of my first HMV trip. (yes, I went back multiple times) I was still searching for that someone that would be unique to the UK and be something a little unexpected and impress the idea of very long replay value to my ear. There was a shelf covered almost entirely by one CD and I had no idea what it was, so I took it over to the register and asked the man about it. I had picked up a recording done by the Band of the Coldstream Guards, one of Britain’s oldest and most famed army bands. The clerk then proceeded to tell me about how that CD was just released shortly prior to the Christmas season and was only a couple months old and was quite popular as a selling item during the holidays. That Brits hold the group in high esteem and their music has a very crisp sound and a good variety of repertoire on the album.
That little exchange sold me, quite literally, on getting a copy. What better of a CD to find that isn’t US manufactured? When this same person then rung up the rest of my items, I glanced around the counter top and asked about a pile of magazines next to the register. I assumed they were those kinds of local publications that people are often encouraged to take and I asked if they were free. While I was told they needed to be bought, the man was kind enough to alternatively offer me a couple other magazines of similar style that were slightly older issues but came with sampler CDs. He told me about some of the artists on the samplers and we got into a brief conversation that led him to make more suggestions for possible purchases since he knew I was looking for stuff ‘off the beaten path’ so to speak.
The other trips I made to HMV, and not always the same one, were just as engaging. I did take note that just like any retailer, not every location was of equal size, (Oxford Circus was my favorite, hands down) but the staff was just as personable and appreciated my enthusiasm for variety. They were willing to tell me not only about their tastes but about the many stocked artists if I asked a “have anyone that sounds like a mix of A and B?” type question.
My main point, and civil but assertive comeback to this guardian article commenter, is that there are browsers out there and it’s all relative. Yes, HMV is a corporate entity and the antithesis of mom and pop shops, but when compared to the almost non-existent, non-internet fostered shopping experiences available within the US, it is the perfect place for browsing, has a ridiculous selection of artists and styles that extend way beyond the boundaries of “big name record label[s}” and does have “staff with a real passion for music.” While nothing is perfect, (technically HMV didn’t have a ‘local artists’ section, which is what I was ideally looking for) I think it’s only right to call things half way and not effectively deem the brand an experiential failure when your proposed consumer-supplier scenario isn’t universal.
In case you’re wondering about this satisfying purchase I made back in 2009, here’s a show of the guard’s performance prowess. Not too much professional band repertoire flooding the shelves around here, that’s for sure: