The first rumours crept out on Twitter. Nobody was quite sure how it had happened, but photographic evidence was quick to follow and the non-believers were soon silenced. The amorphous entity that is HMV 2.0, part bargain-basement, pile-it-high-sell-it-low merchants trying to fill space, part all-new, keen-to-listen music retailer of the people, is pushing vinyl back into its stores. There were those of us who had been saying this was necessary for some time, but the resolute and agonisingly slow death rattle of the last couple of years was utterly unshakeable in its monocular idiocy. Ever since that first middle class, Sunday supplement article on a vinyl revival arrived, and in the glibly recycled light of the subsequent 15,000 that followed, it has been pretty obvious to people who actually pay for music that HMV was missing a trick here.
But it wasn’t just an ignorance of vinyl that had cost them, so much as an ignorance of music full stop. Forget your big cities for a second. Where HMV matters most is the small towns where indie retail creaked and fell over or retreated to obscurity. Those towns need an outlet for music, because Tesco sure as hell aren’t going to be stocking the new Jon Hopkins or John Grant albums. And it was those stores where new music was drying up. Release dates would come and go, but it was no longer the case that you could wander in on that first day of sale and grab a copy of something unlikely to trouble the Top 40. Stock was ordered centrally, the needs of the customer were increasingly forgotten and the sense of urgency, the sense of excitement, the thrill of the new disappeared.
Saved from a grizzly, drawn out funeral, bedecked with florescent pink clearance stickers and the enormous Store Closing signs made trendy by Woolworths, HMV is now being steered by restructuring specialists Hilco. Quite what their long term plan for the business is remains unclear, but in the short term the emphasis seems to be on home entertainment of the conventional kind: music and film. The technology sections have been marked down and cleared out, the odd pairs of Beats aside. Bargain CDs are piled here, there and everywhere and they even managed to host a ‘Clearance’ recently, despite appearing short of stock only weeks beforehand. Prices seem sensible, new music seems to be something of a priority once again and, as we established earlier, the wax is back in the racks.
But, before you get out the bunting that you save for such occasions, it’s perhaps worth addressing Hilco directly. Yes, plenty of music fans are now buying vinyl and, yes, the labels seem to have cottoned onto the classic price bump strategy for disenfranchising their most loyal supporters. There’s money to be made in them there grooves. However, the nature of being a vinyl purchaser in recent years has necessitated the finding of a regular supplier. A dealer, if you will, who can always be relied upon to give the hit you need. The fact that a lot of the new vinyl hitting the shelves in HMV is reasonably priced is a definite step in the right direction, but it’s early days for their own little vinyl revival and simply shoving any old records out in the racks just ain’t gonna cut it with those who seek out special editions, want coloured first pressings or simply expect to buy this week’s big releases as LPs. The current approach seems to be to send each store a copy or two of the big new titles, along with a few racks worth of catalogue stuff. AC/DC, The Beatles, Snow Patrol, the Manics and The Doors have all put in a showing in the Bath branch, but there doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to it. The current vinyl strategy seems akin to how Debenhams put those three racks of CDs by the counter and claim they’re ‘doing music’ now.
I’m genuinely pleased to see the nation’s last high street music retailer embracing the format I hold so dear, but if they seriously expect vinyl to work for them just by them stocking some vinyl, then they may still be just as clueless as the execs who dreamt up fashion section ‘The Studio’ or pinned a whole Christmas on iPads that nobody could get hold of. Let the music lovers on the shopfloors take control. Speak to the nation’s more successful indies and get some sincere advice. Take some risks with new releases to prompt a few impulse purchases. Because one copy of the Queens Of The Stone Age album which you sell at 9:45 on the Monday does not make you a vinyl retailer and, until someone can pop in during the week and pick up a couple of new release LPs with ease, the waxy creatures of habit won’t be jumping ship.