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Repackage, revitalise, resell…

In the beginning there was the wax cylinder. Then the 78RPM disc ushered in the “record”. Then records slowed down, so more could fit on. Some went at 45, some at 33. And the, the cassette tape allowed us to listen to our choice of music in the car and then portably. The CD came along, but apart from giving us an “indestructible” (yeah, right) format and crystal-clear reproduction, it was pretty much business as usual.

However, the CD sowed seeds in the marketing brains of the music industry…. the idea of selling the same music to people that already had it was born. The premise was that you had the vinyl or tape, but, well, CD was digital! It was better! Buy it again.

Repackage, revitalise, resell…

But this gave the music industry a bit of an “extended” idea… if it could be resold once, why not time and time again? After a while, we started to see “remastered” albums. The idea was that newer technology allowed better, cleaner, clearer versions of old classics to be released. So, a third time to buy the music then. All well and good. We even saw Super Audio CD, DVD-Audio and other formats launched to get in on the act (Mini Disc, anyone? DAT??).

Then pesky MP3 arrived. This brought the music industry money-milking juggernaut to somewhat of a halt. Bugger. Not only couldn’t you resell the same music to the same (and new) people again and again, but now the buggers could get it for free. What to do? This was a proper quandary.

Right…. We can’t actually sell the music anymore, that’s the business plan out of the window…. Now, what else can we actually do? Got it! Actually make an effort on the packaging of the product! This was a bit of an about-turn. Formats had been gradually getting worse since the 1960s, the halcyon days of beautiful thick, loud vinyl in lovely laminated, sturdy sleeves. I recall seeing vinyl LPs in the early 90s that were so thin that you could almost see through them and they could have been used by dear old Rolf Harris for one of his “wobble boards”. They were also made of such poor vinyl that the came with clicks and pops from the start and the slightest surface scratch would be audible. Not to worry, thought the music industry, they’ll still buy them, or, hopefully, graduate to CD where we can make more money out of them!

But then the fun stopped. With MP3, the music industry suddenly realised that if people could get hold of music quickly, easily and anonymously for free, they stopped buying it. They bleated, they moaned, they panicked. The party had stopped. No more fleecing of fans. But, what about the biggest fans…. The ones that bought the vinyl, CD, remastered CD, De-Luxe CD, Super-Audio CD, DVD-Audio…. OF THE SAME ALBUM!!! Imagine if you could get, say, £200 out of one super-fan? That’s better than flogging the CD to 20 other not-so-big fans!

The upshot of this is that the music industry is now quick to release music in lavish packaging with lots of additional stuff –Limited edition vinyl pressings in heavy sleeves on beautiful thick vinyl once more and the ultimate offering to the super-fan – the “everything we could possibly think of” box set. This beast doesn’t merely include the CD, but often posters, books, badges, vinyl and CD, etc, etc, etc… and, if we can produce a super-deluxe boxset for the well-heeled fan, why not a slightly stripped-down version for the slightly less well-at-heel fan? As well as a single CD, double CD, CD with magazine (and exclusive tack), download on iTunes (with different exclusive track), version for HMV (with different artwork), version for German release (with yet another different bonus track)…. You get the picture.

This trend has coincided with music fans realising that something is missing – merely having the music of their favourite band isn’t sometimes enough. They miss artwork. They miss the ritual of going to buy something and then studying it and “owning” it (come on, who really “feels” they own a digital file? Do me a favour…). They miss remembering when they put a joint on the LP cover and it left a mark. They miss the whole experience.

So the music industry, never one to miss a trick to fleece the fans, is responding.

Repackage, revitalise, resell…

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Meet The Beetles – how counterfeiting hit the high street

I’m a bit of a Beatles fan. So how excited was I by the launch last year of the Mono and Stereo Remasters box sets? Just a little.

However, those that know me will also point out that I like a bargain. After delaying buying the Mono boxset until my mate tipped me off that Computer Exchange (eh?) had some brand spanking new ones in for £125 (rather than the MSRP of £220 or the £180 ish you could find them for online), I thought I’d better get hold of a copy of the Stereo boxset.

I had a voucher to spend at its online store from a very famous and very large high street supermarket given to me after it failed dismally to deliver a game in time for Christmas. I noticed that the same supermarket had the boxset for a keen price, which after cashing in my voucher made it the best deal by far – about £145. Before taking the plunge I had been looking on Ebay and noticed that there were a ton of them going for about £70 a piece. Erm, I’m guessing that the dealer price for the Stereo boxset is around £130 at the cheapest, so I immediately suspected that someone was churning out counterfeit copies. Pretty much a no-brainer; biggest band ever brings out multi-disc boxset for premium price that is going to sell a sack-full – of course the counterfeiters are going to cash-in. But, from the reputable high street monolith, I’d be sure to get the legitimate thing, wouldn’t I?

So, the order was placed, the box set turned up, happy happy joy joy. I unpacked it – all sealed up nicely in cellophane…. to me, this unveiling is the equivalent of an Apple-freak unpacking that first iPhone, but probably a little bit more so. Off came the cellophane, to unveil the boxset. And I was immediately struck that something wasn’t quite right. I am just a little bit into how music is presented and having worked in various music emporiums over the years I am pretty familiar of the quality of product from major record labels. Well, this was a wrong’un. The green Apple on the black outer box wasn’t right. Then I removed the box from the outer sleeve….. Hmmmmm…. creases in the cover….. a general feeling of “cheap”. And then I opened it up. It took me about five seconds to realise that I had received a counterfeit boxset – right about the time I came across the Please Please Me disc. The Yellow print on the front was “washy”. I then took some of the discs out of their sleeves. They were in crumpled, cheap poly-liners. Really cheap. By now I was convinced. The same friend that had tipped me off about the Mono boxset in Computer Exchange had mentioned that apparently the counterfeit boxsets had been made in China and that some of the text on the back of the Revolver sleeve was comical. So, I had a quick look…..

OK. Apparently the band included Paul MCCARIRMY, Ringo START and George HARRISUN. I did a little more digging about this. It seems that the Chinese counterfeiters colour photocopied what they could, but the text on the back of Revolver was just too small. So they had a go and got it wrong.

Anyhow, my next question was how the hell this counterfeit copy had got into the hands of the very large supermarket that sold it to me. So I contacted them. And I must say that they were very accommodating and understanding. And not a little embarrassed. Well, it was a potentially highly embarrassing situation for a massive brand. I have contacts with a few national press and one was interested in writing a story about the situation after seeing one of my tweets about it.

The whole issue got me thinking (think of the chances – sending a bootleg to a massive Beatles fan that writes about music formats and is a bit of a format geek!). I think the most obvious way this got into the system was thus: Beatle fan doesn’t fancy buying a full-priced copy. Fan goes on to Ebay and buys hooky copy for £70 ish. Fan also buys copy from very large supermarket for proper price. Fan then sends back hooky version to very large supermarket asking for a refund (which is in his rights I believe). Fan has legitimate copy for £70 ish.

So, a simple ruse, eh? And potentially a HUGE can of worms for retailers. I actually discussed this with the very large supermarket. But what can they do? Number each physical product they send out? Otherwise, everyone could pull the same stunt, couldn’t they?

The very large supermarket did mention that EMI was thinking of putting a press release out about it. I didn’t see it, but I may have missed it.

And what of these counterfeit boxsets? Surely they aren’t freely available…. well, have a look on alibaba.com, home of global trading. Do a search on the obvious terms (say, “Beatles Boxset”) and see what you find.

Hmmm.