HMV to go Web 2.0

Earlier on today I blabbed in the .net magazine podcast along with Jason Walsh, whose article about building online communities is in the current issue of the magazine. I suspect we probably came across as cynics, because while Jason and I both sang the praises of good online communities we were quick to slag off sites that think they can attract a big audience by adding a few social networking features. As Jason put it (more eloquently than I’m writing here), there’s no point in building a photo sharing service, because Flickr beat you to it.

Which brings me to HMV’s brave new internet plans, as recounted by the excellent No Rock’N’Roll Fun:

Like many companies struggling to compete in the 21st century, it sees its salvation lying in Web 2.0, reports Paid Content:

”Delivering film, music and games-related content to its online community, our new site will allow users to create home pages, meet like-minded people and access film previews, behind-the-scenes footage and music performances.”

Which is a unique selling point shared only with every other website in the world. There’s no suggestion of anything that might be unique to the HMV site which might persuade people to do their social networking there rather than elsewhere; and we suspect that HMV haven’t got anything up their sleeves. Sure, they might be able to pull a couple of bands to do exclusive sessions for them alongside a physical in-store, but is that enough to make their site sticky enough to get people to stay and buy stuff?

They are going to off DRM-free downloads for sale – but only the same ones already available for purchase elsewhere, the EMI and some indies which make up the ‘enhanced’ iTunes offering; they could sell them for less, but don’t seem inclined to.

Maybe the coverage is unfair, but it does seem as if HMV’s guilty of the me-tooism that Jason and I were so cynical about. Why would The Kids hang around HMV when there’s myspace, last.fm, eurogamer, nme.com, blogs and no doubt dozens of online services I’m too old and unhip to know about?

I don’t doubt that whatever site HMV puts up will be technically and artistically good – I’ve been speaking to their web agency for another article and the team has brains the size of planets – but its digital download arm hasn’t dented iTunes because it’s another me-too venture, and I doubt a Web 2.0 HMV is going to be much more successful.

HMV’s other ideas don’t sound too great either. It reckons a big chunk – 13% – of its future income is going to be from selling iPods and other music hardware, but consumer electronics is largely an internet game now – which is why Dixon’s and the like have disappeared from high streets.

Part of me feels as if music and music retail is in a time warp. Back in 1999, HMV UK threw its toys out of the pram when David Bowie sold his “Hours” album as digital downloads in advance of release; now, entertainment retailers are throwing fits because Prince is apparently planning to give away his new album for free with a newspaper (possibly the famously funky Daily Mail, bizarrely enough). Over to No Rock’N’Roll Fun again, this time on the Entertainment Retailers Association’s threat to stop stocking Prince’s back catalogue:

It’s sadly hilarious, though, that as an artist finds a way to make money off his music that doesn’t involve record shops the record shop reaction is to throw the artist off their shelves. Because reducing your range even further is the way to tempt the customers in.

So what’s a music retailer to do when more CDs are given away by newspapers than are sold in the shops, when supermarkets undercut you on the big-selling releases, when specialists such as Fopp are going to the wall and when the hip young things are buying their tunes from Apple? I’ve no idea – and it does seem that HMV has no idea either.