Concord And Fantasy: A Microcosm

When Concord Music acquired the Fantasy, Inc. complex of labels a few years ago, the deal stirred apprehension that records preserving a wide swath of jazz history would disappear into the recording industry black hole known as Out Of Print. Concord took over the Fantasy, Prestige, Riverside, Contemporary and Pablo catalogues. More than three years later, as record companies struggle against the tide of the digital revolution or try to learn to navigate in it, listeners are still concerned that classic albums will sink out of sight. One of those listeners is Rifftides reader Andrew Dowd, who wrote:

Do you know why the owners of Fantasy Records (Ralph Kaffel??) sold out to Concord a few years back? As a lifelong jazz CD and LP collector, I was saddened to see that Fantasy sold.. Fantasy was one of the last jazz labels to keep a large and full catalog; they never discontinued anything. However, over the past couple years Concord has decimated the Fantasy catalog. The Riverside catalog has been almost completely wiped out – save for the classic releases by the major legends (Sonny Rollins, Monk, Wes Montgomery, etc). I think it’s a crying shame that Concord has discontinued most of the CDs by the lesser-known artists who recorded for Riverside. The Contemporary catalog was also greatly reduced in size. The Prestige catalog has fared much better, happily. I realize that opinions like mine are nothing new in the jazz world, but perhaps you might have the time and inclination to comment.

I asked Nick Phillips, the Concord vice president for jazz and catalog A&R (artists and repertoire) to respond to Mr. Dowd. His answer addresses not just the Concord-Fantasy question, but also the practicalities raising challenges to the entire recorded music business as it has been practiced for a century.

I can’t speak for Ralph Kaffel and Saul Zaentz as to why they sold Fantasy. But, I can hazard a guess that Ralph–who was running the Fantasy operation and was of “retirement age”–simply decided to retire and enjoy life free from the day-to-day stresses of running a record company.
Regarding certain releases in the catalog no longer being available in physical CD form, I have a couple of comments:
The record business in general has changed drastically since the time that Fantasy was acquired by Concord. Remember Tower Records? Gone. The retail stores that remain continue to reduce the number of CD titles that they carry. So, out of necessity not choice, the distribution and delivery method continues to lean more and more toward the digital arena (and not physical CD) these days, as there are fewer and fewer retail stores stocking CDs, especially the deep jazz catalog titles. And there are additional costs to continuing to keep an album available in the physical CD format (manufacturing minimum reorder quantity and cost, warehousing costs, shipping costs, returns from retailers, etc.)
Most titles in our catalog that were/are available on CD are available for digital download (via emusic.com, for example). So, we don’t consider titles that are at least available for digital download–and available for any and all that care to hear them–to be “out of print.”

For a related story from the Rifftides archive, click here

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Comments

  1. Ken Dryden says

    Nick Phillips can claim that having digital downloads available means that a particular album isn’t really “out of print,” but quite a few collectors have no use for downloads, as they are audibly inferior to manufactured CDs, while it is also nice to have liner notes and complete information about a release.
    Also, a download has no value, you can’t pass it down to the next generation or have the artist autograph it. If your computer or Ipod crashes, you have to re-buy them, unless you back them up.
    I understand that business decisions have to be made based on profitability, but Concord’s focus in recent years has been excessively on smooth jazz, R&B and pop at the expense of the jazz artists that were once the heart of the late Carl Jefferson’s independent label, along with most of the labels the conglomerate has acquired over the years.

  2. Andrew Dowd says

    Regarding Mr. Dryden’s comments on Concord’s acquisition of Fantasy, I agree with him save for one thing. I have purchased and downloaded many long out of print classic jazz albums in mp3 format, and after listening to them countless times I can not say that their sound quality is inferior- quite the contrary- I think they sound great. Of course, most of these downloaded albums are so rare that even a long-time collector like me doesn’t even have LP or CD copies of these albums to compare the mp3’s to. I have professional quality equipment to listen to these mp3’s with, and I can not detect any of the “digital glitches” that are often found on digitized versions of 1940’s radio shows (they sound like the original taped broadcast was played through a cell phone). I should also add that all of the classic jazz albums I have purchased and downloaded have been from The Verve Music Group’s “Verve Vault- Out Of Print Albums” website:
    http://www.vervemusicgroup.com/series/default.aspx?sid=26