James Cridland

CD stores - RIP

Adam Bowie makes a good point questioning why companies like HMV don’t allow you to purchase online and pick up instore. Of course, the problem is the prices: rent on a big warehouse in the middle of Slough is a damn sight cheaper than the rent on over 200 stores located in all of the UK’s leading shopping markets.

However, the lack of a local pick-up is only the tip of the iceberg. Stories about why HMV found trading very difficult during the autumn period, or why Virgin Megastores apparently has lost £260m in the past two years are only going to get worse: and they’ll start affecting Amazon, too.

Technology is increasingly allowing people to buy content without buying anything physical. Twenty times more music is now being downloaded and bought online than two years ago, due to effective digital rights management on devices such as the iPod and Windows Media. But this is just the start of what’s to come.

Services like Virgin Digital, Napster, etc, allow unlimited music to be available to you with a monthly subscription. Pay £10 a month, and you can fill that iPod-like device with music. Pay-per-download music will, in time, begin to disappear.

Music, of course, is just one piece of content that doesn’t need the physical wrapping. With products like the Sony Reader (yes, even if it is Sony), there’s no reason why we need to buy books any more; and there’s no reason why book clubs can’t be made which allow you to download unlimited books every month.

And, while still out of reach of most of us, the same can happen with DVDs tomorrow. There’s no reason to purchase DVDs, when you can simply download and watch unlimited movies on a monthly subscription. Many DVD subscription models on the internet currently allow just this, albeit using the postal service rather than superfast broadband.

So, to my mind, you should go out and photograph CD stores now, before it’s too late; but also screenshot Amazon, before it, too, has to significantly reinvent itself - because there’ll soon be no need to purchase any physical content any more.

A view from the future: Many stores now offer instore pickup. It’s faster, uses their own internal distribution system, and keeps costs down. Virgin Megastores went out of business in the UK a few years after writing this. Virgin Digital didn’t last as long as the Megastores. Amazon offer unlimited books (from a selection) every month. As I write this, one of Australia’s CD stores, Sanity, has announced it’s closing down its physical stores.