I talked previously about my reservations about remastering as a concept. But remastered albums often come with a second string to their bow, the special edition. Rather than just offering a slightly louder version of the original album, who wouldn’t want a bonus disc in snazzy packaging, with a full set of b-sides, videos, live recordings, and photos?
Welcome to the world of “special,” or “deluxe” editions. You, the fan, are happy to rush out and buy yet another copy of something you already own half a dozen times, just to get the latest remaster or bonus. This is, in a way, all part of the game that consumers play.
A rather different proposition is the special edition of an album which has barely been on the market for a year. How many times have you dashed out to buy something on its first week of release and then, just a few months later, discovered that there’s now a slightly nicer version available? Do you double dip, replace the original, or just steer clear?
It seems a fundamental betrayal of your fanbase in a way, to punish those who bought the album originally. You can see how the artists might be keen – they get to release another product, this time jam packed with extras – but it seems it’s only really the record company who’s the winner.
When the special edition comes out alongside the original, the fans are delighted – in fact, when Pet Shop Boys self-released their latest album Electric, many of their followers were disappointed at the lack of special edition. This seems a strange state of affairs in many ways – after all, the very release of a new album should really be special enough in and of itself, but apparently it’s very easy for hardcore fans to be trained to expect to want to pay more for a slightly different version of the same product.
Even more bizarrely, the practice continues even now – downloads are now available in deluxe form, with added booklets and videos. You can’t doubt that people will be willing to pay the extra price, but is it really worth the cost? It seems unlikely.
Counterintuitively, trying to kill the practice off altogether would probably lead to a much more stagnant music market – we, as music buyers are consumers, much as we might like to see ourselves as something more, so we have our own role to play too.
But, as with all of the posts in this series, this is certainly another example of a way in which the music business has seen itself as an industry, churning out more and more of the same product to the undiscerning buying public.