Reversing a lengthy losing streak, the Universal Music Group has become the first of the big four record labels to significantly increase revenue in many years. The Vivendi-owned company posted a nearly five percent increase for the first half of 2008, even after adjusting for currency fluctuations.
Brigitte Bardot's performance of "Je T'Aime...Moi Non Plus" was a Top 5 hit when it was released in the 1960s, but until recently, the only way to add it to your music library was to rummage through secondhand shops. But it's back in circulation—not as a CD, but as a download, one of 3000 out-of-print tracks sold by the Universal Music Group over iTunes during the last seven months. More than 250,000 people downloaded a 2000 Christmas compilation by Nana Mouskouri, Les Plus Beaux Noels du Monde, during a period that didn't even include the holiday. Universal plans to follow up in November with 100,000 more albums, many previously released only on vinyl. Record companies have good reason to rediscover their back catalogue: Part of Amazon's success with the "earth's biggest selection" lies in brisk sales of o/p material by third-party merchants. "We are now able to respond to and quantify the appetite for more eclectic, diverse recordings from the past," Universal's Olivier Robert-Murphy told Reuters. The unanswered question: What, if anything, will artists or their estates get paid?
A major label will soon offer European customers three different tiers of CD releases, each with its own distinctive type of packaging. Universal Music Group announced that top releases will get a deluxe box (über-jewelbox? treasure chest?) potentially featuring bonus DVD, extra tracks, expanded notes, and other attractions. Mid-tier releases will get "super jewelboxes," a with round corners, stronger hinges, and heavier build quality. They sound a lot like the boxes already used for SACDs. Bottom-tier releases will get cardboard sleeves, though I'm not sure if that means a Digipak-like package (paper gatefold enclosing plastic spindle) or an all-cardboard "wallet" type. A competing budget label, Brilliant Classics, has had great success with wallets, marketing cheaply packaged but delightful boxed sets up to and including the now legendary 160-CD Bach Edition. Pricing for the Universal tiers will be €19.99, €14.99, and €9.99 respectively. As of this morning, a euro costs $1.28, so none of the tiers is cheap by American standards, though there's no telling what will happen if Universal brings the scheme across the Atlantic. Why this, why now? "We can grow the CD market," said a Universal executive—or at least, "slow its decline."
Critics of the music industry often say we wish the major labels would quit bellyaching, forget the lawsuits, and just offer a better legal-download product. That's the best way to fight illegal downloads, and that's what the Universal Music Group is doing with its new Lost Tunes download service.
The best way to spice up a dull, dark, soundless day.
Here’s how Edgar Allen Poe opens his short story “The Fall of the House of Usher”: “During the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country; and at length found myself, as the shades of the evening drew on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher.” Although trade shows are hardly soundless, and I don’t navigate them on horseback, Poe evokes a bit of the feeling I get slogging through them. But the Usher exhibit didn’t seem all that melancholy when I stumbled on it at the 2007 Home Entertainment Show. In fact, hearing a pair of the Be-718s in action made me want to review them.