The coming of the DVD to the popular retail markets in around 1998 did something quite extraordinary for the movie industry. It didn’t really replace anything. Sure, videos and laserdiscs had held a similar market previously, but neither had sold in quite the volumes that DVDs did.
Similarly computer games appeared pretty much out of nowhere. Over the course of a decade, from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s, they went from having only minimal appeal to geeks, to being regarded almost as an artform of their own.
Both came to the shelves of retailers in the latter half of the 1990s, taking their shelf space from nowhere (although arguably since videos took up so much space previously, the DVDs were an improvement). They also appeared at the same time that music sales were collapsing.
People are only ever going to spend a finite amount of money on entertainment, so it’s hardly surprising that as music sales fell, DVD and game sales would balloon. Retailers suddenly started sidelining music, and moving it up to the upper floors, keeping the games and DVDs on display at the front of the store.
Apart from the fact that people wanted them, the nice thing for retailers about DVDs and games was of course the prices. Selling for at least £20 a time meant that not only were they guaranteed income, but also each sale would be pretty hefty.
Entertainment retailers had always been complacent, relying on big names to make their sales for them, and at a time when interest in sales was waning, it was inevitable that a shift towards DVDs and games was going to happen.
None of this is really a problem, but the core shift away from music is certainly a key part of the story of how the music retail industry killed itself, which is the focus of this series of posts. Retailers seemed to just see music hitting the latter part of its Product Life Cycle, and very quickly jumped onto the next bandwagon instead – whereas they could have concentrated on what it was that made them unique.
As the retailers lost interest in music, it’s tempting to suggest that this played a part in the loss of interest among the public at large as well. In the age we live, where Our Price, Virgin Megastore, Tower, Woolworth’s, Zavvi, and even HMV are largely names of the past, you have to wonder how much of a hand they had in killing themselves.