I have a ridiculous number of box sets in my collection with more and more of them consisting of deluxe vinyl reissues. As an obsessive collector, I’m easily tempted to spend $100 or $200 on a box, but will balk at anything higher. For example, I desperately wanted a Pixies set but at over $750 USD, that was just way too rich. (For a list of the most-expensive box sets ever released, go here.)
Record labels love box sets. It gives them a chance to exploit their vast catalogue holdings by creating high-margin product hardcore fans will crawl over broken glass to buy. And the subject doesn’t need mainstream appeal. In fact, cult-y bands can be very profitable. There’s a box for the Pretty Things’ S.F. Sorrow that’s absolutely brilliant and gorgeous. And if you have to ask the price, you (a) can’t afford it; or (b) not enough of a fan.
But how long can this mania for box sets go? Billboard takes a look.
In early 2014, Legacy Recordings, Sony Music Entertainment’s catalog division, manufactured about 3000 copies of a 3-CD box set devoted to Michael Bloomfield, a second-generation blues guitarist. Bloomfield is influential — he had played with Bob Dylan and Paul Butterfield, but the albums he put out under his own name only sold a few thousand copies in the U.S. in 2013, according to Nielsen Music. So Legacy executives were surprised when their Bloomfield set, From His Head to His Heart to His Hands, sold so well that they had to manufacture more within a month. The set, which also includes a DVD documentary, has now sold more than 9,000 copies.
Some of the hottest new music is old music—in elaborate, and sometimes expensive, new boxes. During the third week of November, the No. 1 title on Billboard’s Top Rock Albums chart was The Cutting Edge, a two-CD set of 50-year-old recordings by Dylan. It sold 14,000 copies (according to Nielsen Music), impressive for a catalog release in the age of streaming. Even more impressive: A six-CD version that cost more than $100 sold 6,000 units, and a gargantuan 18-CD Collector’s Edition, available on Dylan’s website for $600, sold 2,000.