I received a press release from Universal Music, one of the big record labels that owns many of what were originally independent classical labels, such as DG, Phillips, and Decca. They were touting the sales of their new Mozart 225 box set. The press release’s title was, in all caps:
MOZART 225 BOX SET BECOMES BIGGEST PHYSICAL RELEASE OF 2016, SELLING 1.25 MILLION CDS IN 5 WEEKS
Wow, that’s pretty impressive! Get this:
225 years after his death, Mozart is still top of the pops, as a new box set dedicated to his works becomes the biggest CD release of the year. ‘Mozart 225: The New Complete Edition’ has sold a staggering 1.25 million CDs globally in just 5 weeks since it was released — more than releases from Drake, Rihanna and David Bowie.
More than Drake, Rihanna, and David Bowie. Except it’s, well, fake news.
My first thought was surprise. 1.25 million copies of this set, at around $400, would be a half a billion dollars. Not bad for the beleaguered recording industry. Also, the label claimed that this set was limited to 15,000 copies; mine even has a certificate showing its number, so if they had sold that many, they’d be guilty of fraud.
And there’s the rub. The sold 1.25 million compact discs, not box sets. If you divide that number by 200 (the number of discs in the set), you get 6,250. Out of 15,000. Or just under 42% of the total pressing.
By any account, 1.25 million CDs is a lot. But it’s a fraction of what Brilliant Classics sold of their Complete Mozart set, released more than ten years ago. As of September 2006, the New York Times reported that 300,000 copies of that low-priced set had been sold. I’m going to spitball and say that, by now, they’ve hit half a million copies. At 170 discs, that comes to 85,000,000 compact discs sold. (Of course, they may have sold even more than half a million by now.)
So, Universal Music has only sold around 6,250 of theirs. I would expect that a lot of libraries and conservatoires around the world bought the set, and not many individuals. It’s expensive, and many of the classical record collectors I’ve conversed with about this set said they wouldn’t buy it because they had many of the recordings it contains and weren’t interested in the rest.
I think Universal is trying to spin this to make it sound like a big deal, because they haven’t sold anywhere near as many as they hoped. With Christmas approaching, they need to sell a few thousand more, and even if they do, they’re likely to end the year with more than 5,000 copies on hand. This is expensive inventory, and actually represents a bit of a failure on their part.
They probably expected brisker sales, since this is a limited edition. Most of the individual buyers of this set who are classical music collectors have made their purchases by now, because of that limitation. More will probably spring for it by Christmas. But will Universal sell out of their 15,000 copies? It doesn’t look good.