Video stores left behind on the digital highway

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 January, 2013, 10:14am


There was a time when video and music shops were venerable cultural institutions, places to get an entertainment fix, catch up with like-minded souls or just to browse the shelves for some down time. Back in the day - for Hong Kong, the best of times were the 1990s - the stores were big, the laserdisc was king, CDs abounded and customers were many. There was always a long line at the checkout. But the digital era has altered the way we get our sounds and vision, and high rents have increasingly made these retail outlets an endangered species, if not a breed on the verge of extinction. Uncertainty hanging over the financially troubled British chain HMV's six local stores says all about how times have changed.

HMV announced in London on Monday that it had entered administration, putting a cloud over the 92-year-old company and its stores in Britain, Hong Kong, Singapore and Ireland. Its troubles mirror those of other entertainment retailers, from worldwide chains to neighbourhood DVD shops, which have either collapsed or been forced to dramatically scale down operations. It is not necessarily a case of poor management or a bad business model - at play is evolution. Online retailing, digital downloads and piracy have reshaped the industry.

Like its worldwide predecessors in Hong Kong, Blockbuster and Tower Records, HMV was once a must-go for those wishing to keep up with the latest international sight and sound trends. The internet, computers and hand-held devices have changed all that. A few homegrown DVD and CD shops soldier on, having found a special niche. But the relentless evolution of technology will always offer new ways to watch movies and listen to music.

State-of-the-art today will inevitably be antiquated tomorrow. Some of us still think fondly of vinyl records, VHS tapes, audio cassettes and those cumbersome laserdiscs. There will always be those with a sense of nostalgia for video and music shops. But no matter how fondly they may be thought of, it is inevitable that progress will march on.