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Hi John:

There's a theory to all of this -- and it's definitely controversial but it does seem to work with 
some items, like recorded music -- called the "long tail." The idea is that a wide variety of 
deep-catalog content, if made constantly available in a medium that costs little to distribute (ie 
digital downloads) will, in sum, be profitable over time. The key is over time. It's an annuity-type 
income, not a quick-hit quarterly boost.

As for back-catalog stuff, actually more than you might think has been transferred to digital. For 
instance with classical back-catalogs, most of the vault stuff is now out of print but was once 
available on CD. Certainly not nearly all of it, particularly lacking is material from the mono days 
and pre-tape days. Same with jazz, although much more mono and pre-tape material was once or is now 
available on CD. If you combine Europe-only and Japan-only releases with all the material that's now 
out of print, there's actually a huge back-catalog sitting there, easily distributed online and 
currently not for sale to most audiences. That's just dumb business, not having it readily available 
for purchase.

Once a steady annuity-type revenue stream is established from "the tail," it starts to make sense to 
invest in mastering-to-digital other material that was never put out on CD. There's a worldwide 
market for pop/easy listening material, for instance, but clearly not a viable market for 
manufactured CD's. The mentality of the "long tail" becomes, a company will offer a giant variety of 
material, some of which will never recoup the costs of transfer to digital. The sweet spot is when 
most of the material is modestly profitable, some of it is very profitable and some of it is a 
loss-leader. And I don't see how different this is from the traditional record-company model before 
mega-glomerates. Back then, you'd figure a good portion of your pop catalog would never recoup 
production costs, that your jazz catalog would generally be mildly profitable or unprofitable, 
depending on how much your artists tingled that market's fancy at a given time, and that your 
classical catalog was the original long-tail -- offer a wide variety of quality product, keep it in 
print many years and recoup costs and then profit over time. Hits were always the good fortune that 
greased the machinery, not the norm. Somewhere, the bean-counters and lawyers in the mega-glomerates 
started to think they were entitled to hits and budgeting accordingly. Plus, they got Wall Street 
expecting hits and hammering them even for reliable steady income if it didn't meet unrealistic 
growth targets quarter to quarter.

-- Tom Fine

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "John Ross" <[log in to unmask]>
To: <[log in to unmask]>
Sent: Friday, August 08, 2008 1:06 PM
Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] Sony, BMG and the health of the music biz


> At  8/8/2008 04:01 AM, Tom Fine wrote:
>>There should be NOTHING out of print, anywhere in the world -- 
>>anything that's not viable as a manufactured CD should be sold online.
>
> Purely as a business proposition, reissuing archival material online is probably a marginal 
> enterprise. Just because there are master tapes or metal parts in the warehouse, there are costs 
> involved in preparing the content for digital distribution -- and the owners of the archives must 
> expect to recover those expenses on very small per-copy revenue. So there's some kind of 
> relatively high minimum sales volume needed to justify the effort. You can do it for Caruso or 
> Jimmie Rogers, but it's a lot harder to justify the expense for a reissue of Mose Tapiero's 
> ocarina solos.
>
> Sure, there's plenty of unissued stuff out there that would probably sell in decent numbers, but 
> there's so much more, including much of the vinyl and shellac on collectors' shelves, that might 
> realistically sell fewer than 100 copies worldwide. That might be enough for some offshore 
> shovelware producer to crank out a CD copied from old LPs or 78s with no quality control, but it's 
> probably not enough for Sony, EMI or some other major archive to find the master, perform a good 
> transfer, and make a new digital master.
>
> There's a reason that quality reissue labels like Mosaic and Bear Family charge a lot more than 
> the shovelware packages.
>
> John Ross