When news came this morning that The National will be releasing a deluxe edition of High Violet, the outstanding album they released just a few short months ago, I reacted the same way I react every single time I read that a band I like is doing something like this: I rolled my eyes and said, out loud, to no one in particular, “Ugh.”
They’ve rubbed me the wrong way for as long as I can remember, and I’ve said as much in this very space many times before. So this time, I figured I’d turn to a local record label owner (who’s asked to remain anonymous) to see if he had any insights that might change my mind.
The L: Oh, hey, so… expanded, deluxe versions of recently released albums—what is the deal?
Anonymous Record Label Owner: Like what?
The L: Well, National was announced this morning. Grizzly bear did it. Dirty projectors did it.
ARLO: It’s called a cash grab
The L: Who the fuck buys that shit, though?
ARLO: I think the point is you get superfans to buy again, and if the band got big on that record, or bigger, it gives folks who may have downloaded early on, or seen them but dont have the record, a little more incentive to buy. But it’s a fucking sad last gasp if you ask me. And its sort of a fuck you to people that bought your record in the first place.
So no, no minds being changed here. And it’s got me thinking: how much can these stupid things really help, anyway? It’s actually really hard to say. The way SoundScan works, sales of deluxe editions get tacked onto the sales numbers for the original release, so the best we can do is look at the increase in sales when the expanded version comes out.
For example, Grizzly Bear’s Veckatimest has sold 190,279 copies to date. The week the deluxe edition came out, it sold 3,975, a 45% increase from the week before. It’s a substantial bump, sure, but by a couple weeks later, weekly totals were back down to their usual 2500. It’s possible, of course, that those numbers would have fallen off more quickly were it not for the special edition, but it seems safe to say, in this case anyway, it probably only increased sales by a few thousand. The question, then, is this: Are profits from those few thousand copies really worth alienating the hundred and some-odd thousand people who buy these things before the fancy versions come out? It would seem to me that at this particular moment in time, when fewer people than ever are buying records at all, devaluing the ones they do go out and buy is not a great idea.