Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Keeping the catalog alive in iTunes

The other day, while writing a post about a new media app, I was talking to one of the members of the team that brought out the app. That person asked me how I found their app, they had not yet promoted it. I simply told them that I keep a very close eye on the App Store.

Of course, there is a lot more media in iTunes than the app inside the App Store. All that music, movies and television contact is there and it is well beyond my ability to keep track of what is there, even if I wanted to do so.

So if you will indulge me, and knowing that many TNM readers are interested in music, I thought I'd write something about what I found today and what it might tell us about ways to others are exploiting their back catalogs.


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Mosaic Records has been around and releasing incredible box sets of jazz since it was formed in 1983 by Michael Cuscuna and Charlie Lourie. That year, the company licensed some music from Blue Note Records to release their first box set, The Complete Blue Note Recordings of Thelonious Monk, labeled as number 101.

The four LP set was definitely different, it came complete with a well researched booklet and the LPs themselves were pressed using high quality vinyl. Because the music had been licensed from the original record label, the box set would be a limited release – once it was sold out, that was it.

The first box set that got my attention was The Complete Blue Note Recordings of the Tina Brooks Quintet. Tina Brooks was a tenor saxophonist (and a man) who released only one LP in his lifetime but had three other sessions that almost came out on record. This was not unusual for Blue Note Records whose owners would often bring their musicians into the studio in order to keep them employed, releasing most of the material, but sometimes mixing the session for release, then deciding later to not issue the recordings. Sometimes these "almost" released LPs would actually show up in promotional material leading some jazz enthusiasts to search in vain for LPs that never existed.

Michael Cuscuna would soon help Blue Note, now owned by EMI, to revive its catalog starting in 1985 – first with some high quality LPs, then moving to CDs. As for Mosaic, their 27 Lp box set of The Complete Capitol Recordings of the Nat King Cole Trio won a Grammy for best historical recording in 1990, something that was a bit of an embarrassment for the original label.

So what happens to that music once a Mosaic box set goes out of print. Often nothing, though sometimes the original label starts to reissue the original recordings in their original form, often with some bonus tracks.

But today I noticed Apple was promoting what looked like a Mosaic box set in iTunes. This would be impossible, as this is not how the record company works. In fact, this was being offered by Blue Note, which owns the recordings now. It is available as a digital download, but without the Mosaic booklet, which is a shame. But the box set is out of print so this the best one can do.

Another Mosaic box set is also in iTunes, The Complete Ahmad Jamal Trio Argo Sessions, a box set that is still available through Mosaic. If you want the 9CD set complete with booklet it is available for $149 on the Mosaic website. Verve, which owns the recordings, is offering for far less, sans booklet, as a digital download.

All this may or may not be of much interest to you, but I always go back to what lessons can be learned here for publishers. The reissuing of back catalog material, whether special sections, books or other publications is something that iTunes and the App Store – or Kindle store, etc. – makes possible. Publishers need to take advantage of their catalogs, and, using the Mosaic model, treat them with respect, their value is higher when package well.

(This post was lost, then quickly rewritten. I apologize for any editing errors.)

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