Opinion: HMV need more than gimmicks to attract kids to "cyber store"

Jonathan Weinberg Columns & Opinion, Digital Music, Internet, iPod, MP3 players, Websites

Jon_small_new.jpgQuick quiz now – do you still buy CDs on the high street? I rarely do these days, unless it’s an impulse buy in a sale as I browse, but then I don’t get much time to do that either like I used to. Let’s face it, we’re a cash rich, time poor society now and that means one thing – the Internet!

I’m not going to spit out the obvious downloading facts and figures that we all already know, digital music is big business and only a miniscule percentage of people reading this will never have bought or “found” a music track via the web.

But HMV reckons it can buck that trend with the launch of a new “next-gen” megastore, in Dudley in the West Midlands, of all places. Mind you, at least the area can now be famous for something other than bringing comic Lenny Henry into the world.

According to The Times, HMV’s pre-tax profits have slumped by 73 per cent thanks to the digital age and stalled CD sales so this new shop is designed to attract those who can cope with technology. Measuring 8,000 sq ft it has digital kiosks where you can download free promo songs and video clips onto your own USB memory stick to transfer to a PC, mobile phone or MP3 player later on.

A partnership with Apple sees a “social hub” containing iMacs for surfing and a mini Apple store with an Xbox 360 Live Zone also inside for gamers to get to grips with the latest shoot-em ups and drivers. There’s even a Lovejuice bar serving smoothies – which to be fair, being the best named fruity chain around, is always a bonus.

Filled from top to bottom with LCD screens, it does also have 9,000 proper CDs and 8,000 physical DVDs on sale with another digital store due in Kent soon. Graham Sim, HMV marketing director, said: “I believe that these exciting new features will not only capture the imagination of people in Dudley, but will help to create the template for HMV stores in the future.”

Sorry to burst your bubble Graham, but why would anyone bother? Sitting at home on my PC or Mac I can download whatever I want, I really don’t need to traipse to the high street and run the gauntlet of hoodies to do so.

The future for record labels and entertainment chains like HMV no doubt lies in digital delivery through their own websites if nothing else. HMV really need to integrate this with their existing site rather than waste time on expensive projects like this.

Cyberspace is cheap and majorly effective, which means more profit – something it sounds like they need. The day customers can add digital tracks or albums direct to their basket as easy as a physical CD to be posted is the day the firms will begin to halt the slide.

At the moment on hmv.co.uk – the top 100 downloads are listed totally separately to where you buy your CDs. That has to change and let’s hope over the next couple of years we move towards digital delivery of films too via bastions of the high street like HMV.

And wouldn’t it be easier in high street terms just to set up an iTunes or Napster “vending machine” style sell in store, where you could plug in your iPod or MP3 and put tracks on quick and easy? Ok, it’d mean less staff – but they’re never much help are they wherever you shop – but it’d also mean far less shop frontage which could again convert into ready cash on the books. That’s where the future lies.

Maybe if you were offering the youth of today (boy do I sound old) free cider, guns, drugs and condoms with every purchase, they’d come flocking – but then that’d just be as silly as a sofa and smoothie now wouldn’t it.

By Jonathan Weinberg | September 10th, 2007