CEMA Changes Its Tune Against Used CDs : Music: Garth Brooks’ distributor reverses itself, says stores dealing in the secondhand goods can order his new album.


Country music superstar Garth Brooks has apparently backed down on his pledge to withhold his new album from stores that sell used compact discs.

CEMA, the company that distributes Brooks’ music, began notifying used-CD merchants Thursday that they could place orders for Brooks’ upcoming “In Pieces” album. The action was a reversal of the firm’s original retaliatory policy issued in writing Aug. 5.

Representatives for Brooks--who last month said he opposed secondhand CD sales because artists aren’t paid royalties on such transactions--declined to comment.


Executives at CEMA, which is owned by Thorn-EMI, did not return phone calls, but sources at the company said the distribution firm has been under pressure from within to back off its staunch position against used-CD sellers for about a week, primarily due to the negative press the policy has generated.

CEMA and three other major record firms--Time Warner’s WEA, Matsushita’s UNI and Sony Music Distribution--are under investigation by the Federal Trade Commission and have been the target of several antitrust lawsuits related to their policies against used CDs.

The most prominent case involves Wherehouse Entertainment, which started the brouhaha over secondhand CDs when it began selling them in December. In a multimillion-dollar antitrust suit in Los Angeles federal court, Wherehouse charges that the four record conglomerates conspired to “unreasonably restrain trade” by eliminating advertising and promotional allowances to retailers who sell used CDs.

Last month, Brooks’ stance against used CDs so infuriated West Coast consumers that hundreds of fans last week roasted the singer’s albums in protest, staging “Garth Buck$ BAR-B-Qs” from Seattle to Los Angeles--including one bonfire at Silver Lake-based Rockaway Records.

Insiders predicted that CEMA would be slapped with additional litigation if Brooks made good on his promise to withhold “In Pieces” to all used-CD merchants.

Brooks’ latest move may prove embarrassing to executives at the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, who Wednesday publicly trashed used-CD merchants and announced their support for Brooks and other such opponents.


“We see this as a victory for all of Garth’s fans, including those who enjoy purchasing used CDs,” said Bruce Jesse, vice president of marketing communications for Wherehouse.

“The law does not allow CEMA to exclude a retailer from purchasing the Garth CD just because they are in the used-CD business,” Jesse said.

Used CDs sound just as good as new ones and usually cost about half as much. Industry surveys indicate that nearly half the nation’s “active” record buyers have purchased at least one used CD in 1993--at prices ranging from $1 to $9.

Record executives oppose the expansion of the used-CD market because they fear such transactions will reduce purchases of new products and may also diminish the perceived value of the industry’s biggest moneymaking audio format. Sales of compact discs totaled more than $5 billion in sales in 1992.