2012 has been the year of the deluxe edition. A seemingly innocuous term suggesting a nicer version of something which hides a multitude of sins. This is not a new idea, indeed expanded, special and bonus releases have long been the major label cash cow of choice. Take That have a few less impressive songs left over after ‘Progress‘ was finalised? Wait a year, call it ‘Progressed‘ and sell the whole album again. Couple of iTunes bonus tracks and a made for TV gig recording bunged on a DVD? Don’t mind if we do. But now, more than ever it feels, the indies are doing it too and it all feels a bit shitty. I buy a LOT of records. If, less than six months after I’ve bought something, you’re going to reissue an album with extra stuff for essentially the same price, then I’d like to do a swap, please. Why sell me substandard goods just because I’m already interested and a supporter of physical media and bricks and mortar retail? Yes, there are plenty of cavalier and amoral types out there not paying anything for it in the first place but don’t think that makes it ok to try and sell the real fans the same thing twice. It won’t make the product more attractive to freeloading digital thieves. They’ll just nick the bonus stuff too. First Aid Kit and Alt-J were chief amongst the shameless cashin merchants this year, gleefully being repackaged before they’d even had the chance to make it into end of year lists or win novelty music prizes. There’s a wider issue here though, which those serving up this cold sick don’t seem to grasp. Just as HMV constantly reducing recent releases to £3 sends a clear message to their customers about the value of new music, if your core customers who still purchase new releases see that by waiting six months they can either have the album for a few quid or get twice as much material for the same price as the original version, who will actually buy it in those early months?
Some deluxe vinyl looking all expensive
This has been the first year where I’ve really felt like my enthusiasm for music is being taken advantage of by certain labels and artists. Universal’s vinyl prices have been a joke for several years now, but they’re far from the only ones taking the piss. That said, if someone like Paul Weller is going to keep appearing in magazines and trendy documentaries eulogising about vinyl and his love of record shops, perhaps he could intervene and stop his greedy bastard label from trying to flog his LP at £30 a pop. Clearly on our side, eh Paul? He’s not the only one: Richard Hawley’s ‘Standing At The Sky’s Edge‘ was hardly a bargain at just south of the same amount, even if it was double vinyl. Yes, vinyl is more expensive to produce than CDs but it’s not THAT much more expensive. Record Collector in Sheffield is the fabulous place that Hawley often tells the media it is, but there’d be a lot fewer people shopping there if every bloody release cost more than twice as much as the CD. The days of Billy Bragg and The Clash taking a slight financial hit in order to make their albums more affordable to fans are long since gone. While I’m not suggesting that in this particularly dreary climate that should be the norm, when Sub Pop, Thrill Jockey, Turnstile and 4AD still seem able to deliver very reasonably priced vinyl, clearly some labels are choosing to squeeze their core audience.
Which brings me to the increased fondness for deluxe vinyl editions. The xx‘s charmingly inoffensive second album ‘Coexist‘ was released on normal vinyl, with die cut sleeve and the CD thrown in at regular price. There was also a deluxe version talked up by the label which, it transpired, simply had a gatefold die cut sleeve and a glossy booklet. The vinyl was still a mediocre and far from silent pressing and yet the difference in price was approximately £8. One record shop owner I spoke to said he genuinely struggled to explain to a customer what the point of the more expensive edition was. Likewise, Domino have taken this route with albums by the likes of Dirty Projectors, Animal Collective, John Cale and Hot Chip. The initial price difference for several of these titles was close to £10. For Hot Chip, this got you a gatefold sleeve and a one sided 7″. For the Dirty Projectors, a higher resolution download and some, admittedly pretty, delicate additional artwork. “Don’t buy it if you don’t like it,” I hear you cry, but if you’re reading this you probably understand the power of record collecting and the lure of extra material and deluxe editions. It isn’t as simple as saying “at least we have the normal priced editions available.” By implication, they are inferior to the other version, and whether you purchase or not the whole thing leaves a distinctly unpleasant taste in the mouth.
Throw in ever more direct to fan sales of deluxe editions – Manics, Nick Cave, Biffy Clyro etc – and the constant quest to produce ‘special’ versions is becoming faintly ridiculous. A heartfelt, well researched, properly mastered, beautifully constructed deluxe edition of a genuinely remarkable record can be a true joy. But when almost anything ends up getting repackaged or expanded or enhanced, how long before those words stop meaning anything and the standard editions become completely worthless? I’ve reached my limit with these ludicrous, largely packaging based, deluxe vinyl editions (bad news for Atoms For Peace, for a start) and my tendency to shell out for a wide range of indie label releases may well be reigned in a little in 2013. If you want to incentivise purchasing fancy variations on new releases, include the stuff you’re saving for the inevitable CD reissue upfront. Except, of course, this would highlight the reason why most bonus material wasn’t on the album in the first place. It wasn’t good enough.