Wednesday, 19 December 2012

HMV. Shares at 2p from £2.72. Debt of 220 million. Valued at £10 million from £1 billion. A brand that ignored digital is in a death spiral.

It was July 1921 when Edward Elgar (the 'Land of Hope and Glory' man) opened the first HMV ("His Master's Voice" which featured the famous logo and 'Nipper' the dog as above) store in Oxford Street, London, pictured below.

Elgar was the first composer to understand the "gramophone", as being a technology of the future.

The men behind the store, Williams and Owen, had founded 'The Gramophone Company' in 1897 to help spread the new technology (what was a recording device), and opening a shop to sell it, seemed to make sense. Ten years later they merged it with Columbia to create, Electric and Musical industries. EMI. Still one of the world's leading record labels and famous for signing The Beatles in the 60's.


But today, it is the very threat of technology, that has brought about the demise of HMV. Internet digital sales, such as Itunes, has eroded sales on the high street and HMV stood by, like so many companies of old and watched it all happen. Who was in a better place to adopt online music when it began, than HMV? It was the music brand. Indeed, it was the DVD brand.

In 1984, Dublin's own, Bob Geldof, opened the flagship store on Oxford Street as the biggest music store in the world and it still is. I was in it many, many times. In 1998, HMV was spun off from EMI and sold to Advent International, a private equity house. In 2002, it floated on The London Stock Exchange at a 1 billion sterling valuation. Last Friday it was worth less than 10 million.

It now faces a breach of its banking covenants in January and therefore, "material uncertainty" of 220 million stg debt with 8 Banks. When you start to breach banking covenants, it's the start of a quick but slippy slope. I know. I've done it and it's the first big flag of impending doom.

Why is it happening?

Alan Giles CEO since 1999 said in 2004 he wouldn't "bet the company" on making the investment needed for digital because, "if we had bet the company then we would have lost it". Irony. They didn't make the investment and now they have lost it.

In fact, since he said it, the sales of "singles" has risen from 40m a year to 180m a year (!) almost entirely due to digital downloads. So talk about an opportunity lost.....

The Web now accounts for 60%+ of sales, HMV has about a 20% market share of UK sales and 5,000 staff losing about 36 million stg every 6 months and 176 million in net debt. The share price has gone to 2p, from £2.72.

Christmas accounts for 60% of all annual sales so these days right now, are critical to the future of HMV. However, it's unlikely they're going to make it.

Their online offering is frankly, naff. Real "retailer built", rather than Social Media savvy. And they no longer have the money to make the investment they need to. 

And HMV is now irrelevant in a changing market landscape. Even today, it just isn't at the digital races. It's simply become extinct.

It is the story of a big brand that didn't get digital. Like their sister company, Waterstones, who let Amazon own books - or Blockbuster/Xtravision who let Netflix own video - or TV broadcasters who let The Huff Post own the news -  or Microsoft who let Apple own computing - they are the  story of the ongoing saga of dinosaurs in a world that's changed. There's no excuse either because even allowing them to miss the boat at the start, they've done little to catch up. It's appalling actually because that lack of thinking, might now cost 5,000 jobs.

Instead of walking away with some payments no doubt, the management team should be taken out and flogged. Publicly.

But herein lies a lesson for the other companies out there who have their heads in the sands. There still is lots of them and they will be replaced by this new order.

The Web is here, are you?

(I'm grateful for some of this content to Graham Ruddick's article at the beloved, The Sunday Telegraph)