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HMV launches new download service

By | Published on Thursday 17 October 2013

HMV Digital

So third time lucky. Or is fifth time? I lost count. Yes, the all new HMV launched a download service overnight, the entertainment retailer’s latest attempt to take a slice of the digital music market, an area where I think most people agree – including newish HMV owner Hilco – the high street music seller has pretty much failed completely in the past.

Although available via the web at hmvdigital.com, the new download store has mobile at its core, with most attention being directed towards the new service’s official Android and iOS apps. This is perhaps unsurprising given that the man appointed in August to lead HMV’s latest digital efforts, James Coughlan, previously held a digital music role at Vodafone, though it does feel as though the aforementioned Hilco had mobile in mind as soon as they set out their digital plan after acquiring the entertainment retailer in April.

The new service is a pretty straightforward a la carte download service in the iTunes and Amazon MP3 mould, though with a more slick design, certainly when accessed via the apps.

Powered by HMV’s long-time digital partner 7digital, the retailer says that the new service should integrate with minimum hassle across a consumer’s devices, with MP3s bought being downloaded into existing music folders and playable on the user’s music player of choice. This includes through the iOS app, which will enable through-app downloads direct to iPhones and iPads, something that has not been possible outside of iTunes on Apple devices until now.

Although Coughlan is keen to stress that the app available today is just phase one of the new HMV’s digital ambitions, with much more to come in 2014, it’s also clear that providing streaming content services is not currently on the agenda, even though HMV Canada – back in common ownership with the UK business via the Hilco acquisition – does operate previously reported streaming set-up The Vault.

But, for all the hype around ‘access’ style subscription services like Spotify in recent years, Coughlan seems convinced that for the mainstream music consumers that are possibly still for the grabbing in the digital market, an ‘ownership’ download store is more attractive. And the new HMV hopes it can reach those still-for-the-taking consumers by better selling its digital service through its high street stores. Achieving that aim involves enthusing staff on the high street, and integrating the physical and digital retail experience.

The bid to better integrate the bricks-n-mortar and digital stores is another reason for having a mobile-centric experience. The main gimmick-feature included in the app is the ability to locate content in the HMV download store by snapping a photo of the album’s cover or pointing the phone towards a speaker already playing a song, Shazam style. Although these features can be used anywhere, the message is, browse in our shops and, if you want to buy digitally, snap-and-download via our app there and then, rather than making a mental note of the record and downloading it from iTunes or Amazon later.

It remains to be seen if, in a market so dominated by Apple, and where Amazon usually grabs the bargain hunters, while the streaming services grab most of the headlines, HMV’s latest attempt at digital works. The new top guard at the retail firm hope that they’ve addressed the issues that dogged previous HMV digital services, so that they can now succeed where their predecessors failed.

But, while the original HMV Digital service ten years ago was woeful, more recent 7digital-powered services haven’t been so bad, yet have still failed to gain any real momentum. Though integrating the high street and digital experience is probably key to having any chance of getting some of the digital music pound, so in that respect, the new service is probably a step in the right direction, even if breaking Apple/Amazon’s online dominance remains an ambitious task.

Announcing the new service last night, Coughlan told CMU: “I’m excited to say that we’re putting music ownership back into focus with the launch of our new digital music products. For the first time, music lovers have the ability to experience the traditional feel of HMV on the high street and have the option to discover and build a digital music collection, delivered and managed across devices, from HMV, the Home Of Entertainment. An exciting vision is unfolding and I look forward to announcing further developments regarding our plans for 2014 in the coming weeks – this is just the beginning!”

Meanwhile Hilco chief Paul McGowan added: “HMV’s position at the heart of entertainment retail demands that we enable customers to buy their music from HMV in the way that best suits them and to engage more closely with the music, video and gaming worlds. Integrating a ‘listening post’ Image Search feature will enhance the shopping experience as music fans scan and sample albums in store over our newly-fitted high speed wifi before deciding to buy either the physical or digital product direct from HMV”.

Revealing that a revamped HMV.com will also launch next week, McGowan went on: “The new website, launching next week, together with a revitalised YouTube channel will start the journey towards enhancing the experience of interacting with the entertainment industry, an engagement that will be further increased by the massive ramp-up in the number of live events being held within our stores on an ongoing basis”.



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