Devoted music fans pay top dollar for deluxe sets

Fri Mar 27, 2009 9:39pm EDT
 
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By Cortney Harding

NEW YORK (Billboard) - During the past two years, one 29-year-old Bay Area music fan reckons she's spent about $200 on music.

She gets most of her music for free from blogs and BitTorrent trackers, but one recent release struck her as cool enough to get her to lay down her credit card. That album, a deluxe reissue of the Beastie Boys album "Paul's Boutique," cost more than she spends on music in most years.

This freeloading fan isn't alone: As of the end of February, the $129.99 deluxe edition of "Paul's Boutique" had almost sold out its run of "a few hundred" copies. Released by EMI and the online music marketing company Topspin, and sold only on the Beastie Boys' Web site, the package includes a 180-gram vinyl copy of the album, a poster and a T-shirt in addition to a CD copy and a high-quality digital download. So far, it has sold as many copies as the lowest-priced reissue of the album, an $11.99 download, according to Topspin founder Ian Rogers. (The album is also available on CD, vinyl and high-quality digital download.)

In an era when labels have to beg or sue most fans to get them to pay $10 or $15 for a plain old CD, some bands are getting a few to lay out more than $100. During the past few years, a number of bands have released deluxe versions of their new albums, including Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails and U2 (the group just released a high-ticket version of "No Line on the Horizon.")

In the next few months, this trickle will become a flood of albums that will sell for more than $50: an edition of Depeche Mode's "Sounds of the Universe" will include two hardbound books of photos; a set of unreleased Jane's Addiction tracks will come in a wooden box; and a reissue of Pearl Jam's "Ten" will come with an extra CD, a DVD and four vinyl records in a linen-covered, slipcased box with a replica of a demo cassette made by frontman Eddie Vedder.

THE RALPH LAUREN EFFECT

At first there's something almost absurd about the idea that fans who can get music for free would spend so much money on albums. The decline in CD sales shows no sign of reversing, and a generation of listeners have come to see music as something that resides only on a hard drive.

Then again, this is the same generation that has come to see coffee as something that costs $4. And the fact that water comes out of the tap for free hasn't prevented the growth of a large business based on selling it in bottles.   Continued...