Box Sets Face Uncertain Future

Box Sets Face Uncertain Future
Look at almost any report on music sales and you will see CDs on the decline. But what about when they come packaged as a group, when they come as some fancy high-ticket box set? Well, according to some retailers, the future seems to be even more grim for these hefty multi-disc collections.

Sales of box sets are reportedly down — way down — a recent Billboard article has reported, causing several labels to be reluctant about releasing them at all. "Boxed-set sales have fallen off the cliff; they went from something to nothing," Bryan Everitt, director of music purchasing at U.S. retail chain Hastings Entertainment, said in an interview with Billboard. "This Christmas we will have a limited selection of boxed sets, the slimmest we have ever offered. Unless the majors seriously look at reducing the price of the boxed set — they still think they should cost $39.98 or $49.98 — sales will continue to slide."

And by looking at the sales figures tracked by Nielsen SoundScan, these worries over the future of the sets seem well-founded. The last time there was a "hit” box set was in 2004, when Nirvana’s With the Lights Out sold 504,000 units.

However, with some notable sets by the Jesus & Mary Chain, Neil Young and Jane’s Addiction slated for later this year, not everyone is so pessimistic. "Boxed sets are alive and well as long as you're realistic about your expectations and who the ultimate consumer is," a sales executive who works with one of the majors told Billboard. "There are some artists where you can sell 50,000 units but there are others where you might reach the 15,000-20,000 range, so you have to plan your P&L [profit and loss] accordingly."

Also, while high box-set prices are a concern among retailers, a large dollar amount doesn’t necessarily mean low sales or profits. Newbury Comics head of purchasing Carl Mello pointed to Nine Inch Nails Ghosts I-IV, which sold 2,500 copies at a price of $300 a pop. Mello also cited the new version of U2’s The Joshua Tree, which sold 37,000 units of the high-end deluxe version at $59.98 U.S., while the regular version sold 123,000 at $29.98 U.S.

"Everything is relative," a major label exec said. "In this environment, you move with the marketplace. So you change your expectations and watch cost much more closely."