The big news for Pixies' fans is the fall release of Minotaur, a limited edition package that compiles the band's five studio albums (on vinyl, CD, DVD and Bluray), along with a concert DVD, two posters and a 54-page book of artwork – all in a lavish clamshell box. The price? $495. "You hear a lot of people say, 'Wow, this much for a box set?'" says Jeff Anderson, whose company, Artist in Residence, designed the package. "I say, 'Wait until you see it. Our stuff isn't cheap, but when you get it, you'll understand why.'"
The old-fashioned box set, once considered the height of rock-fan luxury, has been replaced by a new wave of supersize packages designed to pull in hardcore fans – and pump a little extra cash into the ailing music business. Neil Young's long-awaited Archives – 10 DVDs priced at $250 – recently arrived in stores, as did a $90 set from Green Day, a $60 Dave Matthews Band package (including 14 lithographs by the singer) and a $75 upgrade of Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood's Live From Madison Square Garden.
This spring, the Beastie Boys released a fabric-covered edition of 1992's Check Your Head on vinyl ($100). "I know this sounds corny, but you're talking about a record that someone's had a long-term relationship with," says Mike D. "People don't mind spending a bit more money to get a more in-depth version of that record."
These products are tiny, however, compared with other sets on their way: the Allman Brothers Band's Beacon Box (out in late June) is a 45-disc, $499 behemoth collecting every night of their 2009 stand at New York's Beacon Theatre. Miles Davis' complete Columbia recordings will be gathered in a 77-disc box.
For labels and stores, such packages can be risky endeavors. Sony has spent between $50 and several hundred dollars to produce each copy of its deluxe editions of Pearl Jam and Davis, among others. Store owners often hesitate to order multiple copies, fearing they'll be stuck with unsold units. "Usually you'll carry one and cross your fingers," says Dan Dow, owner of Used Kids Records in Columbus, Ohio. "I can probably think of two or three people who might buy one of these, regardless of the times."
Yet that niche audience – "the ultrafan," according to Legacy Recordings vice president Adam Block – is precisely what the labels have in mind. Legacy's recent "Collector's Edition Box Set" of Pearl Jam's Ten – stuffed with fan bait such as photo prints, an unreleased live recording and scribblings from Eddie Vedder's archives – sold 10,000 copies at $200 each. "When they're done right," says Block, "they can be highly profitable." The high cost of these sets, so far, doesn't seem to be hurting sales. Anderson has already heard complaints about the value of the Pixies box – which doesn't include any unreleased material – but claims he isn't worried. "If someone's that unsatisfied with it, send it back, because there'll be people in line to buy it," he says. "I'm positive of that."
In the surest sign that labels stand to make a profit off such engorged packages, a slew of deluxe editions are on the horizon. In August, the Stone Roses' 1989 debut will be expanded with two extra discs of music; Young's Archives Vol. 2 is due in 2010.
Pearl Jam and the Beastie Boys are already eyeing megaboxes devoted to other albums in their catalogs. "It's the musical equivalent of a coffee-table book," says Mike D. "We should get really ambitious and have it be the whole coffee table."
This story is from the July 9th, 2009 issue of Rolling Stone.
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