Used CDs: Music Fans, Musicians Benefit

Bob Niccum is a part-time songwriter and musician who lives in Buena Park

Next time you're ready for a new automobile, just push your old one over a cliff. For heaven's sake, don't sell it to a friend who needs a used car. You'll be putting auto workers out of work if you do.

That's the line of thinking that record companies and artists like Garth Brooks are asking us to follow in their campaign against stores that sell used compact discs ("Wherehouse Ups Ante in Used CDs," Calendar, June 29; "Brooks' Boycott," Calendar Morning Report, July 1). Brooks intends to keep his CDs out of such stores, and record companies are putting similar pressure on chains that carry secondhand music.

If publishers launched a crusade to eliminate used-book stores, the reading public would be outraged--as soon as they stopped laughing at the idea. But major record companies, popular artists like Brooks and where-are-they-now? relics like Paul Anka get serious press coverage from their efforts to dictate what their customers can do with the products they've purchased.

Remember, we're not talking about making copies of CDs. What record companies want to stop you from doing is trading in a disc you previously paid for and that you no longer want.

Perhaps the industry believes its products are so good that a listener should never tire of a CD. Undoubtedly, the executives of these firms have large homes with unlimited storage space to keep all of the possessions they no longer use. For whatever reason, they want to restrain you from selling an old CD the way you would any other item you no longer need.

What do they intend to accomplish? It's very simple: The big record companies and the highly paid artists want to keep the price of CDs as high as possible. With higher prices, firms can bid more for the handful of blockbuster artists with guaranteed markets. Of course the resulting mega-million-dollar deals then create a justification for even higher prices on those artists' releases. Companies get flagship acts. Rich stars get wealthier. Everyone wins.

Except the music fan and the aspiring musician. With a $30 monthly budget for recordings, a listener can buy two $15 discs. If CD prices were in line with those for tapes (or used CDs), the customer could buy three or more recordings a month, making a greater variety of music available to the listener. The market for music would expand considerably.

Instead, record companies tie their fates and finances to a very limited group of artists, leaving little time or money for developing new artists. Risk-averse companies cannot deal with musicians whose recordings might be of interest to "only" a few hundred thousand listeners.

To develop a following, singers and musicians must be heard. As a musician, I would far rather have my music spread among people who were interested enough to purchase a used recording of mine than to have tapes of tapes passed from friend to friend. I would look to the future market for my work being enhanced by the increased availability and affordability of my efforts.

Record stores serve the best interests of everyone in the recording industry when they get as many potential customers as possible into a store. A person who comes to look through used CDs may discover a new release or may hear an exciting new artist being played on the sound system.

Without question, companies deserve profits and artists should be rewarded heavily for their contributions. But we must draw the line at the stupendous greed and disregard for the public manifested in the current campaign to ban sales of used CDs. Hey, you folks: Why not refocus your efforts on producing some music so exciting that no one can wait for a used copy?

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