It's no longer a snarky term to throw at indie bands that sign to a major label. Right now, "sellout" makes this author think of The Complete Elvis Presley Masters, Legacy's massive 30-disc box set devoted to The King of Rock and Roll. Several days ago, it was confirmed to have sold all 1,000 copies - a monumental achievement, if not a surprising one.
Readers, we've seen a growing number of limited sets finding their way into our collective catalogue consciousness. The soundtrack world has been dealing in this kind of release format for years; Intrada, Varese Sarabande, Film Score Monthly, La La Land, Kritzerland and the other soundtrack specialty labels have built a collective empire on limited releases, and they sure can sell. Intrada's late summer reissue of Predator sold out within a few days of its release, while their CD pressing of the soundtrack to Space Camp disappeared within its first day of availability. That's some 6,000 units selling at a rapid-fire pace. In the rock world, The Beatles' mono box set was rumored to be limited, which contributed to its brisk sales (12,000 copies in its first week); of course, it's since gone platinum, so you can throw that limited idea out the window.
But the increasing niche presence of reissues mean there are a lot of titles that will get licensed in smaller quantities (usually under five figures) and may never be pressed again. The fiefdom of iTunes makes digital distribution of these titles often improbable. So as encouraging as it is to see something like The Complete Elvis Presley Masters sell out - proving, to a large degree, that great catalogue material still endures regardless of business, cultural and economic conditions (an idea The Second Disc will support as long as humanly possible) - you have to fear the possibility that the concept of limited editions that sell quickly will undermine the idea of music being enjoyed by everyone.
Let's face it, the average person has an increasingly weak assessment of catalogue music in the first place. The cherry-picking of tunes from their respective albums have stagnated album sales, and retailers are reluctant to carry anything but the most surefire catalogue material. (To name one store, Target stores in New Jersey only carried four of the newly remastered John Lennon titles - Imagine, Double Fantasy, Milk and Honey and the new Power to the People compilation - while they carried every Beatles remaster.) And only the most resourceful buyers (past or present) will be diligent in looking for hard-to-find or possibly out-of-print works. Those are the folks that keep reissue label groups alive, from Legacy, Hip-o Select and Rhino to Intrada, Funky Town Grooves and Ace.
Now, what about those raised on iTunes and downloading, but who might want to dip a toe into deeper catalogue waters? What options are there if the business has gotten to the point that only limited edition reissues can succeed? Intrada doesn't have their catalogue on iTunes, for one reason or another, meaning that a new fan of, say, Back to the Future (someone who makes the head-spinning decision to discover the trilogy in 2015, say) might never have a chance to own the musical score Intrada released - the same one fans craved for nearly 25 years prior to its release. That's a sad situation, when one thinks about it, but it could become commonplace should things continue their slide on the catalogue side.
What I ask you, the thoughtful and intelligent reader, is this: what do limited titles - particularly the quick sellers - say about reissues in general? Are they helping or hurting the state of catalogue affairs, in the long run? Our thoughts and opinions could someday birth a solution, so feel free to sound off in the comments below.