There are various reports in the press that HMV are having poor pre-Christmas sales, and this perhaps means that my prediction of them not being with us for much longer will come true.

I for one will feel sad about this: I’ve spent a fair chunk of my life in various branches of HMV and a good proportion of my CD and DVD collection is from there. I still think the shared experience of a physical shop is important. Their demise is therefore significant.

It is fashionable nowadays to not be emotional about such things. One must write it off as an agnostic “one of those things”; others lapse into phrases and clich├ęs such as “flawed business models” as if they have any idea of what is really going on.

Bizarrely, I found myself saying all of this at a work event recently where I ended up sitting next to someone who turned to be a board member of my company. After all, what better way to break the ice than to talk about the future of digital media?

It is worth reminding ourselves that the drift away from CD – a key element of HMV’s woes – is in no way similar to what caused people to adopt it in the first place. People switched to CD originally from other formats (vinyl, cassette) because of ease of use. Not, as many ‘experts’ had predicted, because of durability and sound quality. In any event, claims of durability and sound quality turned to be highly contentious and still are.

By contrast, people switched away from CD – generally to MP3 – because they realised they could download them for free. Once word got round that this was possible, why buy a CD when you can get it for nothing from some eastern European web site? So the motivation for MP3 in no way mirrored a technical choice or decision making process in the way that the past – Vinyl versus CD, VHS versus DVD, Blu-Ray versus HD-DVD or even more dramatically, analogue versus digital, did.

Obviously not all MP3 downloads are illegal, but I would still say that for people to claim MP3 has revolutionised music is rather like saying shoplifting has revolutionised high street fashion retail, or train fare evasion has made the country more mobile. The genie is now well and truly out of the bottle. And not necessarily entirely for the good.

Quite where that leaves people trying to make it all pay, and more serious still, for those creators trying to do something new whilst paying the bills and putting food on the table?

I haven’t the faintest idea.

But we were out of time. And coffee.

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