HMV has had a great 2009, with the closure of two of its main rivals in the UK, Zavvi and Woolworths, its been able to posture itself as the only real mainstream music, film and game retailer on the UK High Street. Along with this new commercial reality they have been able to focus more on their games portfolio and grow on the back of the expansion of that market.
However, they know as well as anyone, that as we continue to move into a world of digital downloads their business model will slowly evaporate. Music, as we know, can now be downloaded or streamed directly into devices, whether it be Nokia ‘Comes with Music’ phones, the Iphone/Itouch family of devices or games consoles which are now starting to push full price product through their online distribution solutions.
Hence they have invested and purchased 50% of 7Digital a UK based online retailer and distribution solutions company. 7Digital is an online retailer which also has a music streaming service. It is yet to turn a profit and is operating in crowded market place alongside companies such as Spotify (streaming) and Itunes, Amazon and many others for downloads.
This deal with HMV is wider than just music though. HMV also owns Waterstones a leading book retailer which in recent years has been trying to find its way in the digital world, playing ‘catch up’ to Amazon. 7Digital’s technology and services will allow HMV to launch an online book store and leverage the audience 7Digital already claims to have along with the current consumer base HMV and Waterstones have access to.
Yet, why go to their store? What USP will it have? Itunes were the first and their software and hardware combo are superb. Additionally they now sell a wealth of other content through the Itunes store which again gets nicely organised into their software. Amazon and Wallmart sell everything you can think of online and their music stores are there to add value and perhaps pick up extra sales. They have been very successful. But why go to the HMV/7Digital store? Will they have exclusive content? Will there be some unique software that makes their experience high value and too good to miss for the educated content consumer?
Im doubtful, and I would imagine that to some degree the HMV management are yet to come up with the answers. Perhaps the aim is to provide back end services to other businesses that want to sell content and not focus on a direct to consumer relationship themselves. As one of the last large ‘content’ retailers on the high street it will be a fascinating 5 years to see how they manage to progress from being in the physical world of business to moving to an online proposition.
Perhaps their overall strategy is to hedge their bets and add value to HMV so that they become an attractive purchase for another company, perhaps a hardware manufacturer who needs to add a digital distribution element to their business model. This would be similar to when Nokia bought Loudeye a digital music service, which then evolved into the Nokia Comes with Music proposition. For example, if Sony bought HMV, they would overnight gain access to a music store, ebook store and physical stores, some of which could be shut down, and others transformed into their versions of the Apple Store equivalent.