Tuesday, October 29, 2013

HMV launches plans to defeat iTunes; realises it needs iTunes to be part of the plans

So, although it looked like it wouldn't make it through to offer confused elderly relatives a place to buy not quite the right CDs for the young 'uns this Christmas, HMV has survived in some form. Shrunk down, owned by a group known for restructuring; historical debts erased. Now, at last, the chain can focus on its unique selling point - being the only place you can go to buy recorded entertainment left standing. Right?

Hang on, they've just announced the completion of their image makeover. What did you guys come up with - something about your stores, right?

HMV has overhauled its online presence with a new, more editorially-focused site as it looks to re-exert its brand authority and customer experince through online channels.
Oh. Really? You're still thinking your a business which really has a future in being some sort of chatty webmagazine with some 'buy' buttons attached?

Why would you think that?
HMV chairman Paul McGowan said: “Everything we’re doing with HMV is focused on engagement, content and curation – all the things that HMV lost sight of in recent years.

“The passion within the business for the products we sell, the specialist knowledge and ability to recommend and guide our customers – from store staff to the team in head office – is second to none and the new hmv.com. brings that to the forefront.”
Did you ever go into an HMV before you bought the company, Paul? With all the best will in the world, nobody would ever have gone into an HMV store to ask musical advice from the staff, any more than you'd expect to get agricultural advice from the people who restock the dairy counters in Tesco. That's not to say that there weren't some HMV assistants who weren't passionate about music, but those that wee generally would have advised you to shop elsewhere.
The brand has recruited an editorial team to manage the site, while staff across the company’s chain of 142 UK stores will also be encouraged to contribute with content.
Given the PR disaster which followed HMV staff retaining access to official HMV channels that's quite a brave move.

However, at least this is something that you've fully thought through, right? It's not in any way a ragbag of half-formed ideas with a promise of better things to come, is it?
HMV general manager Caroline Pesch said: “As a hub for entertainment, a key element of the site is the sense of community and ease of use for finding local and relevant information. In addition to editorial features and reviews store staff can post their own picks and tips based on what’s happening on a local level. This is just phase one of the new site; as it develops we will be introducing lots more new and exciting functionality. The volume of content available will grow daily.”
Oh. Nothing says 'some stuff got written on a white board, and we think someone took a photo, and we're pretty certain there's something there we might be able to turn into some sort of web feature when we work out what the bloody thing says' like a vague suggestion that something "new and exciting" is coming in the future.

There's also an app, which Wired has heard all about:
[James] Coughlan, who was previously involved in building up Vodafone's digital music business, is first to admit that HMV has in the past "not really embraced the digital world in the way it should have done".
Yeah, that was Vodafone's digital music business that he built up. Because music is the first thing you think of when you hear Vodafone's name. Well, first thing after you've thought 'oh, the company that pretends its legally obliged to pay as little tax as possible'. And 'irritating bee commercials'. And 'spun off a military business'. But then, surely, you'd start to think about Vodafone's music.

There is, to be fair, a Vodafone Music twitter feed, which hasn't had a message since October 2nd. Erm, October 2nd, 2009. And vodafone.com/music just redirects to the Vodafone homepage. You can find out about Vodafone music, though, by searching on the site:
Vodafone Music has now closed
Vodafone Music is now closed, so you won’t be able to download any music from us anymore.
That's a pretty solid business built up there, then.

Never mind, though, James is now bringing his magic to HMV:
"What we're doing here by bringing a digital offering to market is we're amplifying what HMV's renowned for," he tells Wired.co.uk. "I see this lifting our physical business as well, because you probably are going to have experiences where you're in store and you're scanning physical products and the digital version may be a couple of quid higher than the physical copy you've got in your hand."
Interesting. The idea of having an app which appears to tell you that HMV's pricing policy is all over the place. Not entirely sure how advertising that your digital downloads are overpriced is really going to help, but you can't fault the honesty.

Still, Coughlan is at least dedicated to the idea of digital music. Isn't he?
Coughlan still believes that nothing really compares to holding a physical record

But... he can at least tolerate the digital world, presumably?
"I fully support streaming and I think what it's done for the music business has been good. It's certainly ticked the box for the labels in being seen to act on what was going on over the last ten years with the likes of Napster and illegal downloads and doing their own education with the youth audience as to actually there is a value to music."
I'm not sure that sentence actually contained proper thoughts, so it'd probably be churlish to point out that Napster - the illegal version - closed down well over ten years ago. And that, arguably, streaming has done far more to undermine the traditional music business model by replacing the sense that music is a thing you collect and own than filesharing ever did.

Wired does praise something Coughlan has managed to arrange:
HMV has also managed to strike a deal with Apple that lets users download songs from the app straight into their iPhone's music library -- a first for a service other than iTunes.
Brilliant, right?

Except, almost as soon as the app launched last week, it vanished from the iTunes store. It turned out that if there was a deal with Apple, it fell apart pretty quickly:
Apple confirmed to The Guardian that the app was removed for "violating App Store guidelines", pointing to clause 11.13 in those guidelines: "Apps using IAP to purchase physical goods or goods and services used outside of the application will be rejected".
Early days for the fightback, though. And HMV does still have some stores on the High Street. Apple can't take that away from them.

Although a couple of the shops might be well placed for flogging iPhones from...

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