HMV to close outlet in Somerset

SINGAPORE - Reeling from the sudden closure of Gramophone last week, Singapore's music retail industry was dealt another blow with news that HMV will soon shut down its flagship store in Somerset.

HMV Singapore's general manager Michele Tan confirmed to The Sunday Times that Nov 4 will see the 313@Somerset outlet close for good.

No reason was given as to why it "mutually agreed" not to renew the store's lease with property group Lend Lease.

But the move will bring HMV down to a single, smaller outlet in Singapore at Marina Square.

This comes just 10 months after HMV's Hong Kong and Singapore business was bought over by Hong Kong equity firm Aid Partners Capital, a month after the British-based music giant went bankrupt in January.

Asked if HMV was planning to pull out of Singapore completely, Ms Tan would only say she is "not in a position to answer that question but as far as I know, it will be business as usual in Singapore".

Yet optimism is running low among music fans here, who have seen big names fall one after another as CD sales here decline in the face of cheaper online retail alternatives, such as Amazon.

US-based Tower Records and home-grown chain Sembawang Music Centre, which had 26 outlets at its peak, were the first to go in 2006 and 2009, respectively.

Gramophone, another local outfit, announced its closure earlier this month.

In February, the 19-year-old That CD Shop chain closed two of its outlets, in Paragon and Tanglin Mall, and is now left with four. Mr Freddy Yim, a business development manager with a collection of some 7,000 CDs, believes the closing of HMV's flagship is another a nail in the coffin of the music retail business here.

He thinks it is only a matter of time before HMV disappears altogether.

"I really think this business just can't be sustained here any more," said the 41-year-old.

"Even music store owners tell me the way to go is through the Internet, where you can find cheaper deals and easily browse through reviews."

Figures from the Recording Industry Association (Singapore) earlier this year showed album sales fell to US$12.8 million in 2011, from US$15.7 million in 2010.

Speculation over HMV's uncertain future began four years ago when the company downsized its main store, moving from its 17,000 sq ft space in The Heeren to the 12,000 sq ft Somerset store.

After being acquired by Aid Partners, then marketing director for HMV Hong Kong and Singapore Emily Butt said her company was "rebranding" itself as a "home entertainment store".

But that seems to have done little to change its fortunes while music fans said the changes might have come too late.

"It's the end of an era. With HMV closing, we lose yet another avenue to purchase CDs off-the-shelf," said 22-year-old student Beatrice Zhuang, one of those browsing the shelves at HMV.

There were about 30 to 40 shoppers in the Somerset store on Saturday afternoon when The Sunday Times visited. The store is having a sale, with 30 per cent slashed off prices.

Teacher Edwin Tie, 34, said the experience of shopping in a brick-and-mortar store, where customers can interact with staff, is something he will sorely miss.

"Buying music online can be rather soulless," he said.

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