Buying Music Online is A Bad Deal – and That’s Why I Mourn HMV and its Ilk

A foreword from Listen To The World

There are two types of music enthusiasts that we should be aware of: ones who buy music, and ones who don’t. For some of those buying ones, especially those who are now aged 50 years and over, probably the days of going out to stores like HMV (His Masters Voice), dig some unfamiliar but good music, interact with various music devotees, spend a ridiculously large amount of money on vinyls, and/or CDs, and went straight to home to be enjoyed, will soon be over.

Sadly, we heard that music and books retailer HMV Group will close 60 UK stores in the next 12 months in response to declining sales, while some other major music stores were already closed. Experiencing the atmosphere of record store, and of course the best sound quality and sense of the cover arts—with it’s liner notes and everything inside—of any physical recordings that we can get from it, is a non-replaceable consciousness. “The feeling of digging and finding rare music and having grabbed them by the hand is everything; it gives me a sense of pride among my friends,” Arie Syachrie, 68 years old, explained.

But for most of the younger generation of music lovers, those days are running just fine, even better; only this time the stores and the music are in a whole different form: virtual and digital. “With online stores, I can easily find any music that I know within seconds. Although I often get lost while I’m browsing millions of unfamiliar names under different genres,” said Pattraditya Pangestu, 27 years old, who runs a record label of his own. “Why bother to go to (record) stores, if I can explore and buy music with much more convenience at home? By the way, Mp3 is way more easy to deposit than vinyl or CD,” described 22 years old Ananda Marissya Widya.

Technology creates more convenience which we admire and desire. In music, we can trace it back from the dawn of electronic amplification to the various medium of audio recordings. Within those periods of time, humans may have gained much from the technological development, but apparently we also have loose much as well. Now, we have almost everything digital; which means everything is going to be “unphysical”. Are we ready?


Buying music online is a bad deal – and that’s why I mourn HMV and its ilk

Being able to listen to music in a shop, buy it with cash and then lend or resell it to friends was one of the great advantages of retail chains. Buying music online carries all sorts of subtle restrictions

by Richard Stallman

You can sample at online record stores - but HMV and physical record stores offered us much more freedom in purchasing.
You can sample at online record stores – but HMV and physical record stores offered us much more freedom in purchasing.

(London, The Guardian, 21 January 2013) Danny Kelly says good riddance to HMV because it was sickly for some years before it died. I suggest however that the fact it took time to die does not make its loss (and that of its high street competitors) any less regrettable. What replaced them is a disaster for freedom.

I miss stores like HMV because I could go there with cash, buy records (usually CDs), and take them home as mine. These large stores had a wide range of music, and I could listen to records in-store (mostly music I had never heard of) to find what I liked. Once I had bought the records, I was free to give or lend them to friends. Under copyright law, I could even copy them, to audio tapes in the old days, and give those to my friends. All this without the state’s knowing anything about it.

You can’t buy music that way on the internet. You are forced to identify yourself to the seller (and to Big Brother, watching over his shoulder) — and if it’s not a CD, you have to sign a restrictive contract which denies you the rights we all enjoyed. I say “you” because I won’t go there.

For those who love both music and freedom, today’s form of internet sales is out of the question, which leaves ever fewer opportunities for us to buy music. Aside from disks sold by musicians, and a few surviving large record stores such as Amoeba in San Francisco, the only way a self-respecting person should get copies of music is through digital sharing.

The superficial convenience of internet music sales is the bait; in the UK, the Digital Economy Act is the jaws. And HMV was the safe and ethical road to music, which a society focused on the short term has not kept open.

Copyright 2013 Richard Stallman. Released under Creative Commons Attribution Nonderivatives 3.0

Note: the headline on this article was changed at the author’s request from “Buying digital music is a bad deal…” to “Buying music online is a bad deal…” to clarify that he enjoys, and does, buy CDs. The body of the article has also been amended to clarify this.