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'Beatles in Mono' CD box set: a lesson in collecting

Beatles in Mono cover

Judging the market for big-ticket music box sets continues to be at least as much art as it is science.

Record company executives I spoke to recently said that even though the Internet has given labels unprecedented ability to target fans of specific artists, there’s still a lot of hope and guesswork that goes into these ultra-expensive projects such as the $1,199 Miles Davis 43-CD box set and the $749 30-CD “The Complete Elvis Presley Masters” box.

Seattle indie music store owner Mike Batt of Silver Platters, for instance, noted that when EMI/Capitol Records last year issued CD box sets with the remastered Beatles catalog — one in stereo that list for $259 and one gathering all the Fab Four’s albums that were originally mixed in mono carrying a $299 list price — the company ultimately created a quagmire for Beatles collectors.

“It takes a smart buyer to know the store audience and also the future market value of these items,” Batt told me by e-mail. “If played right they can make a profit, but they can also be a large cash hole." The Beatles' mono box from last year is a perfect example. 

“The Beatles in Mono” box originally was touted as a limited-edition set for which only 10,000 copies would be manufactured. Those quickly sold out by way of pre-orders, sending collectors into something of a feeding frenzy to get their hands on copies.

“Most retail never actually had any to sell to someone that had not already preordered it [by] the day of release. Not even Amazon,” Batt recalled. “This made the actual marketplace demand so cloudy that Capitol/EMI decided to press more a month later, which then flooded the market.

“Today there are hundreds and hundreds of people trying to sell it online and just get something for it. What actually cost retailers $190 each has had a low market value of $110 online so far. Add to that a group of bootleggers and pirates that tried to jump on the bandwagon early and are now trying to recoup their losses by selling the bootlegs in legitimate marketplaces, bringing the value and consumer confidence in the item even lower.”

What’s that line? “I read the news today, oh, boy …”

— Randy Lewis

Comments () | Archives (3)

Note that the mono box does not include all Beatles albums. Abbey Road and Let It Be were released in stereo only, although you can find 'mono' versions from South America on eBay. These albums were not mixed down to mono as such; instead one full channel was laid on top of the other without any of the 'reductions' that George Martin employed in the days of 2 or 4-track recording. The sound quality is not great, as one might expect.

Part of the reason I pre-ordered & paid $160 for the mono box was because Apple directly led us to believe that there'd be only 10,000 made which would also make it a collector's item. Whenever they get around to releasing in 5.1 or remixed remasters or whatever is in the future and they pull this stunt, I'm waiting to buy.

As for the $1199 Miles Davis box set refered to in the article, Sony Music has dropped the price to $749.


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