Buyers wise to shop around as CD prices hit new high

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The Independent Online
Compact disc prices for rock and pop albums are creeping up again, with music buyers being charged radically different prices at neighbouring high street stores.

The variations in price can be dramatic. A copy of Abbey Road by the Beatles sells at pounds 15.99 in WH Smith and Woolworth, and at pounds 10.99 in Our Price. Bruce Springsteen's Born in the USA sells for pounds 15.49 in Tower Records, pounds 14.99 in WH Smith, pounds 11.99 in Woolworth, and pounds 10.99 in HMV.

Even current chart albums, usually more consistently priced than back- catalogue albums, show variations. Gabrielle's new album entitled Gabrielle sells for pounds 11.99 in WH Smith and pounds 13.99 in Our Price.

A survey of all the major music stores by Music Week magazine, the trade journal of the music industry, shows that the average price for a CD chart artist album is pounds 13.33, a rise of pounds 1.22 in just over a year. The price of back-catalogue albums has also risen across the board with an average of pounds 13.85. Current dealer prices (the price the retailer has to pay the record company) are pounds 8.60 per album.

Retailers told Music Week they were confident that customers are quite prepared to pay more than pounds 12.99 for an album. Consequently, pounds 12.99 is the most common price, but there has been a sharp rise in albums priced pounds 13.99. The pounds 9.99 price, which used to be the boast of stores such as Woolworth and WH Smith, has all but disappeared.

HMV's head of rock and pop, Jonathan Rees, said: "People don't have a problem paying pounds 13.99 for a new George Michael, Everything But The Girl or Def Leppard album these days. "The strength of product softens the blow of the price increases."

In fact, separate research shows consumers might be prepared to pay even more for their albums. Interviews in several cities carried out by the North Glasgow College showed that consumers were prepared to spend up to pounds 15.63 on CDs.

It is spending large sums on old music that irks CD buyers. Steve Lyttelton, manager of Tower Records in Piccadilly, London, said: "We certainly haven't had any adverse comments from customers about paying pounds 12.99 for an album. The only thing we do get complaints about are back-catalogue prices where people resent paying pounds 14.99 and pounds 15.49 for albums that have been out for 25 years."

Singles show even greater fluctuation than albums across the stores. They range from 99p to pounds 4.99. Cassette singles are more stable at an average price of pounds 2.29, while vinyl, where it is stocked, ranges from 99p for a seven-inch single to pounds 4.99 for a 12-inch.

The prices of classical CDs (not included in the Music Week survey) have not risen in line with rock and pop albums: pounds 14.99 is the average high street price for new releases, a price that has not changed for two years.

But the classical market is even more complex than the pop market because of the large number of high quality cheap discs on offer. While new releases are pounds 14.99, most recordings from the Sixties and Seventies are "mid-price", retailing at around pounds 9.99.

The real challenge to the market, however, has come from the budget-price labels. Naxos has hundreds of albums retailing at pounds 4.99. While aficionados initially scorned the concept of budget price classical music, it is now recognised that many of these recordings - particularly of early music, choral and chamber music, are of an extremely high quality and have been praised in Gramophone magazine.

Naxos recently scooped all its rivals in releasing the premiere recording of Malcolm Arnold's ninth symphony.

The classical market remains as keen on new marketing ploys as it was in the Nigel Kennedy days of the late Eighties. Nimbus has a pounds 5.99 CD selling at HMV called Three Legendary Tenors. Taking advantage of the appearance in Britain of the three tenors Jose Carreras, Luciano Pavarotti and Placido Domingo, it features three illustrious tenors of old: Gigli, Caruso and Bjorling.

Tony Shaw, classical buyer for HMV, said: "It is now the case that in many areas these very cheap recordings are every bit as good as albums retailing at nearly three times the price."

Pounds apart: Why comparing costs is worthwhile

Abbey Road: The Beatles

WH Smith pounds 15.99; Woolworth pounds 15.99; Tower pounds 15.49; HMV pounds 15.99; Virgin pounds 15.99; Our Price pounds 10.99.

Destiny: Gloria Estefan

WH Smith pounds 12.99; Woolworth pounds 13.99; Tower pounds 11.99; HMV pounds 13.99; Virgin pounds 13.49; Our Price pounds 13.49.

The Score: Fugees

WH Smith pounds 9.99 (special promotion by record company); Woolworth pounds 13.49; Tower pounds 12.99; HMV pounds 10.99; Virgin pounds 13.49; Our Price pounds 13.99.

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