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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