Friday, May 18, 2012

Store Review: HMV

Location: Entertainment Building, Central
Type of goods: records and movies
Rating: ** (2 out of 5)

In 1994, British entertainment retailer HMV came to Hong Kong to shake up the fragmented record store scene. Though the chain is more expensive than local CD stores (and way more expensive than the Shenzhen ones that sell fakes), it makes up for it with its wide selection and listening kiosks. There are now six purple stores in major shopping areas on both sides of the harbor. Last year, the flagship store in Central moved out of its old location at the Landmark (technically Central Building) to make way for Harvey Nichols’ expansion. The store finally reopened in March at Entertainment Building, where dim sum restaurant The Hui (皇廷滙) used to be. 

HMV Central at Entertainment Building

I visited the flagship two weeks ago during lunch time. It was blasting Eason Chan on the first floor and Adele on the second. The choice of music was symbolic of the new store’s biggest problem: all it has are new releases and bestsellers, like an airport bookstand that carries only Dan Brown and Malcolm Gladwell. Whereas the old location at the Landmark had a dedicated room for classical music and jazz, the new store has just one token shelf for these less mainstream genres. HMV Central has taken the fun out of shopping at a real record store and forgotten its biggest selling point: selection. It’s not hard to understand why. With record sales plummeting, the chain has to find other ways to pay rent. A big portion of floor space has been carved out for designer earphones and speakers. There are also video games, novels, magazines and even t-shirts. It is a 7-Eleven that happens to sell a few CDs.

I don’t remember when I last bought a CD or DVD from a record store. MP3 and iTunes have forever changed the relationship between the entertainment industry and consumers. Those who resist MP3 because they think a CD sounds better or insist on paying full price for something they can download for free are delusional. They -- and I used to be one of them -- are going extinct just like the record stores themselves. At some point Don Quixote needs to wake up to reality and get with the program. When even pirated DVD stores in Shenzhen are shutting down because of BitTorrent and video streaming, you know there is zero room left for brick-and-mortar record stores. In the last five years or so, Tower Records, Virgin Megastore and Blockbusters have all gone out of business. HMV will be next.  Its stock is now trading at £3.25, a 99% drop from its high at £270 in 2005.

Tower Records bit the dust in 2006

For the record (pun intended), I walked out of HMV that afternoon with a purchase: a Kousuke Atari (中孝介) album. When I got home that evening, I converted the CD into MP3 on iTunes and tossed the plastic case into my junk drawer. I could have just as easily downloaded the entire album online and saved myself HK$140. But I didn't. I chalked that one up as my donation to the endangered species fund.

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  1. You are right. Selection is a main point. Hope they'll learn to improve.


  2. I miss the proper Classical section there, and one of the fellas who REALLY know his stuff has gone to the TST branch.... :<


  3. I was there two weeks ago and was disappointed with their lay out. I was unable to get what i was looking for.


  4. Glad you guys all agree. The staff isn't very knowledgeable about the music they sell -- to them it's just a job.


  5. Sigh.... there used to be one in the Classical section who knows his stuff SO WELL... he is now in TST and dealing with Classical and every other possible areas coz' they are short of about proper allocation of resources. I haven't been to this store though and the flight of steps doesn't look too friendly to one with a fractured bone in the foot.... :p


  6. Hi Jason. As usual interesting.
    I'm one of that rare species who still buys CDs. I love the "physicality" of them, enjoy the unwrapping and to some extent having to sort them out - I have thousands. I'm a DJ and also still DJ from CDs, and use them on Radio 3 as well.... but for more practical reasons (I haven't had time to properly digitize everything YET)
    Here's a thing though. I was in Tokyo and expected to see Cds gone. But Tower Records! What a paradise! The largest selection I've ever seen, more listening posts that I've ever seen, whole departments for genres such as "electronica" and "chill"... i could easily have spent a whole afternoon there. Easily the best music store I've ever been in. I would have expected the Japanese to be cutting - edge with online music and MP3s, but something is clearly going on if Tower Records can be so.... impressive.
    Here in Hong Kong I have to search for the music.... everything else, DVDs, headphones, t-shirts (why!), mugs (why!), books, magazines, speakers.... its supposed to be a music store!

  7. Japan is one of the few countries where CD sales are still strong -- a typical CD easily sells for US$30 there! I don't understand why, but perhaps the Japanese really respect intellectual property. Perhaps they are not a river away from Shenzhen.

    HMV makes me sad. It's now a variety store. I was there looking for Eros Ramazotti's new album last week and there was none. The Euro-pop section has been reduced to half a row.

  8. Even if one insists on finding and keeping an epic CD album for life, s/he can order it on Amazon or eBay and receive it days later. All is done by just one click.

    No such stores can beat down the monstrous rental rates across the world.