Music Business

HMV Takes Steve Jobs’ Advice, Cannibalizes Self

Hmv_glasgow-591x394By Eliot Van Buskirk of

“If you don’t cannibalize yourself, someone else will,” said the late Steve Jobs. He meant that rather than wait for a disruptor to change the game and grab marketshare, it’s better for a company to steal that marketshare from itself, even if that means releasing something that competes with an existing product.

It’s a lesson that music retailers might have done well to learn about 15 years ago. But for one traditional music store, it might not be too late.

British retailer HMV, like physical music sellers the world over, has seen its music retail business be much more than “decimated,” as the description usually goes, because “decimated” means “to lose ten percent of,” and retailers have lost a lot more than ten percent. Maybe “betamated” would be a better word for what has happened to them.

Anyway, there are still 141 HMV stores in the United Kingdom. The chain, having recently been rescued by new investment, plans to relaunch its digital music store with new apps for iOS and Android on October 24 that will allow shoppers to purchase songs from an HMV digital music store (catalog from 7Digital) or anywhere else. The company will also offer an HTML5 version that will work with any smartphone, which makes sense, because the people who still shop for music in chains are probably the same people who still use a Blackberry.

News of HMV’s move made the rounds yesterday, with many publications making the true point that 2013 is late, in the grand scheme of things, for a physical retailer to formulate a strategy for dealing with the internet. However, these apps will have two neat features that could make them work — both of which are designed to make collecting music in today’s fragmented landscape a bit easier.

We’ve seen them both before, but not from a physical retailer, and not in a way that has grabbed mainstream consumers, as HMV’s apps could:

1. Scan-and-Buy

 What it does: You can point your phone’s camera at an album cover to buy it digitally from HMV.

Where we saw it first: MOG’s Moggles

2. Audio fingerprinting

What it does: Using a Shazam-like feature provided by SoundHound, HMV app users will be able to tag the songs playing around them out of thin air, with the option to buy them on the spot.

Where we saw it first: Shazam and SoundHound can both let you buy tracks once you’ve identified them. Also, Rhapsody lets Android users collect music using their smartphone microphone.

Despite HMV making this move rather late — possibly too late — at least it’s exhibiting a forward-looking approach to the problem of collecting music. If more retailers had made similar moves a decade and a half ago, more of them might still be around.

Who knows: If that had happened, maybe today’s record stores would look like Apple stores — showrooms with in-store versions of what’s available online, listening rooms, “genius bars” with snarky/friendly clerks, and maybe even a little venue for live shows, the way Apple stores have a place for in-store appearances and tutorials. After all, as Jobs said, if someone’s going to cannibalize your store with a website, or your website with a store, it might as well be you.

(Image of HMV Glasgow courtesy of Flickr/Jeremy Bailey

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