From Digital To Physical Media

4 minute read

This morning the YouTube algorithm suggested a video called “Wait, what happened to HMV?” to me. It covered the decline and then revival of the company and ended wondering if it would survive with people buying physical albums on CD or vinyl or whether streaming or digital purchases would ‘win’.

I’ve never been massively into music but I’ve always had a good collection of films and TV shows, first on VHS (mostly recorded rather than bought) and then on DVD. However, back in 2008 I embraced the arrival of Apple’s digital stores and I switched to buying films and TV shows from them. The arrival of the Apple TV and the iPad further cemented this and I built up a large library of digital media (over 500 films and over 100 TV shows).

At the start of 2020 I started to fall out of love with some of Apple’s ecosystem. I stopped using Apple’s computers for work and as other problems occurred I would move away rather than trying to fix them. For example, ‘ownership’ of my contacts and calendar was migrated to Fastmail who I had used for a long time for email after iCloud decided to duplicate all of my contacts. And whilst this shift was happening I realised that my biggest tie-in was going to be my digital purchases.

In early 2022 I decided that I wanted to start re-building my physical media library. My VHS tape collection was long gone but I had kept the majority of my DVDs so at least I was not starting from scratch. Initially I intended to just buy titles I did not already own but, as time has gone by, I have bought physical copies of some of the digital ones and I have bought Blu-ray versions of some of my old DVDs (Blu-ray become a thing during my digital years).

Adding to my library has given me a lot of pleasure. As well as buying titles from obvious sites like Amazon, I’ve spent time on eBay tracking down titles which are no longer widely available, I now enjoy being dragged into charity shops by my daughter because, whilst she looks for vintage clothing, I can find and pick up some absolute bargains. And I’ve also rediscovered HMV.

I lived in London during the 1990s and I spent a fair amount of time (and money) in the HMV store on Oxford Street. Initially it would mainly have been on VHS tapes and computer games but I am pretty sure that I bought my first DVD player there in 1997 and I definitely bought my first DVD there. Fast forward 25 years and I rediscovered HMV; this time my local branches in Bath.

The original Bath store was a gloomy, slightly seedy place and it was split over three floors. The DVDs were down in the basement but there was a lot of floor space and therefore a wide variety of titles to browse. However, after 30 years it closed in January 2022 and a new store opened a few weeks later a short walk away. It is much brighter and more modern but it is also much smaller and accordingly it has a smaller selection of titles. However it is still a regular haunt and there is still a lot of pleasure to be found in popping in, having a good browse and deciding that there is a title or two I must just have.

And next time I am in London I will be going along to Oxford Street to visit the HMV store. It is going to be very different from when I was last there, and not just due to time. The original store closed in 2019 but it was re-opened a month ago in November 2023. Whilst Tower Records and the Virgin Megastore are long gone, it is lovely to have one of the giants back again.

I hope that HMV and other stores selling physical media are around for many more years. I hope that the love of physical media, whether it be DVD, Blu-ray, vinyl or CD continues and isn’t just driven by nostalgia and that genuine ownership of entertainment media continues to be valued. You do not have any tie-in to individual companies and the media cannot be altered or removed. And like any good collection, they have an intrinsic value and, as some titles become rare and sought-after, can even appreciate in value.

I will still subscribe to and watch the streaming services but I also hope that companies like Amazon and Netflix continue to release some, ideally more, of their own titles on physical media too. And maybe the fact that they do this at all should be the reassurance I need – even they realise that people do not want to be tied to their service forever and maybe they realise that they may not be around for 102 years like HMV has been.