So first, the good news, courtesy of the A.V. Club: Bob Dylan is putting out The Bootleg Series Vol 8.
This one — subtitled Tell Tale Signs — concentrates on rare and unreleased music from 1989 – 2006, and can actually be seen as a companion to the very first Bootleg Series, especially since one of the songs on Tell Tale Signs is another version of “Series of Dreams,” one of the more talked-about tracks from that first collection, put out nearly 20 years ago.
It probably goes without saying that I love Dylan’s Bootleg Series discs, even if they contain songs I’ve already heard, because not only is the quality top-notch, there are always surprises. I’m very much looking forward to discovering what this one has in store. Best of all, as anybody who has the Genuine Basement Tapes knows, there’s always more where that came from.
Yet, this time, there is a problem.
One of smarter things that the record labels have done in order to combat piracy is to come up with multiple configurations of records, each of which has some enticement for fans to purchase the physical object instead of waiting for it to show up on bittorrent or an .mp3 blog. Therefore, Bootleg Series Vol. 8 comes in three flavors:
- There is a two-CD version with 27 songs, and a 60-page booklet, retailing for $18.99
- There is a four-disc vinyl version with 27 songs, and the same 60-page booklet for $99.99. (Ironic how vinyl is the prestige format these days, so they feel like they can get away with charging $25.00 per album. That’s a whole lot extra to pay for your comforting analog warmth.)
- There is a three CD-version with 39 songs, the 60 page booklet, a 7″ single and a really nice-looking 150 page photobook of the sleeves of all of his records for $129.99.
See the problem? If, at the end of the day, all I want is the music of Bob Dylan on Compact Disc, I have two choices: I can have 27 songs for $18.99, or I can have 39 songs for $129.99 — over $100 dollars more!
How does that make any sense? Sure, there’s a beautiful photobook and all, but I’d look at it once or twice and file it away forever.
Given the fact that part of the purpose of The Bootleg Series was to monetize the insatiable appetites of Dylan freaks — us crazies who gladly parted money for the official version of the infamous “Royal Albert Hall” concert despite having memorized it from our bootlegs — how does it make any sense whatsoever to make a single disc’s worth of music cost over $100?
Why isn’t there a 3-CD option for, say, $26.99? I’d pay that in a second. But I don’t even have the option. It’s either $18.99 or $129.99.
How is making this disc an instant collectible going to do anything but ensure that people are going to find alternate means of acquiring that music?
The answer: it’s not. It will, in fact, lead to more piracy. All it takes is a single person who paid full price to post it. Or an early leak of the whole thing. And the places that post it will post all three discs, and there will be some people who end up downloading all three discs and not even bothering to purchase even the two-disc version.
It’s entirely possible that this attempt to get people to pay more money for music that is artificially and arbitrarily made scare could actually depress the sales of the legitimate CDs.
My suggestion: even if it’s too late in the overall process to add the third CD to the cheaper package, make those songs available to purchase as downloads from Amazon or Rhapsody or iTunes Plus. Let the people pay extra for the photobook, if they want, but if you’re going to make the music legit, let his fans have legitimate access to it at a reasonable price.
We’ll gladly pay it.