Companies & Industries

How HMV’s bankruptcy will affect the rest of Canada’s music business

HMV’s closure was inevitable as consumers flocked to streaming music services, who will surely benefit further from the chain’s collapse

HMV retail store


To no one’s surprise, HMV Canada will soon fade into oblivion. The record-store chain has been forced into receivership, which means that all of its 102 stores will close by the end of April.

The only thing unexpected about the news is that it took so long. Globally, digital music revenue overtook physical CDs in 2015, then all physical forms last year. The writing for bricks-and-mortars record stores has long been on the wall.

HMV tried to convert to selling more physical goods such as T-shirts and licensed merchandise – coffee mugs and the like – but it was too little too late. The Canadian wing of the chain owes $39 million to its British owner HUK. HMV Canada hasn’t been profitable since 2013, the company says.

Radio personality Alan Cross has a good summary of what the chain’s closure will likely mean for the Canadian music business.

HMV has historically made up a huge chunk of music sales in Canada so everyone from record labels to musicians will now have to consider whether pressing music onto physical formats is even worthwhile, says Cross. The price of CDs and vinyl may go up as a result:

What if, for example, the Northern Pikes wanted to reissue one of their albums as a special edition. Without HMV, the number of units they could move would be severely limited. Another thought: Canada-centric box sets. Most were sold through HMV. Without them–well, you see the problem. Artists will have to further consider direct-to-fan offerings, rather than place stuff in stores.

Streaming music services including Spotify and Apple Music are likely to be beneficiaries, though. With fewer places to buy music and likely less physical music being pressed, streaming is going to become an even more omnipresent source for listeners.

There’s also the question of independent record stores. Will they benefit from the death of their biggest competitor, or will they also go down with the ship?

The smart bet is probably on the latter. While physical books seem to have successfully held off their electronic counterparts, there’s no evidence that digital music won’t eventually comprise almost the entire market.