Saturday, June 19, 2004

Planet of Sound


Public librarians aren't prone to looking gift horses in the mouth, but many have nevertheless been taken aback by the odd and in some cases overly generous allotments of free music CDs that have begun arriving in the last week as the result of the settlement of an antitrust lawsuit against major record companies.

The CD cornucopia - consisting of approximately 5.6 million compact discs - was billed as a windfall for libraries and schools when it was announced in September 2002 as part of a $144 million settlement of the lawsuit, which alleged that music distribution companies illegally inflated the price of CDs by requiring retailers to sell them at or above a set level in order to qualify for substantial advertising funding.

But when the first shipments began arriving last week, some librarians suspected that the companies - the Bertelsmann Music Group, EMI Music Distribution, Warner-Elektra-Atlantic, Warner Music Group and Sony Music Entertainment - were dumping CDs that had been gathering dust in warehouses when they received hundreds of copies of some titles for which there is little or no demand.


Among them are the librarians at the Tacoma (Wash.) Public Library, who last week received a shipment of 1,325 CDs that included 57 copies of "Three Mo' Tenors," a 2001 recording featuring classically trained African American tenors Roderick Dixon, Thomas Young and Victor Trent Cook; 48 copies of country artist Mark Wills' 2001 album "Loving Every Minute," 47 copies of "Corridos de Primera Plana," a greatest hits compilation by Los Tuscanes de Tijuana (2000); 39 copies of "Yolanda Adams Christmas" (2000); 37 copies of Michael Crawford's "A Christmas Album" (1999) and 34 copies of the Bee Gees' "This Is Where I Came In" (2001).


Eva Silverstone, communications director for the Spokane Public Library, said the library in eastern Washington received many copies of "Three Mo' Tenors" among its 1,325 CDs, along with "tons of copies of Christina Aguilera's Christmas album." All told, she said, 15 titles represented 36 percent of the shipment.


The public library in Worcester, Mass., with a main library and two branches, received 150 copies of "Nastradamus," a 1999 album by the rapper Nas, and 148 copies of "Entertainment Weekly's Greatest Hits of 1971."


The Des Moines (Iowa) Public Library was on track to take the lead in redundancies, though the identification of the programming bug may come in time to avert what might have been a record overkill. Its crate of 2,647 CDs, due to arrive in the next couple weeks, was listed as containing 430 single-song discs – 16 percent of the total -- of Whitney Houston singing "The Star Spangled Banner" at the 1991 Super Bowl, according to Steve Cox, of the Iowa State Library.


"We've been wondering if we're going to get 12,000 Yanni CDs," said Wallace Hoffsis, director of collections development for the Sacramento (Calif.) Public Library.

Turns out that it was just a computer glitch that shuffled all these stinkers off to the libraries but still, what is one to do with 430 copies of "Star Spangled Banner," as mangled by the crack-addled warbling of Whitney Houston?

link via Neil Gaiman.


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