Monday, November 14, 2011

The EMI takeover by Universal

So, what does it mean for classical music that Universal now owns EMI's catalogue? Well, the first thing is that the regulators may get involved, given the market share that Universal could have in some countries - it would be close to 40 percent worldwide, and much higher in certain places. But let's say Universal gets to keep the full classical catalogue it's acquired. There's two aspects here - reissues and new recordings. At present, Universal seems happy to keep Decca and DG as separate units, so perhaps the same will hold true for EMI and Virgin and there won't be much impact on artist signings or releases. The reissues situation may be rather different though, both good and bad. Efforts such as DG's recent Mahler edition show the value of pooling catalogues, but on the other hand, how many recordings of identical repertoire will Universal want to keep in circulation? And now the recent copyright extension comes into play, because nothing's going to out of copyright for another twenty years, and Universal is sitting on 40 percent of it all. (Wow! It's almost as if European lawmakers didn't properly think of the consequences of their actions!)
So there's a massive opportunity here for consumers to get royally shafted. My guess is that there probably won't be much change overall and we'll continue to experience the exasparating mix of great bargain box sets and completely unavailable recordings. But oh, the potential for something wonderful is so great. If it were up to me, I'd just go completely bananas on downloads and put every damn thing online. Get World Heritage status for it, even.

Incidentally, a quick look at my own collection indicates that, combined, Universal and EMI account for 25 percent of the total. Sony and Warner together make up another 8 percent. This is, I imagine, rather low for a typical classical collection and reflects how my purchasing has been shaped by cheap downloads from independent labels on eMusic.

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