Big music retailers diversify to survive in internet age

CD sales are a fraction what they were but video sales are helping to keep sellers afloat

PUBLISHED : Monday, 29 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 29 October, 2012, 5:08am

The torrent of technological changes in the past couple of decades may have swept away the numerous music shops that once dotted Hong Kong, but some of the big retailers have managed to hold their ground.

Statistics from the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry show music sales in Hong Kong dropped to HK$400 million last year from HK$2.8 billion in 1989.

Hong Kong's music exports - locally produced music sold elsewhere - dwindled from HK$1 billion to almost zero over the same period.

According to industry experts, this has mainly happened because of the internet, where plenty of sites offer music for free.

And even those who are willing to pay prefer devices like the iPod or smartphones and buy their music from online retailers such as iTunes.

This explains why small music shops that were virtually everywhere in the 1980s have all but disappeared, leaving mainly big chains like international music retailer HMV or home-grown Hong Kong Records, which was established in 1989.

Hong Kong Records founder Siu King-chin admits there are difficulties plaguing the music retailing business, citing them as the reasons why his three outlets do not just stock music CDs but also sell movies, documentaries and television series to attract a wider clientele.

Siu said current popular items included music by British pop singer Adele, the British TV series Sherlock and the Hollywood film Avatar.

He also said that when big-name singers died, their CD sales often went up substantially.

"Michael Jackson's CD sales surged after his death three years ago," Siu said.

"When Whitney Houston died earlier this year, her album sales picked up, but not as strongly as Michael Jackson's."

Despite the challenges facing the industry, Siu is optimistic about the future.

"I still believe in the future of Hong Kong Records as people need entertainment, and buying music CDs is good entertainment in that it doesn't cost you a lot of money," he said.

"You can listen to music from the internet, but you can't send it as a physical gift to your friend. You can buy a CD from our shop, wrap it nicely and gift it."

He also said some people still liked to buy music in shops because Hongkongers saw shopping itself as a form of entertainment that's close to home.

"Unlike the US and other Western countries, people here don't end up spending a lot of time travelling when they go out to shop."

McArthur Chan, a frequent buyer at Hong Kong Records and has a collection of 1,000 film DVDs, said he bought all his music and movies from the retailer.

"I buy them, rather than finding them online, as a mark of appreciation for their makers," Chan said.

"I usually buy the VCD to see if I like the film. If I do, I don't mind paying extra for a DVD.

"I also like many of the DVD and music CD covers, which I use to decorate my home."