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The Potential Problem of Soundtrack Collectibility

1M1 12/1/99

By Jason Foster

Now that the second edition of Robert L. Smith's soundtrack price guide is available, it's time for collectors to once again confirm the value of their respective collections and wear out E-bay with ludicrous high-priced auctions. Don't get me wrong, I'm also anxious to get my copy of the new price guide and see where my collection stands. But the growing trend of outrageously high-priced soundtracks on the secondary market could potentially have a negative effect on the entire hobby.

Let's think about it, besides us, who really cares about the value of a soundtrack CD? My answer? Absolutely no one. I mean, it's unlikely that you'll convince someone to trade a rare Beatles record for your CD of THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK. In other words, outside of the soundtrack collector's loop, these CDs are no more valuable than any other CD. But having said that, this loop is constantly growing and, thus, the number of people willing to pay top dollar for a soundtrack is also growing. But hey, if someone's willing to pay $500 for a soundtrack, I guess that's their business. But I can't help but think if our little hobby is destined to go the way of the sports collectibles industry, which has now become a complete joke. If you're not familiar with that, let me give you a brief synopsis. Please bear with me, as I will eventually get to how this applies to soundtracks.

About ten years ago, collecting sports memorabilia was relatively simple. You could walk into a store and buy a pack of trading cards for under a dollar. Each pack contained around 15 cards and it was fun to get new cards and look them up in the price guide. Now fast-forward to the present and it's rare to get a single pack of cards for under $5.00 and there are now fewer cards in each pack. Why the big change? Simple -- the secondary market. And with that market came new "rules," for lack of a better word, on how things should work.

Such rules include the concept of having your collectibles "professionally graded," which basically amounts to you paying some company to tell you how much your stuff is worth. If it's a trading card, it's looked at very carefully and given a grade from 1-10, with 10 being the best and most valuable. Factors that go into the grading include things like the centering of the picture on the card and overall wear and tear. Then they put the card into a special holder and label it with the proper information to determine its worth.

Seems harmless, right? Well, here's the kicker. A card that has been professionally graded with fetch significantly more money and have more trade value on the secondary market. For instance, if you have an graded trading card in mint condition and put it up against a ungraded version of the same card, the difference in value could be anywhere from $100-$1,000 or more.

If you're wondering what the big deal is, here it is: people only want cards that have been professionally graded and anything less is hardly even attractive. Forget collecting for fun, or because you like sports -- it's all about the money. It's no longer a simple trading game between kids. Things are now seemingly created specifically with the secondary market in mind. Companies are banking on the idea that people will pay top dollar for something that they're told should be valuable. My fear is that over the next few years, such things will begin to creep into the wonderful world of soundtrack collecting. It's already out of hand with promo CDs going for $300, especially since they're not supposed to be sold at all. Could it get worse?

Wouldn't it be terrible if nobody would trade their copy of THE 'BURBS to you because you're copy of BABY'S DAY OUT wasn't "professionally graded?" Wouldn't it be terrible to have a "treasure chest" experience in a used CD store, only to discover that the rare CD you've found is only worth $25 ungraded, as opposed to $150 graded?

Can you imagine a record company releasing a soundtrack CD and intentionally having 500 copies autographed by the composer and randomly distributing them to stores throughout the world? With such a "contest," what would stop a record company from selling each copy of the CD, autographed or not, for double the normal price? Come to think of it, I'm kind of surprised that such a thing hasn't happened already because, as we all know, film music fans probably wouldn't think twice about taking the chance. If you were lucky enough to get one of the autographs, your CD could easily fetch $100 on the collector's market. Such things have already been done in the trading card industry. Why not with soundtracks?

Maybe we're just a few years away from special holding cases for rare CDs to insure that the cover is kept in pristine condition. Maybe it will get to the point where people keep CDs in their cases and never listen to them, for fear of somehow decreasing the value. Or maybe it will be best to only handle rare soundtracks with special gloves to avoid getting fingerprints on them. Sound crazy? Maybe a little. But you never know.

You might think that none of this applies to soundtracks, but hints of such things have already been around for a few years now. It's already stopped being about the music that's actually on the CD, and started being about the CD itself. I'll be the first to admit that I've acquired rare CDs before with the sole intention of using them to get something better -- either money or another rare CD. And sure, this type of thing is fun, but when does it become out of hand? I mean, why should it matter that the booklet part of a CD has a bent corner, as long as the most important part of the package -- the CD -- is okay?

I feel like somewhat of a hypocrite writing this because I too enjoy the collecting aspect of this hobby. I also used to enjoy collecting baseball cards, but the fun has been sucked completely out of that by some of the factors I've already mentioned. It's always fun to know you have something of value, but we have to remember that something's value is very subjective. And yes, soundtrack collecting is a long way from where the sports collectibles industry is right now, but I'd prefer that this hobby stays "pure," for lack of a better word. To be honest, I don't know for sure if these things will happen to this hobby. But it's still something to think about and be weary of. Right now, it's still fun. But how much longer will the fun last?


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