Is this increasingly popular trend here to stay?
Written by Andrew Martin (@Andrew_J_Martin)
Deluxe editions and re-releases are nothing new in the music world.
For years, fans have shelled out extra bucks for shiny packaging, extra goodies, and bonus tracks not heard on the “standard” release. But these days, it seems like more and more artists (and their labels) are looking to cash in on the idea of an “exclusive” release or something that’s essentially the same album with a new coat of paint.
In a way, albums have gone the way of the movie re-release with the dreaded DD, a.k.a. double dipping. In some cases, we’re even seeing the triple or quadruple dip.
Deluxe editions are, in theory, perfectly fine. Die-hard fans will pay whatever they can for anything new. But the problem is that today's special-edition releases have given way to another, ugly, altogether unfortunate monster. The store-specific release. The latest and most egregious occurrence of this was with Kendrick Lamar’s new album, good kid, m.A.A.d. city. If you want, you can purchase the standard version, finish the record listening to “Compton,” and call it a day.
If you want to enjoy every single piece of the album, you’ll have to purchase and/or stream three different copies of the same damn album. I shit you not—there are three “exclusive” versions of this release available via Spotify, iTunes, and Target; the deluxe edition makes four. Where they vary is in the bonus tracks, which range from leftovers with Mary J. Blige to Black Hippy remixes of songs like “The Recipe” and “Swimming Pools (Drank).”
This move would make sense…if you’re completely out of touch with the purchasing habits of music listeners. We don’t have to tell you that album sales are down. We also don’t have to tell you that the economy remains in a shit-hole. Yes, some folks will gobble everything up in a gluttonous attempt to be a “true fan,” but most will shrug their shoulders, head to Google, and get their piracy on. Not that we condone that, of course.
What we’re talking about is when an album receives a minor facelift by way of some additional tracks and gets re-branded as something new with a fancy name attached to it. What artists like Eminem and Lady Gaga pioneered with Relapse's Refill and The Fame Monster.
An equally rampant move by labels in the past few years is the re-release. And no, that’s not referring to out-of-print albums being re-pressed on CD or vinyl for a new generation of listeners to fall in love with. That’s a reissue. What we’re talking about is when an album receives a minor facelift by way of some additional tracks and gets re-branded as something new with a fancy name attached to it. It's what artists like Eminem and Lady Gaga, in some ways, pioneered with Relapse's Refill and The Fame Monster, respectively.
On November 7, Lana Del Rey’s mostly well-received debut album, Born to Die, dropped as Born to Die — Paradise Edition. This arrives just about 11 months after the original version hit shelves. So, what did this self-described paradise mean for the Lana faithful? Eight new songs, one of them a “Blue Velvet” cover, and another boasting that her vagina tastes like Pepsi, which her fans lapped right up, to the tune of 67,000 first-week units, a mere 10,000 less than the original's opening week sales.
And, as you might have guessed, there’s an iTunes-specific version of the re-release featuring an extra track. But, because that’s clearly not enough, those same eight tracks on the Paradise Edition have been transformed into the Paradise EP, which, of course, you can buy at Target and also hear two exclusive remixes. So, who not just release the EP instead of the re-release? Good question.
Nicki Minaj—or her label, Young Money/Cash Money/Universal Republic, rather—is equally guilty of double-dipping. The Young Money queen’s Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded — The Re-Up came out on November 19, a mere seven months after the original (which was a “reload” of her 2010 debut Pink Friday).
Like Del Rey, Minaj threw eight new tracks on her re-release, though she also went a step further by adding even more extraneous content.The first disc contains all the new material while you’ll find the original album’s tracks on the third disc. What’s on the second disc, you’re wondering? A DVD of behind-the-scenes footage from concerts, studio sessions, and everything else she’s been up to these past few months.
Where Minaj's re-release differs from Del Rey's, though, is in its reception, not by fans but by retailers. The Re-Up only sold around 34,000 copies in its first week and there's a pretty good reason for that: Minaj says that Target and Wal-Mart aren't selling the album because previous re-releases haven't done well at the mega-retail stores. And even though Best Buy chose to carry it, it did so in a limited quantity for the same reasons. It should go without saying that you're not going to do that well sales-wise if your album isn't sitting on the shelves of the world's biggest retailers. Comparably, Katy Perry's Teenage Dream re-release sold less—33,000—with more support.
The Re-Up only sold around 34,000 copies in its first week and there's a pretty good reason for that: Minaj says that Target and Wal-Mart aren't selling the album because previous re-releases haven't done well at the mega-retail stores.
While Future, too, has hopped on the re-release bandwagon with Pluto 3D, he’s gone a different and possibly more interesting route. Rather than toss all his new tracks onto a bonus disc, he’s weaving them into the original tracklisting of Pluto, which first dropped back in April. The re-release arrives November 27 with three never-before-heard tracks—”First Class Flights,” “Jealous,” and “My”—and two remixes you’re likely familiar with, especially the Diddy and Ludacris-featured version of “Same Damn Time.”
The album now has a totally new sequencing and, in a way, takes on a whole new life. Whether or not this proves successful remains to be seen (or heard, rather), but re-releases of this nature could allow an artist to present their product twice in a wholly different manner. But still, it’s not clear whether or not enough people will care (i.e. purchase said project) to hear how that pans out.
Outdoing all of these re-releases and deluxe editions, however, is Rihanna—who herself scrapped a Loud re-release last year—and the verbosely titled, extravagant “Diamonds Executive Platinum Box” version of her new album, Unapologetic.
Set to drop December 11, the thing is loaded with collectibles—a T-shirt, seven art-print lithographs, a record housing “Diamonds” remixes, stickers, a fan mosaic poster, a special Unapologetic-branded USB drive, and it goes on. The price-tag is a hefty one at $250, and Rihanna deserves some credit embracing a release trend of her era at the highest level, but how many fans will really fork over a quarter grand to, above all else, hear songs that are streaming for free on YouTube? Compounded by the fact that these special editions don't traditionally perform well, is it worth keeping re-releases around?
Because the sales of re-releases count towards the sales of the original project, labels and artists certainly seem to think so. This is a time in the record industry where every bit of profit has to be squeezed out of a music release. Selling 34,000—and eventually more, as the holiday shopping season wears on—copies of The Re-Up may seem marginal, but margins matter. Those are units that wouldn't have been moved otherwise, that are now able to, with minimal effort from the involved parties.
In a mad grab at every available dollar, an opportunity to benefit from the lull between an artist's recording spurts has presented itself, and the attempts to gain from this phenomenon are going to get a lot crazier before they disappear. At least we can always look forward to getting new songs added to our favorite albums a few months down the line. If we get to hear new records, and they're good, the music fan ultimately wins, no matter how profit-driven the motives behind a re-release are. It's called the music business for a reason.