28 October 2009

Julian Casablancas and the $90 Solo Debut Album

Don't know who Julian Casablancas is?  How about The Strokes?  Yeah?  Me, neither.  Oh, wait; they're the band on the T-shirt that Shia LaBouef wore in the first Transformers.  Anyway, the guy's releasing a solo debut album (Phrazes for the Young, and when you spell things with a "z" instead of an "s," you know it's cool) on 3 November.  Fans who are super-excited can wait until 18 December and shell out $89.95 for a box set edition.

Wait, what?  $90 for a box set of an album that will barely be a month old, from a guy whose name is unknown to most anyone who isn't already a fan of his band--which has, to date, released a whopping three studio albums?  Yes, and despite the fact I won't be acquiring it at all (it's just not my brand of music), I think it's a great deal.  Why is that?  I'll tell you.

First, there will be a standard CD version with a more common MSRP of $9.98.  Secondly, here's what you get for your $90:

  • A digital download of the album available beginning 3 November
  • The album on CD
  • The album on 180 gram vinyl
  • A second CD containing demo versions and B-sides
  • A DVD featuring solo acoustic performances by Casablancas
  • A 48-page book, autographed by Casablancas
  • A double-sided poster
  • A Cult Records pin

Now, I grant you that this is still a hefty sum of cash and perhaps the inclusion of the same material on three different media (digital download, CD, vinyl) is overkill.  And what isn't mentioned in any of this so far is the fact that the album itself is a mere eight songs (!).  Consider, though, that Amazon has the standard CD at its list price of $9.98 and the vinyl release with a sale price of $21.83 (down from its list price of $22. 98).  That's nearly a third of the cost of the box set.  Granted, once you have your standard CD, you can make your own digital download, but to have it before you have the box set you'd have to buy the standalone CD release, which would ultimately prove superfluous entirely.

So, is a CD of demo versions and B-sides, a DVD of solo acoustic performances, a signed 48-page book, a poster and a pin worth $60?  Not for me, but as I said, I'm not interested anyway.  For a fan, though, I think the answer--irrespective of that fan's financial status, which is likely not promising at the moment--is "yes."  Simply put, I can think of a handful of artists of whom I am enough of a fan that if they were to release a comparable box set, I would be very excited.

Consider that Garth Brooks's last box set, the Walmart-exclusive The Limited Series, carried a retail price of $25.  For that price, you got remastered CD's of Garth's last two full studio albums, one of three randomly included, new packages for 1998's Double Live, a 12-track release of The Lost Sessions (which was released a scant three months later as an expanded, 17-track standalone CD) and a DVD featuring not a concert performance, but an interview with Garth featuring a slideshow of photographs from his career playing against a soundtrack of his hits.  That's a lot of redundancy for $25.  In fact, most fans were better off just skipping the box set entirely and purchasing the aforementioned single CD release of The Lost Sessions, which was a greater supplement to their Garth library.

But, wait, aren't you saying that this other guy's eight-song solo debut is worth a $90 release, but Garth's 63-song box set wasn't worth $25?  Yes, I am and the reason is that the only new material to be found in Garth's box set was quickly released by itself...with more material.  Let's say, for the sake of argument, that Garth had instead packaged The Lost Sessions similarly to Casablancas's Phrazes for the Young.  That would have seen fans paying $90 for two CD's, including one of demo versions of songs from Garth's career (there really haven't been any B-sides, since he only released singles overseas, and they all but rarely contained album versions of songs); a DVD of Garth performing songs and a signed book, on top of the two media versions of The Lost Sessions (no digital Garth, as discussed in my last blog entry) and the poster and pin.  It would have been uncharacteristically expensive for a Garth Brooks release, absolutely, but I think it might also have been more rewarding than was The Limited Series.

Simply put, the value of a deluxe release is best evaluated by the fan/potential purchaser for himself.  All I'm suggesting is that, while Casablancas won't be getting any of my money, I would like to see this kind of release every now and again from someone in whom I am interested.  Would I buy every such release?  Of course not; even if I could afford to do so (which I can't), it would be hard to remain enthusiastic if every other month saw something like this hit the shelves.  But once a year or so?  Perhaps.

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