As the mayhem over music continues, I read an interesting tidbit Tuesday about the recording industry's newest attempt to drum up more CD sales. It's taking a page from DVD distribution -- think the "director's cut" and alternative movie endings -- and re-releasing CDs with bonus materials. I admit, there's a spark of good idea here, but also a great danger of potential screwups.
An interesting article on USAToday.com pointed out that some recent CD releases have been, in effect, re-released several months later, with the later iterations including bonus content like extra tracks, music videos, and DVDs. There's a fine line between being clever and appearing disingenuous with this budding practice. After all, it seems that record companies expect artists' most loyal fans to buy the CD once, then rebuy that same CD a few months later for the extra material.
We've already covered the strategic difficulties facing the recording industry these days. After all, CD sales continue to slow as digital downloading and streaming through services like Napster
On the other hand, I do believe there's the germ of a good idea here. As digital downloading grows ever more popular, perhaps music distribution -- particularly the physical CD model -- will have to evolve into a niche where there is an emphasis on collectibles rather than commodity. I recently paid up for a band's four-CD box set of B-sides and rare singles, attractively packaged with a 75-page booklet. It occurred to me that this sort of presentation might be a big part of the CD medium's future. Rarities, collectibles, artwork, multimedia experiences -- these could be what separates the instant gratification of a digital download from the purchase of a physical product that takes up space on the modern multimedia rack.
However, the "re-release" of a recent release, with maybe a few extras thrown in, sounds like it might really alienate a lot of customers. Does anybody want to pay for the same thing twice? Even major fans willing to shell out repeatedly, despite a vast degree of overlap, may feel downright cheated if they're disappointed with the bonus material that persuaded them to buy again.
If the recording industry doesn't play this one right, it could go from "buy, buy again" to "try, try again." Should that happen, I doubt many of us would be surprised.
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Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned.