Making sense of the past seven days
HMV marked the end of what has been a torrid financial year yesterday with a pre-close trading update that was every bit as gloomy as expected.

When he took over from Alan Giles last year, former Comet chief Simon Fox knew he had a difficult job ahead. But the dramatic structural changes in the sector mean it has been even more challenging than he expected.

The problem for Fox is that whatever he does, the biggest issues that face both HMV and Waterstone's are outside his control. He can't stop the supermarkets selling the new Arctic Monkeys' CD or Harry Potter novel at a loss. He can't stop teenagers downloading.

What he can do, however, is reinforce HMV's specialist credentials and try to turn its stores and web site into the hub of all things entertainment - and particularly music - related. And here Fox has one big advantage, which is that interest in popular music is greater than it has ever been.

If Fox can make the HMV brand synonymous with everything that is exciting about music, it will be a good start to steadying the ship. HMV has become a bit old-fashioned, but if he can get the stores looking livelier, the web experience more dynamic and develop closer ties with labels and artists, the decline can be arrested.

Now that Virgin has transferred its buying to Woolworths offshoot Entertainment UK, HMV is the only major player dealing directly with the labels. And they are as scared about the future for entertainment retailing as HMV is. So Fox can expect plenty of support in terms of promotions and tie-ups, because HMV is their best hope of maintaining the status quo.

However, despite the supermarkets and the internet, the key question for the future of HMV is what happens to Virgin. Sir Richard Branson's business continues to rack up astronomical losses and the bearded entrepreneur surely can't go on forever pouring money into what seems to be a bottomless pit. What he decides to do with his chain will have huge implications for Fox's success at HMV.