CDs, CD Box Sets

One of our aims here is to love and praise vinyl, but not to get all sniffy about CDs. Rare Record Price Guide claims only to list CDs worth more than £30, and has very few examples … David Bowie is an exception. Yet what about CD Box sets? There are many of them, often with elaborate packaging, detailed booklets, super de luxe editions, multiple CDs with rarities, blu-ray or DVD-Audio 5.1 mixes and often an added vinyl copy of an LP or single in there as well. I can’t find any in the Guide, yet some of my favourite possessions are CD box sets.

The first issue is this.If an item cost £69.99 new, and can be bought for £40 used, then it’s not really collectable. Just secondhand. Collectability suggests that something is more valuable than its initial release price.

Then there’s condition. The CD rack in a charity shop may well have cracked and near opaque jewel cases. The CDs inside might look as if they’ve suffered a durability test, scuffed, scratched and dirty. On the other hand, the majority is teen stuff that people have got rid of as they grew older … Spice Girls, Britney Spears, Girls Aloud, NKOTB. Or it’s easy listening, possibly house clearance. It’s rare to see a good rock or soul CD in there. The decent finds are most likely to be classical. The good stuff will probably have been looked after. I know that plastic is choking the Sargasso Sea and killing butterflies in Tibet, but a downside of secondhand CDs is those in eco-friendly card cases which are so tight that they tear getting CDs in and out.

Because CD is durable, ‘excellent’ is the expected condition. There’s no rarity in finding one in good nick. That will be even more so with boxed sets. Therefore, you’d only expect them to be listed in a collectors’ guide if they’re worth more than they cost new.

I spent many years writing for Oxford University Press. There was a tale when I started which may or may not still be true. In 1830, they published a dictionary of Sanskrit. They only produced a few … I was told two hundred. When I heard the story in 1978, here’s the rub, it was still in stock in the warehouse as new copies. Yes, 148 year old new copies. Never been sold. Still they are not ‘out of print.’ If you can buy a “new” one, there is no premium on a used one. This is the issue with box sets. Can you still buy a copy new?

The Complete Motown Singles: Volume 6: 1966 6 CDs + single

I did a test with The Complete Motown Singles. It was a series of box sets with every A and B side, and each box had a reproduction single from the year attached to the front. The essays in them combine to be the ultimate guide to Motown. They were released slowly between 2005 and 2013, in total fourteen box sets. 1971 required two boxes (Volume 11A and Volume 11B) and so did 1972 (Volume 12A and Volume 12B). The number of CDs in each box varied but averaged 6 CDs. So check Resellers have most of them at premium prices, but when we get to the 1971 and 1972 volumes, amazon still has new copies in stock. Take the last one, Volume 12B. They have a new one at £57.66 (September 2020). A little flag popped up to tell me I last bought it on 24 November 2013. Yet it hasn’t sold out. So that’s not one for the guide. On the other hand, move to 1966 and there are no new copies in amazon’s vast warehouses, so resellers have new ones … at £131 and £149. Discogs highest is over £200. 1966 IS collectable. However, while most sets are out of print, the prices of the “highest” ones are mainly around what they cost new.

The Word, January 2010 issue, advert

A local secondhand record store often has CD box sets. I’m amazed at this … they’re only a few months old. Apparently, they have a regular customer who buys them, rips the rarities and bonus tracks onto computer, and parts with the artefact. They’ll be on sale at around two-thirds the new price, so not valued as collectable. These are CDs – they suffer no wear from being played just the once.

I looked at the Miles Davis Complete Columbia Album Collection. SEVENTY CDs. I already have the main ones I’m interested in … Kind of Blue, Sketches of Spain, Nefertiti, Bitches Brew, On The Corner, Jack Johnson plus the 1980s Warner ones (which are not in the set). Would I ever plough through the lot? Does anyone want around one hundred hours of trumpet playing? It has an encylopedia appeal. No, you won’t ever read it all, but it’s accessible if you need to.

The Complete Columbia Albums Collection

The Miles Davis box was advertised at £150 new in 2009. It’s still in print / available in 2020, though the price has gone up to £170.

Another thing about CDs, if we’re talking 1s and 0s, then a copy in full quality (on a Philips dedicated CD Recorder, which only records to CDR MUSIC CDs) should be just the same as an original. In Apple Lossless (say) on your computer it would be very very hard to discern a difference. So CD is replicable in a way that vinyl is not.

The rule about CDs was that secondhand dealers were wary: they might go up in price rapidly once they were deleted, but would crash back down when a new even more carefully remastered version came out with even more bonus tracks. A 2020 example is Hard Luck Stories a box set by Richard and Linda Thompson. It was £79.99. It sold out very fast indeed … they had under-estimated their own appeal. So, at the end of November there are no copies online, though HMV online has “Back in stock soon.” See amazon resellers:

I particularly liked the ‘Plus £1.26’ shipping on the £250 version. HMV were still promising it at £79.99 in the indefinite future. There’s one on eBay at £103.69 as I write. The trouble is, the instant they’re repressed and back in stock, that mark-up disappears forever.

Since Lockdown, the price of many CDs has risen sharply online. I assume fewer are being pressed, runs of CDs are selling out, people are spending time on their collections. It’s happening with DVDs and books too. It’s too soon to say whether it will last.

I don’t think that applies to box sets. The labels are careful to ensure different bonus tracks when an artist runs to several box sets. Also, the cost of any box set is based on the packaging, and printing of the booklet, and the addition of any extras. The actual CDs inside are a minor part of the equation. When you’re producing CDs or DVDs there is a fixed cost for the glass master. After that, the price difference per unit drops rapidly with quantity. It costs surprisingly little more to do 1000 copies instead of 500, and even more surprisingly less per unit as you move to 2000 or 10,000. To a degree that extends to print costs for the packaging, especially if there are elaborate booklets. It becomes tempting to order double the quantity you predict selling. (I say this ruefully having stacks of my own DVDs in the loft because 2000 was so little more than 1000.) That means there may be piles in warehouses … though companies do cost shelf space.

Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band: The Beatles, 50th Anniversary De Luxe Box set

Amazon has the Sergeant Pepper Anniversary Edition from 2017 (4 CD, Blu-ray, 144 page book) on sale new. It also has the Abbey Road Anniversary Edition from 2019 on sale new. As these are around the £75 – £80 mark, yes, secondhand copies will exceed Rare Record Price Guide’s CD above £30 mark. The Complete Stax Volt Singles box sets are on sale too. It’s not the role of a collectors price guide to list new items.

The Beach Boys Pet Sounds Sessions is available at £70.31 listed as new. Used ones are on sale around £40. The ones on display are in 12″ square boxes. Mine, bought when it came out is in a CD wide long box. There are two copies of Made in California 1962-2012 box set (6 CDs) at £169.99, new, but that is surely a premium on the original price. There are used ones at £59.99.

The box sets which have often added so much extra material, both in tracks, alternate versions and thick and expensive books of photos are Bob Dylan’s The Bootleg Sessions. They don’t seem to be attracting a premium either. Amazon have a “Discontinued by Manufacturer: No” line on the pages.

This might be as big as it goes. At £135.69 on amazon, that’s just over £5 a disc. It’s a bargain.

2021 box set.

Compare that to Let It Bleed – 50th Anniversary from The Rolling Stones. 2 LPs, 2 SACD hybrids, one 7″ single … £114.99.

See also:

THE BAND: Stage Fright 50th Anniversary Edition (reviewed on this site)