ARTS / Cries & Whispers

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The Independent Culture
EVER SINCE the launch of the hugely successful BBC Music Magazine, there has been bad feeling between the BBC and the record industry - caused by the way the magazine is marketed. Interdependent as they are, the record industry and the BBC have never liked each other much, and hostilities have been simmering since BBC Enterprises roused itself from years of torpor and started to market its own radio tapes with a degree of seriousness. When the BBC Music Magazine appeared last year, offering a free CD of complete works (as opposed to sampler snatches) with every copy, the record companies were not happy; and they weren't consoled by the random quality of the free discs. If BBC Music Magazine buyers couldn't distinguish a good performance from a poor one (and there was every reason to think they couldn't), they would be pleased enough with their freebie not to want another version of the same thing. Consequence: lost sales. So far, record companies have merely gnashed their teeth, but things are hotting up because the BBC threatens to market what will doubtless be a highly profitable tape catalogue of Benjamin Britten performing his own works. Britten effectively belongs to Decca, which nurtured him (to the company's eternal credit) through times when he was far from a commercial proposition and, in return, secured from him an exclusive recording deal. Whether Decca can enforce this deal against the BBC, which wasn't a party to it, is a matter for lawyers. Either way, it promises to be an almighty scrap.

ASSUMING the Select Committee on National Heritage stuck to its revised timetable, its inquiry into CD prices, scheduled for earlier in the month, will have kicked off last week with contributions from our erstwhile allies, the Consumers' Association and the managers of Simply Red and Dire Straits. Next to give evidence are the shops - and they will no doubt be spitting and fuming. Still to forgive Woolworth's for breaking ranks by offering lower prices than the rest (as reported last week the chain store has knocked a quid off the Top 50), the industry is now turning the screw on W H Smith. Its crime? Wimpishness, apparently. W H Smith has submitted written evidence to the committee calling on record companies to knock a pound off dealer prices, saying it would pass the reduction on to the customer. It sounds reasonable enough, but this altruistic request has provoked an angry, if understated, response from the British Phonographic Industry: 'The company needs to appear more aggressive.' According to Music Week, the music industry faces 'the most public row in its history'. Let's hope so. Meanwhile, please don't pay the full price if you can help it.