Chapter and verse for music lovers

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The Independent Online
As publishing concepts go it doesn't sound promising. Sure, there is a certain logic to putting together a CD and a complementary book. But who was going to pay a realistic price for a compilation accompanied by a pamphlet giving the listener all those details that fans so love about their favourite tunes? Especially when record shops are full of discount hit collections.

That, at least, is what the publishers approached by Robin Gibson in the early 1990s thought. The only way that they could envisage the idea working would be to reduce the cost of producing the package by abandoning his dreams of a high-quality publication. And he refused to do that. He had seen too many similar projects fail because their perpetrators had failed to realise that both sides of the package had to work. Moreover, just as the record shops are packed with compilation records, so stalls are full of magazines with CDs attached to them.

But, like many another would-be entrepreneur he was not easily dissuaded. Shortly afterwards he and Rob Deacon set up their own publishing venture in the sterotypical front room.

At the end of this month an idea that the experts said would not work celebrates its fifth anniversary and the offices, in a couple of ramshackle rooms in a central London mews, now house 12 people instead of the original two.

The CD packages, some of them containing two discs and all accompanied by a 100-page book, have been translated into French and Japanese and are sold all over the world. The pair do not talk about turnover figures or profits but say that they make enough to pay everybody involved, including their freelance writers, a proper amount.

Volume, as the concept is called, is clearly a labour of love but there is a commercial nous to what they are doing.

To celebrate the milestone the 17th volume will be released worldwide with a track listing featuring "some of the most important artists in the British music scene over the past 12 months". But impressively detailed as the books are, serving as both general introductions for the uninitiated and maps to the interior for the true aficionados, the key probably lies in the track selection.

The organisation takes great trouble to obtain material that is either new or in a different version from that which has previously been available. This approach pulls in the buyers - each edition of Volume sells more than 25,000 copies, with one or two electro-dance collections far exceeding that - and suits the record companies.

Piers Hawkins, who has been responsible for the company's latest venture, a journey into the in-vogue world of American roots music under the title American Songbook, explains why. He says a big record label putting together a compilation in a certain genre approaches its rivals to license particular tracks. But because these are usually songs that have been hits or received a lot of air play, "what they are doing is potentially damaging to the labels because buyers get the tracks at a low price and do not buy the original album".

The Volume team claims to increase interest in artists by providing samples of their work, so much so that record firms want to follow up other projects.

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