As HMV goes into administration, people are discussing dwindling physical music sales thanks to the ease of downloads, HMV’s unwillingness to diversify into online retail sooner (as this brilliant blog post by an ex-employee explains), and the general effects online piracy has had on all recorded entertainment industries.
I can almost understand why HMV didn’t want to get involved in the internet and wrote off downloads as a passing fad. Not much of financial history from 2005-2012 could be explained, let alone predicted, but one thing those big cheeses over at HMV (not forgetting the erstwhile Zavvi and Virgin Megastore), or in fact, anyone else had no inkling of, is how space-poor today’s youth would be. It’s not like we’re all morally corrupt and downloading absolutely everything illegally – in the first six months of last year, only 7 million albums were downloaded illegally, while 99.9 million were bought in the previous 12 months. But of that last figure, CD album sales dropped 20% from the year before. We simply don’t have the space to store the things we want.
Filmmaker John Waters once said: “We need to make books cool again. If you go home with somebody and they don’t have books, don’t f*** them.”
But books symbolise something more than CDs, they’re a sort of poncey status symbol that CDs are too young to have become. Also, if you want to show people that you listen to really edgy music (or that you’re so post-ironically cool that you listen to that Will.i.am and Britney song with no remorse), you don’t ever have to buy the music, let alone the physical copy of it. You do it much faster, by popping it on your Facebook wall (perhaps through a Spotify plug-in), or on your Twitter update, or on your ThisIsMyJam.com, or by sharing on cloud services. We don’t need to actually have them, which takes the edge off not being able to put them anywhere.
According to Shelter, one quarter of Britain’s households are overcrowded, and 1.6 million people aged 20-40 are still living with their parents. That’s 58% of males and 39% of females aged 20-24 living with their ‘rents instead of making rent. It’s tough to find official figures to prove overcrowding in homes among young, single people; this plight is perhaps the thicker end of the housing crisis wedge, not so much a priority while homelessness soars and families live in five-to-a-bedroom squalor. But you show me a single person living in a London flat for under £400pcm and I’ll show you someone sleeping in a living room. With literally no living space, there’s no point in carting around physical copies of things you can risk to keep on your computer or happily stream.
And for those still living at home? Just as your feet start to dangle over the end of the single bed and your wardrobe fills with bigger jumpers and an overwhelming feeling of panic and dread pounds against your head, the need to streamline everything else is pressing. Your parents are fed up with you as it is, and you want to be able to move out as soon as is possible; is it really time to start cluttering their living room with YOUR music, YOUR DVDs, YOUR video games?
Once we weather this storm, the deficit is paid, jobs are created for young people and policy is sorted so that the UK housing market - perhaps the only thing to have defied the global financial crisis - finally makes some sense…we’ll have all the space we need, but with nothing to put inside it, and nowhere to go to buy it.