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3 August, 2004

Limited editions limit

Over the past few days, the official forum at porcupinetree .com has seen a discussion about the nature of 'exclusive' collectors' editions of albums.

SW is notorious for releasing wonderful music in ludicrously small print runs - as I mentioned in April, 'Unreleased Electronic Music v.1' was, er, released in a run of merely 100 copies worldwide (which sold out in hours), later extended to 350. That's an extreme example, but far from unique. If you look at SW's page at the Porcupine Tree web store, you'll note that a majority of the items are limited to 1,000 copies, and several of the remainder have already sold out (so buy now!).
He has explained in interviews that it's partly a deliberate attempt to encourage collecting - if resources are scarce, it increases the 'thrill of the chase' and sense of satisfaction at managing to 'capture' a rare edition after a long, difficult and expensive search. Personally, I regard the whole practice as childish, encouraging exorbitant prices at eBay, and to be discouraged, but that's just me.

My own view is that if music is considered suitable for release at all, it ought to be made available in numbers which would satisfy everyone who would be interested in hearing it. This means print runs in the thousands, or, as with the 'Bass Communion III' official CD-R, sales on a 'manufacture on demand' basis. [Update 02/08/07: Since discontinued!] The music shouldn't be exclusive.

This doesn't totally preclude special collectors' editions - they're not my thing, but I wouldn't want to deny them to those who do enjoy that aspect of a bands output.
As I understand it, collectability is about the item: that specific piece of plastic, in that specific packaging. Exclusivity of that sort of thing is fine. Those who want that 'added value' can hunt for it. However, I strongly feel the core 'product', the music itself, ought to be made fully available - not free, but available in whatever numbers the mass-market will stand.

My solution would be to release two editions:

  • Unlimited release, for everyone. If they sell out, produce more.

  • Limited release, with exactly the same content, but unique packaging, coloured vinyl, etc. Something 'exclusive' for the collectors, but which still allows everyone else to have full access to all the music. Don't make the music exclusive.

One response was:

But to release everything in large numbers defeats the object of collecting/collectability. If there are other versions of something limited on the market, that devalues the limited edition version.

I disagree. If someone buys a version of an album as 2 CDs in a limited-edition 124-page hardback book with unique artwork, itself in a study slipcase, he/she has something special, a true collector's item. If other people have exactly the same music as 2 CDs in a standard jewel case, that doesn't diminish the special edition. No-one misses out on the aspect they value most: the collectability or the music.

There is a secondary issue, on which I won't elaborate as I'm a little short of time: it's highly debatable whether over-use of 'limited editions' as a marketing device really helps to promote a band. If a large proportion of the back catalogue is unavailable, that merely leads to frustration and resentment.

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