Where the High Street Got it Wrong

Lots of hand wringing around about the news that HMV has followed Jessops in going into receivership. Given that HMV reportedly have 38% of the UK music market as well as some major gig venues, distribution and ticketing, it’s going to shake things up.

This is a wakeup call for High Street chains. In my experience, the thing that has reduced my spend is poor customer service. There’s no way any bricks and mortar shop can compete with online vendors on price so the differentiator has to be something that adds real value to the shopper. The problem is, as times have got harder, service and flexibility has plummeted.

Some examples. Just before Christmas, HMV had an Android tablet on their web site for a very good price. I ordered one and got the email to say it was on the way. Then it got interesting. People on the various bargain hunter websites such as HotUKDeals started to chatter about the rumour HMV didn’t actually have any. It then moved on to this being a regular thing with HMV. An awful lot of people said they had vowed never to shop there again having been caught out before. Sure enough, my order turned sour. Whether incompetence or policy, it seems HMV’s website had no real stock management and would happily accept orders for products that didn’t exist. People remember these sort of things and after looking around, it seemed within a certain section of the online community at least, HMV had joined Sony as one of the companies people loved to hate.

Another example. I used to buy a lot of stuff at Jessops. I mean a lot. They could always be relied on to do a deal. They couldn’t always match the best online prices but if they got close, they got my business as I valued being able to browse, especially on high value items. As their fortunes dipped, so did their interest in deals. Whereas once they could be relied on to knock £999 down to say £850, the last time I went there they knocked 50p off a £450 lens IF I BOUGHT A FILTER TOO. They were pretty surly about it to boot. That was the last time I shopped there.

In both these examples, they lost customers for stuff they really should be doing right, but weren’t.

Going back to HMV, there’s been some interesting blogs today from people on the inside and it seems the senior management were woefully missing the way things were going such as dismissing downloading music as a fad, saying they didn’t need a web presence (OK, that was a while ago) or throwing out marketing people for pointing this sort of stuff out to them. Old school thinking in a world that was no longer old school. Time and time again they clung on to the old model, sure they would win through and that each new tech opportunity was a temporary thing. Bad news HMV, you were too late to every party and now people have stopped inviting you.

Concert Tickets – Too Expensive?

Might as well start the year with a moan.

I was reading Mojo magazine (as you do) and noticed a ticket stub for a King Crimson gig from 1972 with the price showing as £1. A quick calculation shows this is the equivalent of £10 in 2012 money. I then cast my mind back to the Gary Numan Wembley gigs in 1981 – A fiver back then. That means £20 today or if you take into account the fact he famously subsidised every ticket to stop the fans being fleeced for the large venue, about £24 each.

Now, I’m pretty sure I’ve not paid much less than £50 for any semi-decent band in recent years (to be fair, smaller bands can still be seen for much less but I’m talking about the bigger ones here) and have had to pass on a few who wanted £100+ which was beyond my reach. So why the huge increase?

Two main culprits keep cropping up. Firstly, the rise of Ticketmaster who realised how much can be made just selling tickets. You know when they add an extra £5 to the price to allow you to print the ticket at home, something is pretty rotten. It’s now assumed that any ticket you buy wil pick up a whole raft of extra charges out of all kilter to the actual cost of providing them. Yes, I expect them to make a profit too but c’mon!

Another more interesting view is that there has been a shift from artists making their money via album/single sales to gigs. Given the high levels of piracy, smaller income from aggresive licencing deals with outlets such as Google’s Play store  and Apple’s Itunes plus the tiny residuals they get from Spotify and the like, this does make sense.

A Concert ticket breakdown from 2011 showed an average $70 dollar ticket netting $41 for the artist with the rest made up mainly from additional fees ($14) and the cost of putting on the show ($11.50).

Certainly, it’s a given these days that any half decent band will be expected to put on a major light show plus other sundry gimicks and that does cost money. That said, Numan did manage the epic Wembley gigs for the equivalent of £20.

On balance, it looks to me that the bulk of the increase does seem to lie with the artist shifting their income streams from CDs/Vinyl to gigs. Given that most CDs are a fiver and often less, especially as downloads compared to the £15 they hit at one point, this doesn’t seem entirely unfair. It would certainly be interesting to see some stats on how a band like say U2 derive their income now compared to 20 years ago. Sales of music via download show a healthy year on year increase but the prices are lower and the percentage going to the band is lower too.

Welcome to the modern world then, cheap music as downloads (played on tinny mobile phones or iPods but I’ll save that one for another day) but if you want to see it live, be prepared to have deep pockets.

 

War of the World’s The New Generation Live – Review

As an impressionable teen, I loved the original War of The Worlds by Jeff Wayne and still have the vinyl double album complete with a book of pictures and lyrics. Some years ago Wayne started doing a spectacular live version which has been further enhanced  with  more and more impressive effects with each new outing. Now he is doing the newly released ‘New Generation’ version.

The updated version has received mixed reviews which was a concern having coughed up the not inconsiderable price of entry but it’s always hard doing anything with an album that is so highly considered in its original form. For purists, the replacement of Richard Burton’s deep tones with Liam Neeson might be a step too far but in the event, it was better than I expected.

The show starts with a short mini play, setting the scene before launching into the now legendary “No one would have believed…“. The orchestra and band kicked off into the first piece and mighty fine it was too. When the cylinders landed, there was a mighty bass thump that shook the auditorium in a way it probably hadn’t experienced since Gary Numan’s ‘farewell’ gigs there back in 1981. (Numan placed massive bass cabinets under the floor throughout the arena making sure those Moog’s seriously kicked). Liam appears  as what is supposed to be a hologram but to be honest just looked like a projection onto a screen.

The entire show features a 100 foot wide screen containing a well executed mix of the original artwork, CGI, original Victorian photos and animated members of the cast. The lights are used more as effects rather than the usual rock light show with brilliant white beams representing the heat ray firing onto the stage and audience. At other times such as the red weed portion, they cast an eerie red glow to everything.

The star of the show is of course the somewhat epic 35 foot high Martian fighting machine that appears on stage with menacing green lights inside and equipped with a darting white spot light and on occasion belching real fire towards the audience. The end of ‘side 1’ is a cacophony of sound, light and smoke as the battles are played out via the projection screen, blasts of heat ray and guns and of course the fighting machine itself.

The second part was more song laden with the Parson Nathanial and Artilleryman set pieces which also worked well for me although others felt this wasn’t quite so interesting. In the main, all singers did a good job, especially Jason Donovan as Nathanial who had a big job to do replacing Phil Lynott’s version but he did well. Vocally, the only weak link was Marti Pellow who was pretty dreadful, totally lacking in emotion, very robotic and somewhat weak sounding. I’ve heard good reports from other shows so maybe he had a bad night.

Following the album’s vision, after the main story there’s a small coda set in modern day with NASA control overseeing a Martian landing when suddenly it all kicks off again. They’re baaack!

All in all, a great night. The musicians, effects and overall presentation were top notch. The new version has some nice new synthy twiddles and subtle updates  but in the main is faithful and I’m certainly going to buy the new album on the strength of the show.