125 stores, 2200 direct employees, an unknown number of individuals and businesses also linked to, and supplying, the company; the administration and likely demise of HMV would be problematic at any time but between Christmas and New Year it has a special resonance perhaps.
Much has already been written about the situation so what follows are some figures and comments that attracted my attention, with some added thoughts of my own.
The BBC News coverage was nothing if not predictable; some vox pops with people under 30 outside the Oxford Street ‘flagship’. Do you buy CDs? No. Dvds? What are they? Do you go into HMV? Why would I? Whilst predictably partial there is a truth underlying this. For many, especially young, consumers of music and films, the purchase has nothing to do with physical product, but is online and is likely via a digital streaming service such as Spotify or Netflix.
A tweet by Patrick O’Brien from GlobalData Retail captured this shifting market. Whilst a rough calculation of mine, the figures below suggest that the market is now only 60% of what it was five years ago, That is a precipitous decline.
The Times followed that up by providing the figures for HMV sales over the last five years. Whilst they may have gained market share over this period, it was of a rapidly declining market. Sales decline at a time of cost pressure and margin erosion is not a good look – though underlying performance might still be positive, just (though sustainable, no).
A couple of components of costs have emerged in the coverage on twitter and the media. A particular focus has been the £15m per annum paid in rates by HMV and the c £50m fees taken by HILCO (who took HMV out of its first administration six years ago) over the last five years. A rising rates bill on a declining sales base – anyone should be able to see the problem. Plus the fact that competitors such as Netflix and Spotify don’t pay rates at all and thus do not have this cost. And whilst it is easy to criticise HILCO, without them would there have been any HMV over the last 5 years? (and the fees do seem to move in line with sales).
It is also easy, and virtually all the media did this, to see HMV’s demise as the final nail in the “high street” coffin. But a retailer selling something that increasingly consumers do not want (the physical product) and which can be obtained more cheaply and easily from other channels, is not a great advertisement for the high street, or any other retailing. This market is becoming niche and specialist in physical spaces (and seems to be working there), and digital elsewhere.
Some final and not purely HMV thoughts. Springboard said that footfall was down on Boxing Day this year; something reported as a negative performance. But, given the structural changes in retailing, was this a bad performance? Online sales are increasing annually – ONS say they are c16% market share, but over 21% in Nov/Dec. Given this substantial and ongoing shift, why should we be expecting footfall to stabilise rather than continue to decline?
Next week will see some of the larger retailers report on their Christmas trading. In all likelihood it will not be pretty, but does depend on what sales over what period at what level of margin, something that will not be clear for some time yet. Yet, at the local level some retailers (often independents) and places are reporting strong sales and through a focus on the distinctive and service are providing things people want. There is light within the restructuring underway and this is often forgotten.
We need to recognise the imbalance and societal impacts and disparities that we are exacerbating by not guiding the scale, scope and pace of this change. Leaving it solely to the market, ignoring our dysfunctional rates and tax system constrains people who do not have money and access to physical stores and diminishes us all.
Happy New Year!