Limited Editions. Unlimited Bullshit.
On Monday, Death Waltz Recordings, a small label out of the UK that specializes in vinyl reissues of horror movie soundtracks, announced their biggest release to date; a 2LP edition of the score to John Carpenter’s legendary horror film The Fog. It was a strictly limited release, with just 700 copies on clear vinyl, and only a scant 200 available on pure black vinyl.
The Fog hasn’t been pressed on vinyl in 30+ years, so the announcement made fans of the soundtrack flock to Death Waltz’s official website to score a copy. In fact, so many flew to the site at once that it crashed. Making matters worse, when the site came back up, it was flooded with errors, and many who thought they had the release in their shopping cart had not. By the time it was all sorted out and fans could navigate the site with ease, all copies of the soundtrack had sold out. And since it was a limited edition release, anyone who didn’t snag one of the 900 copies is now out of luck for good. No more are going to be made.
With the return of vinyl we have also seen the return of the limited edition vinyl pressing, the high-end, amazing-looking records tailor made for obsessive collectors. But in the mad cash grab to press one-off records that make collectors go nuts, many companies have forgotten the key reason that people actually buy records; to listen to the music on the format of their choice. Because when a limited edition vinyl pressing goes away, often times the chance to hear the music goes away with it.
If you want to listen to the complete soundtrack to The Fog on vinyl and you missed that sale, then too bad, you’re just not going to. Same goes for anyone looking to grab vinyl soundtracks to The Deadly Spawn, Poltergeist or Oblivion, all special edition releases that Mondo Tees put out. They’re all out of print now, and given Mondo’s policy of never repressing their records, you’re not going to get another chance at them for the foreseeable future. It’s even more maddening in the case of Poltergeist, as that was the first release of any kind that soundtrack has seen in decades. Now it’s out of print once more, impossible to buy without going to places like eBay, where speculators who were lucky enough to get a copy sell theirs at higher-than-retail prices for a profit.
Because those are the people who really benefit from these limited run records; speculators, flippers who buy two copies of the album only to turn around and sell them at a hefty profit. Fans don’t benefit from that. Real collectors who appreciate the music don’t benefit from that either. Shit, even the record labels themselves don’t benefit from it. They’re actually hurting themselves by encouraging it with these limited runs. Think about it, they have a product that thousands of people actually want to buy. These are people with money in hand, but with these limited runs, the labels are basically saying “no, we don’t want your money.”
Don’t get me wrong, limited editions can be great. They’re a fun way to stir up excitement about buying records. But they shouldn’t be the only way. And at the end of the day, if a person wants to buy music on the format of their choice, and the demand exists enough to warrant it, then more should be made.
Limited editions can exist side-by-side with standard editions. Make the limited version be a special color, or have unique art. Give it special pack-ins or a poster. Then make a standard, no-thrills version for fans who just want the music. Everyone wins. The labels making the records sell more, the fans who want the records get to buy them, and the flippers and speculators out there still get their limited edition copy that some idiot will gladly pay hundreds of dollars for.
It’s a system that’s actually been proven to work. Joyful Noise, one of my favorite record labels, routinely release ultra-limited edition records with very small print runs. But these are almost always augmented by standard, unlimited editions that are easy to get. Music On Vinyl does the same. When they released their vinyl edition of Mother Love Bone earlier this month, they put it out in two flavors; a limited edition on purple vinyl, and an unlimited standard version on regular black vinyl. And despite the fact that both came out at the same time, at the same price even, collectors are still going crazy for the purple vinyl edition
If more labels don’t go this route, let me tell you what will happen.
Even more record labels will start putting out limited editions records , many with even crazier extravagant packaging and colors. And as result, even more speculators and flippers will do their best to buy them in order to sell them on eBay. But neither the labels nor the speculators will take into account that there are a finite number of record collectors with a finite amount of cash. The fans who actually want these things to collect and listen to them won’t be able to buy them all, and the second-hand market for the editions will crash, quickly followed by the first-hand market, since by this point most of the people trying to buy them will have been speculators. All the limited editions will be worthless, the labels will go out of business, and music fans will become disenfranchised with the whole thing and just go back to digital downloads.
Think I’m wrong? I got 10 boxes of worthless comics in my closet that say otherwise.
That’s right, comics. The situation I just put forth isn’t some wild hypothesis on my part, it’s exactly what killed comics after their boom in the early 90s. When sales started to climb, comic book publishers flooded the market with special edition books that rapidly went up in value, the speculators snagged them all up, the fans became alienated, and the bottom caved in on the entire industry to such an extent that it never recovered.
The record industry is teetering on the brink of making the same mistake, the writing is on the wall. Fans are showing their disdain for situations like the Death Waltz Fog snafu, or the massive influx of special edition records that dominate Record Store Day every year. It’s even beginning to hit the speculators, the going eBay rate for a rare Mondo release really isn’t what it used to be. Aspiring collectors are getting fed up, so record companies need to wise up and correct their business model.
If they don’t, the market will correct it for them. And it won’t be pretty.