This is getting ridiculous. Duran Duran’s EMI reissues have suffered yet another delay – the third or fourth this year. The deluxe editions of Duran Duran and Seven and the Ragged Tiger, previously set for March 30 and April 20, have now been bumped to May 18. This complements the recent news that the next wave of reissues – covering Notorious and Big Thing – will hit stores on July 6 instead of the planned June date. (The deluxe reissue of side-project Arcadia’s So Red the Rose is still set for April 20.)
There are a number of problems wrong with this situation – namely, the fact that U.K. audiences are still getting these titles on their intended March release date and the ongoing calendar shuffle scuttles EMI’s paper-thin plans to make these reissues chronological (itself scuttled by the fact that Rio, the band’s second LP, was the first one to be reissued).
But there are bigger problems too – problems that, if left unchecked, could doom the catalogue industry as it stands and hurt any future chances of those old songs being anything close to a sure thing again.
For years, the music industry could always count on financial support from catalogue enthusiasts. Once compact discs were confirmed as a viable format, labels had no trouble putting the classics out on the format. And we had no trouble buying them, especially by the early ’90s, when box sets featuring rare or unreleased content from our favorite older acts started filling store shelves.
The second wave of catalogue titles – those all important reissues, with better mastering for CD, rare or unreleased bonus content and so on – was in full effect by the end of the millennium. At the time, the five labels – Universal, Sony, BMG, Warners and EMI – had devoted teams and labels to making these reissues happen. And they had the money to do it; new acts were selling CDs like crazy. Oh sure, they weren’t all good, but without a singles market in existence, there wasn’t much to be done about it.
Of course, Napster and the rise of illegal downloading changed all of that, at least for the industry and the mainstream consumer. The average teen couldn’t be bothered to put a value on music, particularly after finding their $18 boy band discs weren’t worth nearly that. And the labels, unable to spin the situation in their favor in spite of the fact that they legally owned and distributed the music traded for free online, became the simpering villains. This narrative has played on for the past decade, with the majors (now four of them, after Sony-BMG merged and BMG ultimately sold their stake) trying and failing to master the digital realm.
Now, while all this was going on, it seemed that catalogue fans already had their minds made up about certain things. There was something about owning music on a physical format – it was more or less safer, of better audio quality (provided it was mastered well enough) and just made more sense. So we continued to buy CDs – and labels, surprisingly, continued to put them out. Slowly but surely, even the most seemingly niched stuff could come out thanks to limited pressings or Internet-based mail-orders.
But it’s clearly not enough. Most consider the CD to be obsolete – and now that the technology for lossless downloading isn’t unreachable, maybe it is. Labels will try to capitalize on discs by any means necessary (Universal is planning on slashing the price of a disc to well under $10), but it may not be enough. Perhaps the resources have to go into getting the catalogue fan – the only ones who seem to believe in the sanctity of an album – to go digital.
Meanwhile, though, delaying or canceling reissues (which we’ve seen not only with Duran, but The Cure, My Bloody Valentine and Siouxsie and The Banshees) isn’t going to make fans any less cynical – and EMI, currently buried under several tons of debt, especially can’t afford such ill will. Somehow, a bunch of ’80s pop reissues (seemingly well-crafted ones, too) has managed to expose all the problems the music industry seems to be beset by – as well as the need for real answers, not Band-Aids, to be sought out.
Catalogue fans are intelligent, passionate people – this much is obvious. To that end, what ideas might you have in terms of fixing operations for the music industry?