Last week has seen the ultimately tragic announcement that music, gaming and film retail giant HMV will go into administration as another ‘empire’ of the modern world appears to fall after over 92 years of service. In Ireland this news has come as a major shock to young and old alike, not least in Limerick where the first of many closures has already occurred with the Cruises Street branch locking up on Tuesday; the morning of the announcement.
Amidst the chaos of the last few weeks, with tales of protest sit-ins by staff and angry customers brandishing their unredeemed €40 vouchers outside the doors of each establishment, an infectious wave of nostalgia has taken hold of the internet with the trending #HMVMemories on twitter. Suddenly, the realisation is setting in that the last of the truly dedicated music and film hard copy merchants may be falling by the wayside. All job losses and vouchers aside the question now glaringly remains, has downloading and illegal file-sharing finally won the war over the physical hard copy and is this necessarily a good thing? Is it healthy to try and hold on to past formats or is this simply a #firstworldproblem.
We all have reminders of the first time we ever handed over legal tender for a CD or DVD. There are those moments during a bedroom clean-up when you shake your head in shame and slight sentimentality upon finding the Marshall Mathers LP cassette or the cracked cover of the long lost ‘Who Let the Dogs Out?’ single. We might even be able to dust off a distant memory or two of the old VHS and cassette tapes from the days of yore and the relatively short-lived mini-disc.
It seems drastic but strangely acceptable that CDs-which we received so graciously as presents for Christmases and birthdays; which formed the building blocks of our personal home libraries; which fill up our shelves and cubbyholes and kept us warm on winter nights in-will be marked soon enough for removal like the vinyls, tapes and dodos before them. It is difficult to imagine a life without them, however by the same token without them life would not be so different. Will 2013 now herald a new breed of gifts made up of Netflix subscriptions, hard drives full of virtual copies of your favourite films and music and iTunes vouchers?
A DVD is physical and tangible. It can be scratched or shattered to pieces. For the most part it cannot be updated, patched up or stored away in a magic box with wires coming out of it. In the end of the day a DVD, like us, is real. Whether it is an album or a film, one can see and feel the effort and passion that goes into the packaging and promotion of these items. The cover of each disc alone stands out as a fine piece of artwork in itself. From my own point of view, there is a special kind of satisfaction experienced when opening the cover of one of your favourite films, carefully plucking out the fragile disc from within and entrusting its safety to your relevant player, computer or laptop.
It is painful to think that the last remaining physical format may soon be extinct and resigned to a life of second-hand media stores becoming a retro extravagance or luxury. The old notions of making mixtapes or mix-CDs for your first loves or lasting loves are already turning in to mix-Youtube-playlists. It simply doesn’t have the same ring to it. Gone are the days when you would loan your copy of Apocalypse Now, The Godfather Part II or The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan to a clueless friend who has somehow missed the party. Now the response to your shock and disbelief is “That’s grand, sure I’ll just download it later.”
The internet, the iPod and the mp3 player marked the beginning of the end for the hard copy as well as music and film retailers like HMV. In Galway, HMV is the last of its kind after its arrival some years ago drove home grown independent competition such as Zhivago Records, Golden Discs and Redlight Records into closures. There is a touch of irony to be found somewhere in the fact that the digital media-playing devices these establishments have sold since the beginning of the noughties have spurred on a gradual erosion of their own flagship products.
The recent #HMVMemories trend on twitter has provided long term fans of the retailer with an opportunity to voice their individual reminiscences. This has also proved the point that there is a sizeable group of people out there who do care about those three capital letters as well as the fate of the hard copy format. It’s likely that each memory posted on the social networking site is self-relatable like, “The nod of respect you give someone who has picked up the same CD as you” (Emmy Altava) or “Flicking through all the posters to find your favourite artist but feeling awkward passing all the pictures of naked women....” (King arthur). Even celebrities and famed musicians have their own losses to lament with Ed Simons of the Chemical Brother for example stating “when telling us our mid-week chart position are (sic) manager always said ‘but the hmv figures aren’t in yet’”.
It may be fair to say at this stage that downloads and torrent files have out-muscled the hard copy formats for once and for all. The appeal is understandable. The virtual file may not be more than an electrical spark but on the other hand it doesn’t get scratches. There are no cartridges or disc-drives to blow into; they don’t gather any dust. They are by far a more manageable and practical method of watching your favourite films or listening to your favourite song. They can be played on so many different devices and they don’t weigh a thing. For HMV, the future looks bleak and dreary especially for the 4500 employees who may need to dust off their CVs after so long serving the music-loving public. That curious little Nipper the dog will no longer need to stare into the depths of his gramophone; has ‘His Master’s Voice’ has fallen silent for once and for all.