EMI's new Pink Floyd boxed set and its planned release of additional multiple-disc sets devoted to individual titles will no doubt attract a lot of attention in this fall's reissue market.
It has the splashiest launch (including the recent re-creation of the cover of Animals at Battersea Power Station in London), a jaw-dropping number of unreleased tracks, extensive booklets, elaborate configurations and a chance to find a place under numerous Christmas trees during the holiday season.
But perhaps the most striking thing about the Pink Floyd campaign is that its completist approach to its subject has plenty of company this year. On Sept. 1, Rhino released the staggering 73-CD Grateful Dead collection "Europe '72: The Complete Recordings," chronicling the entirety of the band's European tour of that year. And Sony "Legacy's Complete Albums Collection" series, which has already released sets devoted to such acts as the Byrds, Leonard Cohen, John Denver and Earth, Wind & Fire, has new sets coming this fall for Electric Light Orchestra, Weather Report and the Mahavishnu Orchestra.
The concept isn't new. Atlantic released Led Zeppelin's "The Complete Studio Recordings" in 1993, Germany's Bear Family Records has long specialized in premium-priced sets for early rock'n'roll and country artists, and mail-order label Mosaic Records produces limited-edition jazz collections, such as its recent release of the Modern Jazz Quartet's Complete Atlantic Studio Recordings.
But never before have so many "complete" sets found their way to market at the same time. These big-ticket items are targeting 40-and-older completists and fans willing to drop anywhere from $100 to almost $500 on a boxed set. The fact that labels haven't limited the release of such sets to the all-important fourth-quarter release window shows faith in the power of nostalgia, graphics and high-quality sound.
"We spent the better part of 20 years doing the [reissue] business as individual pieces and it became fragmented," Sony Legacy VP of A&R and content John Jackson says. "Our Cheap Trick campaign was the first three albums and [At Budokan]-but what about everything else?"
Aside from their premium price, one of the other key challenges facing complete-catalog boxed sets has been the shrinking number of physical retail outlets that would carry such titles. As a result, much of the marketing is focused online, including official artist websites, fan clubs and other Web communities.
Sony Legacy sells its Complete Albums Collection series exclusively through its PopMarket.com daily deal site. Rhino sold out its 7,200-unit run of the Grateful Dead's Europe '72 in four days through the band's official site Dead.net. To meet demand, Rhino then offered-at the same price of $450-an "All the Music" edition of Europe '72 that includes all 22 shows on 72 discs in soft-packs, but without the coffee-table book from the limited edition.
"The great thing about Dead.net," says Mark Pinkus, senior VP of worldwide licensing for Rhino and Grateful Dead Properties, "is that fans are consistently looking there for new releases and this has given us encouragement that fans are ready to step up and buy [large boxes]."
EMI's Pink Floyd campaign appears poised to be the fall's most prominent reissue rollout. On Sept. 27, the label released Discovery, a 16-CD collection that includes all of the band's studio albums. There is also, for the first time in the group's career, a single-disc "best of" collection that EMI sees as a mainstay for Walmart, Target and other big-box retailers.
Also coming are "Immersion Box Sets" dedicated to "The Dark Side of the Moon," "Wish You Were Here" and "The Wall." Each will contain five to seven discs, with 5.1 surround and quadraphonic mixes plus books and artwork, as well as simpler versions with fewer discs. "The Dark Side of the Moon" sets were released Sept. 26 with Wish You Were Here editions due Nov. 7; the two versions of "The Wall" are coming Feb. 27.
The rollout is designed to use Pink Floyd's biggest-selling albums as tentpoles for the series, says Bill Gagnon, senior VP/GM of catalog marketing for EMI Music North America, noting the budget to market and advertise the Pink Floyd albums is north of $2 million.
EMI's September 2009 reissue of the Beatles catalog was an encouraging sign of consumer interest in complete-catalog collections, Gagnon says. The campaign included the release of a 16-disc stereo boxed set that has sold 258,000 units in the United States, and a 13-disc mono box that has sold 63,000, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
"The lesson we learned [from the Beatles reissues] is that if you develop very high-end product, people will perceive them as good consumer value," he says. "We were nervous with the Beatles [boxes], but that experience has given us confidence."