Wednesday 27 August 2014

CD - the end of Physical product, or a second chance?

The Compact Disc first hit the UK in early 1983 and was seen as a technological revolution.
AA whole album could be crammed onto a 5" silver disc, offering superior sound quality, no jumping or crackling, and would last forever.
Tomorrows World informed us we could cover the discs in marmalade, coffee, or any other food stuffs and they would still be playable (although if you spread dog sh*t over the disc it would invariably come out sounding like Bucks Fizz)
We now know none of the above to be absolutely true, but it din't stop us busily converting the music we already owned to this new format, creating a sales and income spike which, no doubt, kept a smile on the face of the the record companies.
Price wise, I recall that early CDs (I'm talking 1984/85 when I first properly noticed them on sale in mainstream record shops (ie not specialist retailers)) cost in the range £15 to £20 (or thereabouts) - effectively double the price of the same recording on vinyl.  And the playback equipment didn't come cheap either.

Over time, supply and demand principles, improving technology and a move by the record companies to phase out vinyl releases, saw the prices of CD players fall ("plummet" may be a truer term?).  There was also a fall in the sale price of CDs themselves, although this price reduction was not proportional.
For the sake of argument, lets say that a CD Player in 1983 would set you back £500, you can pick up a simple CD player now for less than £50 (or a 1000% reduction).
The discs on the other hand, have fallen from £20 to £10 (a 100% reduction).  Still a massive reduction, but not in the same league as the playback equipment.
How many other consumer commodities have maintained their price point (or even improved upon ii) in the last 30 years?

Presented with no further opportunity for re-selling us what we already own (except DAT or MiniDisc which never flew), record companies had to face reducing sales and further competition from MP3 files, downloading and splitting of album to single tracks.  Hence, the physical product is no longer king, and there is no large income stream as before from back catalogues.
So what was the solution?
First off, there isn't one - record companies need to adjust their business models away from recorded, physical product and expected ownership in perpetuity.

But ...
Many Record Companies have started to offer Vinyl versions of many flagship releases.  Yes, a Vinyl release - the very same format that most of these companies declared as a "dead duck" in the mid 90s and stopped producing them.  These releases usually sell for twice the price of the CD version, are offered in limited numbers, and are quickly snaffled up by fans, collectors, or (and there is no other way of putting this) shite-hawks who will immediately offer them for re-sale on ebay at vastly increased prices

Also in recent years, Companies like Sony and Rhino have been offering box set collections under the title 'Classic Album Selection', or 'The Original Album Series', or 'Original Album Classics', or another name involving similar words, but not necessarily in the same order.
And the bands involved are not confined to the "I Forgot about them" or "Where are they now" files.  There are some big names, as well as the smaller (more selective appeal?) bands

These packages contain 5 CDs packaged in a box with card replications of the original sleeves.  They are usually sequential releases from the start, the end, or the "golden period" of a bands career.
Yes you could buy a compilation, but many of the available compilations are either incomplete, cherry picked, or in some cases re-recordings of the originals (this is particularly prevalent with artists from the 60s/70s who no longer own the copyrights to their own material, and are just simply re-claiming what is theirs). And why buy a compilation when for the same money you could get 4 times as many tracks, a wider view of an artists output, and the (snobbish) satisfaction of owning either all, or a large part, of their recorded output.
(This is not a denouncement of Compilations - some offer 'a great way in' to an artist, but may also offer only a one-dimensional view.)

So this could now be the last scraping of the barrel - combine as much of an artists catalogue as is reasonable, and sell it off at a knockdown price.
And, the principle is working (at least with me anyway) - over the last couple of years I have bought (and enjoyed):
America, Doobie Brothers, Little Feat, Kevin Ayers, Echo & The Bunnymen, Jeff Beck, ZZ Top, Violent Femmes, 10000 Maniacs, Frankie Miller, and many more.
Acts where I knew maybe 1 or 2 tracks, and either a representative compilation wasn't available, or was an exorbitant price.  There will always be a great pleasure to be had from discovering new music, now I'm finding equal pleasure discovering new old music .

But what do you so when a band hasn't released enough albums to warrant a 5CD set?
In the case of my latest acquisition, The Sisters Of Mercy (who only released 3 proper albums in their lifetime ('First Last And Always', 'Floodland', 'Vision Thing'), the box set adds the two compilations released ('Some Girls Wander By Mistake' and 'A Slight Case Of Overbombing').
Ownership of this set means I now own just about everything (bar a number of B-Sides) recorded and released by the "none more dark" Goth-Rock band.
(cue a slew of comments from Sisters fans saying: "how dare you call them Goths!", "to call The Sisters 'Goth' entirely misses the subtle point of their existence" etc)

The Sisters Of Mercy - Temple Of Love:

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