Home » Feature » Streaming maybe the king, but physical formats will never really die

Streaming maybe the king, but physical formats will never really die

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The music world has seen its share of ups and downs ever since music came into existence, played and enjoyed.

From LPs to cassettes to CDs and finally to the streaming platforms, music listening formats have evolved and changed as the technology moved forward.

However, there’s a downside to this evolution, new replaces old and thus the old is forgotten and lost. When cassettes came into the picture, the demand for LPs dipped and when CDs got popular, cassettes became obsolete. Finally streaming entered our lives and it changed the game plan of the entire music industry at large.

Recently, HMV Retail, which runs the physical retail stores in Hong Kong, released a statement announcing that all its stores will be closed.

The statement says that HMV Retail is “being placed into creditors’ voluntary winding up after taking into consideration, amongst others, its insolvency and the various defaults in payments of the lawsuits previously received by HMV Retail”.

A universal story

This is the story of all physical retails stores of music around the world. Music Plus spoke to individuals from the Indian music industry to better understand the phenomena of the rapidly shutting retails stores.

“Everything around us is moving towards the online space and music was one of the first victims to this trend, thanks to mass piracy. There were a lot of illegal downloading of music and it took a lot of time to even barely organise the sector and come up with better options to people to download music legally. I’m sure people are downloading illegally even today. I recently bought LPs from HMV in London. I feel so bad knowing they’ve shut shop in Hong Kong,” said Subir Mallik, manager of the Indian legendary rock band, Parikrama.

The listening pattern has changed from listening to albums to listening to singles by various artists. With these changes came challenges which the physical formats found hard to keep up to.

“The challenge with physical formats are that there no outlets to sell them. You cannot expect a supermarket or a general store to sell them. There will hardly be any sales. There is a shortage of hardware for playing these formats. Everyone is now going into the online space,” said music journalist Narendra Kusnur.

When asked if the physical formats stand a chance to come back, Mallik said,

“There won’t be stores coming up which have to pay huge amounts as rentals but it will move towards the online space. In Bombay, there’s Revolver Club that’s come up. In Delhi, too, there was a store in Khan Market where you could get the rare vinyls but even that store has shut down because they can’t live up to the expenses. It’s all about convenience and ease. Earlier there weren’t so many options but today there are so many platforms to listen to music.”

Is the end near for physical formats of music?

According to Mallik, in US, in 2018 alone, the sale of vinyls was more than physical downloads. There definitely is a come around but he doesn’t see stores coming up in a major way to sell CDs or LPs.

The existing stores in India which cater to the physical formats of music have developed a niche customer base who either collect cassettes or LPs as memorabilia or listen to these formats in the comfort of their homes.

Throwing light on this niche customer base, Jude De Souza, founder and CEO of The Revolver Club, opines,

“I started the club after the physical format had started declining. The Revolver Club came into being after there was a resurgence in a specific amount of customers who were into LPs. The physical business is not sustainable in the current world. It is not viable enough for the companies who bank upon physical formats of music. I don’t think there is space for just physical music-sellers anymore, including myself.”

Evolving with times

The Revolver Club, along with selling LPs and records, includes sale of physical music systems such as turntables.

“This adds to the huge chunk of my turnover. To play the physical format of music, you need systems that cater to those formats,” added Jude.

Even though technology has advanced, the physical formats haven’t really died, they exist in smaller numbers who are passionate about music in that format – be it cassettes, CDs or even vinyls.

“The physical formats of music are not going to enjoy the popularity as the streaming platforms because moving ahead with the technology is necessary. Streaming is doing exactly what it is supposed to do. From a consumption point of view, everybody has more access to music than they ever had before. But, that doesn’t mean the physical formats would die completely, they’ll continue to exist as niche markets catering to a very specific customer base. It’s a small community which will continue to grow because there are younger listeners among us who like to stick the older formats of music. They appreciate the older formats of music,” explains Jude.

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