It's Your Money, Not Theirs: A Public Service Announcement

Written by: Zer0

Every three or four months, the Japanese record labels have their "seasonal" release - their Spring love song, their upbeat Summer party song, their nostalgic Autumn mid-tempo number, and the essential Winter ballad. They all seem to come out at once, and many record labels release multiple versions of singles and albums, often with different artwork, different tracklists, and different first-press bonus extras. This leads to a rash of complaints. They're pretty predictable. They all go something like this:

"The record company is sucking us dry!"
"So expensive... they're stealing my money!"
"mean money-grubbing record label!! I'M GONNA GO BROKE!"
"The record execs are awful, releasing all these versions of singles!!"
"A concert DVD and a new single IN THE SAME DAY!? So EVIL!!"

With the most recent single releases by Hamasaki Ayumi, alan, and Amuro Namie especially, these complaints have been common this Summer. Now, those complaints are almost always followed up with

"Why doesn't CDJapan have the CD up for pre-order yet?? ONLY A MONTH AND A HALF TILL IT'S OUT!!"
"I ordered all 3 versions of the single AND the DVD!! I'm gonna be soooo broke but I'm so excited!!"
"omg the cover art is sooooo pretty *_* i dunno wut the song sounds like but omg i gotta buy it now!"

Uh, what?

Let's make a checklist of what you're doing here. You're taking time & energy out of your day to go online and pay for a product. You have not heard sound clips or a radio rip of the song yet. In many cases, you have not even seen the cover artwork. You just know there's something coming out by your favorite artist, and because it exists, you MUST have it. But somehow you're angry at the record company selling the single? You DO see how dumb that is, right?

Most of the time, the complainer-slash-buyer in question really has not heard the songs or seen the covers yet.  Hilariously, the CD is sometimes even being purchased solely on the basis of the cover, not the music or videos included, which is entertaining to see from the outside.

Let me use Ayu's new single & DVD release, just released on July 14th, as an example to tell you how this is going to play out, folks.

CrazyPerson408 has pre-ordered all three versions of the "MOON/blossom" single, plus the DVD of Countdown Live 2009-2010. Reasonably, this ended up being a total cost of just about $150 (since naturally CrazyPerson408 had to spend the extra money on the fastest possible shipping). His plan is to leave all of these CDs & DVDs in the plastic wrap because they're "collectible" and absolutely MUST remain pristine.

On the day of release, he downloaded all the content included on these releases, since he can't possibly open up the packages when they arrive (which still won't be for another day or two). Unfortunately, CrazyPerson408 regrets his impulsive money-spending tendencies, having now decided that he's dissatisfied with the full version of that "Don't look back" remix and, upon closer inspection, these cover photos make his dear Ayumi Hamasaki just look awful. He also forgets to watch the Countdown Live concert very often, and it collects dust. This is okay with him, since Ayu looks sorta like a man on the cover anyway. CrazyPerson408 is content to let this stuff just sit there, basically, after he's spent a hundred and fifty dollars on it. But dammit, he's supporting his favorite artist! Isn't that all that matters?


Fast-forward a few months or a few years. This crazy person's devoted fandom will have died down considerably, and CrazyPerson408 will eventually decide that Ayu has let him down for the last time. What happens then? Well, this insane die-hard fan who simply HAD to own everything within 24 hours of release will quickly want to clear shelf space for Amuro Namie releases. He'll decide to sell his (thankfully still wrapped) Ayumi Hamasaki CDs and DVDs, because rent is due in a week, and besides, he'd really like to take his new girlfriend to that Japanese restaurant that just opened up. He heard they had really good sushi.

UsernameHasNothingToDoWithAyu, who has a life, understands money is better spent on food, necessities, and clothing that makes her feel good about herself than CDs full of low-quality half-assed crap. They would just stay in the wrapping anyway, and she doesn't buy CDs as decorations. She has paintings for that. UsernameHasNothingToDoWithAyu will have decided ages before this that "blossom" is one of her all-time favorite Ayumi Hamasaki songs, the "Microphone" remix rocks, and the "MOON" pv is amazing. She purchases from CrazyPerson408 a brand-new copy of the CD+DVD version of "MOON/blossom" for a mere $15 plus shipping, so about $17 total is spent by her. This purchase will bring her just as much satisfaction as it brought CrazyPerson408, and she'll be very excited to finally have this CD since she's waited so long to get it. She will quite literally get the same amount of happiness for 90% off.

Assuming CrazyPerson408 is lucky enough that all his July 14th Ayu releases sell for a similar percentage off the original, he only gets $70 back of his $150. That's an over 50% loss if CrazyPerson408 is lucky. More than half of the money CrazyPerson408 spent goes nowhere but the record company's pockets.

And why, CrazyPerson408? Why are you out $80 after this? Is it because avex are a big evil greedy company trying to steal your money?

NO! It's because avex is a well-run business that knows what you're willing to pay for. Any business that's worth anything, any business that survives, gives the public what they want at a price they're willing to pay. If you're willing to pay $150 for all those releases, then that's what you're going to spend. These companies are simply using good business practices. They know that you want EVERYTHING and you want it right now. They know you demand every track on every version of the CD, whether you've heard those tracks or not. They know you want the first-press bonus postcard that costs them one yen to manufacture. They know the contents don't really matter to you, either - you want it JUST TO HAVE IT. Which means they get away with making inferior products time and time again.

You all use the guise of "supporting the artist." If you really supported the artist, you'd only buy what was good, and not just blindly buy everything they release. Why? Because the artist needs to know when they're doing their job properly and when they're not. When an artist does an album that's of sub-par quality, sales should reflect that. When they do something incredible, sales should skyrocket. But when crazy fans just buy everything, the sales are flat from one single to the next, from one album to the next. All it does is make the world think that an artist's fans are crazy lemmings, following their idol blindly and making no conscious, objective decisions of their own. That makes you AND the artist look bad.

Also, keep in mind these CDs are NOT investments. Sure, take reasonable care of your CDs - clean them, keep them in the cases, get those little sticky felt things to put in the tray so they don't get scratched. But don't keep them in the plastic. These CDs will decline in value over time unless they're extremely rare. Even supposedly rare releases can be seen for 500 yen or less at Book-Off. Even CDs still in new shape will sell for 1000 yen or less on Yahoo! Auctions Japan. Don't "collect" regular CD and DVD releases - it's not worth the money you're spending.

So if record labels aren't evil, why do they keep doing these multiple releases on the same day? Because the fans will keep buying it. If you really hate the fact that record companies do alternate covers, first-press bonuses, and shifted tracklists, then simply stop paying for the releases that do this. They don't hear your complaints on forums. You could whine on Facebook until you're blue in the face, but they only see the money coming in and going out. If they lose money doing this, they'll stop doing it. That's how businesses work. It's fairly simple.

You can take action against these practices if you don't like them - you're the consumers. You have options. Wait until you've heard a release before putting down money for it, for one thing. Be objective about your purchasing decisions and base them on the content of the release. It would also serve you well to wait and see how much of the singles' content will be on a future album. Buy overseas pressings - the quality is comparable as long as the release is officially licensed. Buy copies of the album that are lightly used from your fellow fans, eBay, Yahoo!, or Amazon. As for the first-pressing bonuses, find out what they are before making a choice, and then ask yourself, "am I willing to spend $15-20 on a postcard? On a sticker? On a poster?" If you're willing to do that, fine, make your purchase.

But either be objective and careful with how you spend your money, or stop complaining about the record labels robbing you. They're not draining your wallet, YOU are.