Classical Music Sales Looking Up

A Year When Classical Labels Came Through

In 2003, the problems affecting the classical recording business seemed daunting: markets flooded with multiple versions of the standard repertory; declining sales; widespread layoffs in the offices of the major labels; ill-conceived moves by controlling conglomerates to cut losses that only made matters worse.
Still, during that sobering year, many companies, to their credit, adjusted their priorities, focused anew on releasing albums that added something of artistic merit to the discography, and generally realized that smaller could in fact be better.
Several companies also pledged to take innovative steps within the next year to deal with the financial realities, steps that might find opportunity amid the challenges. So, now that 2004 has past, it’s time to see whether the companies are keeping their promises. In several cases they are following through, as a crop of welcome recent recordings makes clear.
For example, in early January of 2003 there was an article in this newspaper about the looming expirations of copyright protections in Europe for countless classic recordings from the 1950’s. In the United States such copyrights last 90 years, at least for now, while advocates for public domain access and defenders of the rights of production companies continue to slug it out in the courts. But in Europe, copyrights for recordings expire after 50 years. This means that starting now and during the next decade landmark 1950’s recordings by artists ranging from Maria Callas to Elvis Presley are coming into the public domain in Europe. Since American retailers routinely stock imported European records, especially classical albums, such releases are already showing up in the stores.
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