The joint venture between Universal Music Group and X5 Music Group has released its first digital compilations containing the catalogs of Universal's Blue Note Records and Verve labels. The 11 releases by the U5 imprint include such legendary artists as Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk and Donald Byrd.
 
The 11 new titles follow the approach digital-only label X5 has used to reinvent catalog sales. Title names, such as the "The 99 Most Essential Pieces of Classical Music," and artwork are indicative of each title's contents. Prices are set low enough to provide more value than other releases. A few of the titles, "The Charlie Parker Songbook" and "The Duke Ellington Songbook," are specific to artists. Other titles are built around themes, such as "Jazz Groove," "Jazz Summer Vibes" and "American Jazz Divas."

Universal, X5 Create Digital Compilation Business

“Blue Note Records and Verve are home to the best and most historic catalogs in the genre," X5 Chief Executive Officer Johan Lagerlof said in a statement. "Bringing together these classic recordings from both labels on single albums will makes the very best of jazz available to new listeners in exciting and accessible collections.”
 
U5 and X5 titles differ in price and quantity of songs. U5 titles have 20 tracks and cost $8.99 at Amazon.com and $9.99 at iTunes. X5 titles have more music and lower prices. X5 titles typically have 50 tracks at iTunes and prices from $5.99 to $7.99. At Amazon.com, the label's compilations tend to have 99 tracks and cost less -- sometimes as low as 99 cents. 
 
A high track-to-price ratio is an important factor in driving sales of these compilations. X5's three-year-old "100 Most Essential Pieces of Classical Music," priced at $7.99, is currently #2 at iTunes. X5 imprint Mungo Records has released a slew of titles exclusively at Amazon.com that currently hold eight of the top ten spots at Amazon.com's list best selling classical albums. Each title has 111 tracks and a 99-cent price.
 
U5's first batch of titles, released in March, has had modest success thus far. "The 50 Greatest Piano Pieces" compilations by Lang Lang and Joshua Bell have both sold fewer than 1,000 units through July 21, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Taking into account their four months of sales and their relatively high prices, those titles have sold comparably to earlier X5 releases.
 
X5's better-selling releases show why Universal was interested in the label's approach to marketing. "The 50 Most Essential Pieces of Classical Music" has sold 193,000 units since October of 2010. Its "99 Most Relaxing Classics" has sold 42,000 units in just over three years.