VMP's The Story of the Grateful Dead  Anthology Is Worth Considering

I was asked to write a short item for a U.K. business about the high prices of today's new records. I ended up thinking they are not all that high. The Sam Goody's ad from 1973 at the top is for the Led Zeppelin catalog, that at the time consisted of five LPs. The list price was $4.98. The sale price (if you brought in the advertisement) was $3.49. Sounds cheap, no? Well, no.

In today's dollars that $4.98 list price is $29.21. The $3.49 sale price is $20.47. So really today's "average record" prices are comparable and not really high. Consider the prices of Blue Note's "Tone Poet" series or the "Verve/Acoustic Sounds" series that sell for around $34. These are better sourced, pressed and packaged than most 70s era records selling for a comparable price.

Which brings me to this Vinyl Me, Please (VMP) Grateful Dead Anthology.

It appears to be a beautifully packaged set containing 8 Grateful Dead albums (14 LPs in total), cut by Chris Bellman at Bernie Grundman Mastering using the original analog master tapes (AAA) except for one cut using the original digital master and pressed at QRP on high quality colored vinyl. Also included is an exclusive Grateful Dead podcast series and more, all of which you can learn about by clicking on the above hyper-link. The box costs $449 and can be had in 4 interest-free installments. That's about $37 per disc and of course that doesn't include all of the extras. The set is limited to 7500 copies. There's a VMP contest going on now you can read about on its site. If I didn't already have original pressings of all these titles I'd buy the set.

COMMENTS
Slammintone's picture

I’d have bought that catalog three times back then if I wasn’t 7yrs old at the time. Those were some great pressings back then.

Paul Boudreau's picture

I remember wanting Simon & Garfunkel’s “Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme” so badly in 1967 that I paid list price for it, which I recall was $4.98 or $5.98 (I could be wrong). Assuming $5, that’s almost $39 in today’s money. Today’s LPs are definitely not more expensive than that. Inflation is real, folks.

Vinyl On Tubes's picture

I agree that Records are actually inflated. You can just go to Amazon and compare the price to a CD and it's typically double the price. This a far cry from 20 years ago when records cost less than a CD. While I state they are inflated, I'm not suggesting that they aren't fairly priced. There isn't an infrastructure to bring the prices down. The price is going to reflect what the market can bear. It's a seller's market, so the price goes up.

I honestly have never liked the argument that we compare yesterday's dollar to today's dollars for entertainment items or anything else nonessential. These numbers are purported as if there is some kind of magical force that drive up the cost of these items that is directly associated with time. This just isn't the case. A CD is a very similar commodity to a record, and the price of CD is less than it was 20 years ago. What's the justification for this, then? What about color TVs. In 1973 what did a color TV cost? Well I'll present documentation. This is a 1973 NY Times article about a 15 inch RCA color TV for $379.95. Now what do you get for $379.95 in a TV today. I'll grant with it being Cyber Monday today, this isn't the best day to document the price of a television. But I'll state that there is an entire section of TVs priced under $400 at Best Buy's website. There 148 offerings and the smallest on is 32" but there are 20 of them that 4K and 55" or larger. This hardly seems like inflation to me.

https://www.nytimes.com/1973/03/06/archives/new-lowprice-color-tv-is-int...

Prices don't increase because of inflation. That's not what inflation is. Inflation is a reflection of actual price increases toward our entire cost of living. There are different commodity that we buy that make up our lifestyles. And each commodity price is based on actual market conditions. And in a sellers market, the prices go higher because they have what you want and if you won't pay their price, someone else will. So records just cost more than CDs. Why? Because it's fair.

PAR's picture

" Prices don't increase because of inflation."

But they do. Over a period of time the contributions to a product; raw materials, labour costs, utility costs etc. become more expensive because they, in turn, are subject to other price increases ultimately mainly driven by supply/demand. That is inflation.

I do hope that you are not still paid what you were paid in 1973. If so then it isn't surprising that you are expecting to buy a $400 TV :-). BTW $400 in 1973 is the equivalent of $4691.68 today. The fact that you can find a $400 TV has nothing to do with inflation but all to do with efficiencies of production which sadly includes the use of quasi-slave labour in third world countries. It those $400 TVs were made in the USA then they wouldn't cost $400.

My very first LP was With the Beatles which I bought in the week of its release in 1963. It cost me 39/11. I am English so that is the strange money we used then. It means a penny less than 2 pounds. 2 gbp then is worth 100 gbp today. Records, in real terms, are often cheaper now.

Michael Fremer's picture
Are you serious? Because that assertion is comically wrong. I'm not going to clue you in about why they are not at all alike because with the Internet you can easily do the research.
essmeier's picture

"This a far cry from 20 years ago when records cost less than a CD."

"A CD is a very similar commodity to a record, and the price of CD is less than it was 20 years ago."

At the time compact discs were introduced, the raw manufacturing cost of an LP was about $1.50. The cost of making a CD was about $5.50.

Records had a list price of $9.98 at that time, and record companies opted not to set a suggested retail price for compact discs, instead deciding to "let the market decide."

With the average wholesale price of a CD at about $12, the "market" decided that people would pay about $20 for a CD, but over time, the cost of making a record went up, due to increased labor and material cost, and the cost of making a CD dropped to mere pennies, thanks to improvements in production methods and economies of scale.

The cost of raw materials in CD manufacturing, then and now, is negligible.

When the cost of manufacturing a CD went down, that allowed the record companies to get more flexible with their wholesale pricing, particularly with older titles, and that, in turn, lowered the retail price.

That hasn't happened with records. Virgin vinyl costs money, and 200 gram records cost more than the 110 gram DynaFlex LPs of the 1970s.

BTW - the list price of a stereo Jazz LP on the Atlantic label in 1960 was $5.98.

That's $52.35 in 2019 dollars, and I know that people actually bought them, because I have a bunch of those pressings on my shelf.

Inflation is indeed a thing, and records today are a relative bargain, especially since the average record of today is a better product than the average record of, say, 1970.

Chemguy's picture

I bought a 21" Sony Trinitron in 1984, on special, for $699. Top dollar for a very fine TV at the time. The Cyber Monday sale today has a 72" Samsung LED for $599. That LED shouldn't be less than $3500 dollars today though, should it?

Yes it has to do with material costs, efficiencies, etc. But it's all about what the market will bear...you've got a specialized product, you can charge for it. Making records and album covers from raw materials costs way less today than it did back in the 70s. The savings isn't passed on to the consumer because of a lack of competition and a stranglehold that the present recording industry has on the elite vinyl record collecting market.

I don't appreciate the argument that records should cost $30 today, because they're a tech product. If records were $15, you'd have a lot more kids buying records, and affordable turntables and affordable speakers and amps. Voila! We'd have the potential for a real thriving industry, instead of one that's just getting by, satisfied with providing an elite product to elite purchasers.

Michael Fremer's picture
Chips vs CRTs? How heavy is an LED set vs. a Trinitron? Just for starters. Both are "televisions" but that's the only thing they have in common. Making records costs way more today actually because of the numbers and don't think if records were $15 we'd have a bigger resurgence than we now do. Back in the 70s there was little in the way of EPA pollution enforcement either. It's costly (and necessary) to comply. Even GZ in a less regulated country does the right thing. I don't know where you get your numbers from but while the actual cost to spit a record out of a press isn't high, everything else associated with the process is far more costly and the whole thing is far more specialized. And buyers demand better too....
JJCalvillo's picture

You make a larger market by dropping the per unit price, and might actually make more money doing that. Would love to see a company take a stab at this. Sell a lot more for a little less, and expand the market. Marketing 101 tells you to keep bringing youngsters into your customer base. Get them when they're young and not making a ton of money, and keep them when they're making a lot more.

PAR's picture

I recall having a chat many years ago with someone who must be the best known vinyl revival manufacturer (I don't think that I am at liberty to reveal who).

His LPs were at that time priced around the 20-25 gbp mark. He had introduced a cheaper line selling for 17 gbp. He told me " they just won't buy 'em". Major jazz artists too. He has never found it necessary to try that again.

Also remember that the licensing deals with the rights owners for re-releases /audiophile editions etc. will affect the end price that is economically viable for the recording rights owner, music publisher and the re-release label. They all come into the price you pay. As do the costs of manufacture and, not to forget, distribution. Records weigh a lot in bulk. Think of how much a gallon of gas cost to put in that delivery truck in, say, 1973 compared to now.

WaltonGoggins's picture

Throwing out the very high end stuff of today, any thoughts on how a $105 table of 1975 might compare with a $500 Debut Carbon Evo, Fluance RT85 or $475 Rega Planar 1?

essmeier's picture

"That LED shouldn't be less than $3500 dollars today though, should it? "

No, but a 72 inch CRT might.

Also - China has happened since 1984. Makes a difference.

MikeT's picture

I purchased the Dead box from VMP - and even though it may be overpriced a bit - every LP in my set was perfect - flat, quiet and beautiful. I know that VMP states online that the set is limited to 7500 copies, but my copy is numbered 2375/2500. I have to assume the demand wasn't as great as they expected at 7500 copies for the price, so they may have reduced the number to 2500 but never updated their website.

I have all the Dead vinyl in this box many times over (with the exception of Without A Net - the one cut from digital - that was released when I wasn't buying vinyl and has yet, until this box, been reissued on vinyl), and I am still amazed at the quality of these records. Especially Live/Dead - Chris Bellman did a stupendous job with the original mix (not the remix) on this new cut.

Michael Fremer's picture
For that mini-review.
AK ATL's picture

Similar to you, I already own most of these records but if they're really well done then I'm considering the purchase. How would you compare the "new" WMD, AB, E72, and LiveDead to the Chris Bellman Rhino reissues from several years ago? Are these cut from the same master he already did, or different? (if you know). I'm so tempted, but also considering just spending the money on a few Mint/NM originals via Discogs vs. this set.

MikeT's picture

I didn't compare any of the VMP pressings to the CB cuts of a few years ago of WMD, AB and E72. Chris Bellman didn't cut the Rhino reissue of LiveDead from a few years ago, that was Ron McMaster at Capitol. As far as the VMP cuts - the matrix numbers in the dead wax are different from those reissues from 2010, etc. So can we assume they are new cuts? In addition, Terrapin Station and Reckoning are different from the Analogue Productions reissues from awhile back. The AP were cut by Kevin Gray (if I remember without pulling them out), while the new ones in the box are by Chris Bellman.

ivansbacon's picture

It is missing many albums. It is titled "The story of the Grateful Dead" How can you tell the story and leave out some very important chapters ?

isaacrivera's picture

Anthology simply means "collection", the word does not imply completeness in neither the English language nor its Greek etymology.

ivansbacon's picture

I do understand what anthology means. My comment was addressing the title "The story of the Grateful Dead" When i read a story i do not start on the forth chapter.

isaacrivera's picture

"Stories" are always abbreviated versions of History. They narrate a thread of a particular history and editors have to choose that to include and exclude. I am sure all kinds of factors come into play including availability and costs. However, had other albums been included, there would always be someone disappointed... I understand because I never feel these collections are exhaustive enough, so I rarely buy them.

gMRfk6LMHn's picture

Just on the price of new records, e.g. Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All The Rest is $175 on Acoustic Sounds which is very reasonable for a 7LP boxset. Unfortunately when that boxset arrives in Europe the prices vary between €230 and €250, converted to dollars that is $275-$299 which is staggering. Even stranger when you consider the vinyl is pressed in Europe. There are plenty of examples of this. Are EU pressings much more expensive in the US?

James, Dublin, Ireland

PS: Absolutely loved the 'best sounding LPs' videos, with one caveat the Davy Spillane instrument is Uilleann pipes, an Irish version of 'bagpipes', just saying!

PAR's picture

The first is tax. Prices quoted in America normally do not include tax (as that varies state to state). In Europe prices do include VAT so that, on average, immediately adds 20 % to the EU comparative price. Secondly Acoustic Sounds has no EU distributor AFAIK So their albums over here (only just " over here" for me in the UK. 28 days to go :-( ). So the cost also bears the price of importation in small quantities.

mcrushing's picture

I agree with you, Mike... record prices seem stable when you factor inflation, and surely the margins were fatter back in '73. But I don't think inflation tells the whole story, because I don't think records behave like "ordinary goods" in the microeconomic sense.

There might be 140 versions of 'American Beauty' on Discogs, but there's still scarcity when it comes to quality copies, and different consumers - audiophiles, collectors, newbies, etc - will perceive the value and utility of various pressings/releases in different ways, which can do funky things to the supply & demand curve.

I scratch my head when I see folks balk at the prices of these VMP boxes, given they're pressed in tiny quantities and even used, they tend to sell for significantly more than the original prices. Also, much as I wish VMP would press everything at RTI, I give them credit for trying to work with labels that do reissues the right way: sourcing the best masters and solid engineers, as well as tracking down original artists to ensure they properly share in the proceeds, or even play roles in the project.

Today VMP dropped the "Story of Tribe Records" box, and I happily forked over $300 for it. Tribe put out some incredible jazz in the early 70s, and I'd love to see you review the box, Mike. I'm curious how it will compare to the UK Pure Pleasure reissues out there, or to the insanely rare/expensive originals.

xtcfan80's picture

A “Dead Thread “ so this may be a good place to remind everyone of the new Zappa documentary you may have heard about.... View it with Amazon Prime and I’m guessing other streaming services......Well worth the $5 to “rent”.....yes he was human.... and a single minded genius...check it out!!!!

xtcfan80's picture

If it's "bugging" you just buy used records and fo-gett-about-it!!!!

Anton D's picture

Both sides have points in their favor.

I would add...

Average hourly wage in 1973 was $4.03 per hour.

(Sourced from Pew research.)

In 2020, it is somewhere between $11.63 (real income) and $24.87 per hour.

https://www.statista.com/statistics/216259/monthly-real-average-hourly-e...

https://tradingeconomics.com/united-states/wages

Using 3.49 for a 1973 LP....we see the average person 'earned' 1.15 records per hour.

Using the $34.00 per record used in the blog, we see the average person earns between .34 and .73 records per hour.

We have seen a decline in the average person's record buying power.

mcrushing's picture

This is an excellent (and depressing) point.

And I'm willing to make it even more so:

According to the US Census, the median HHI for 1973 was $10,512, ($61,341 in 2019 dollars). In 2019, the median had increased... to a whopping $68,703. Meanwhile, the LOWER LIMIT of HHI for the top 5% was $28,950 in '73, and $270,002 in '19.

So the median American household's income has fallen by 990 records per year, while the income of POOREST households in the top 5%'s has grown by 685 records per year.

I'd try to do the top 1%...but frankly I decided I'd rather not know.

AudioFileZ's picture

Music is much more available today, but it depends. LPs for instance, once the mass market vehicle for our listening, is a niche product now. LPs are more labor intensive to produce than any other music medium. The fact they are as affordable as they are is amazing. They are not, however, always as easy to get. Locally save for used LPS there is not a single retail outlet in my town of about 15K people. Of course if you wait a couple of days to receive an internet order this is usually not a dead end to getting one's vinyl fix. Even then many LPs are not in any way ridiculously priced. They are often close, maybe less, to that magic $5 price many of my generation grew up on when adjusted for the inflation index. I can't complain. But what i will say is there is much more music available "to listen to" for less than ever before. Right, that means streaming or basically renting. But I have no problem in 2020 with "renting" music and I'll admit to thinking a couple of decades ago that the concept of not owning your music was balderdash. It has proven to be a really fine way of expanding one's listening habits and now with fast internet connections and HD options a most excellent choice. I do miss having the gatefold album in front of me but I can get over that by having my laptop handy and a quick search usually brings up more information than even the most highly annotated gatefolds Still...there ain't nothing like dropping the needle on an album of music you set aside income to acquire then brought home like a found treasure.

vmartell's picture

Using present/future value of money with inflation gives a general idea - understand the point and move on - of course, it might not be perfect but it's a ballpark - I mean I was a kid, I used to have to SAVE for a couple of weeks for a $10 (I am more like an 80s guy) LP - I think what my kids get/take and realize that it would take them more or less the same amount of money to save for a $25 to $30 LP. But to argue all the finer points of LP and other goods production... come on... I understand you want to be right all the time... but well, let's not lose sight of the real argument..

Ojai John's picture

This thread has become sidetracked but the discussion about cost of reissue titles is interesting. Last week I took delivery of a dozen or so hybrid SACDs from English reissue label Vocalion Dutton. A lot of Philly Soul titles, Art Garfunkel, George Benson, Charlie Rich, Paul Revere & the Raiders - a very mixed bag. The discs are made in Austria and supplied in jewel cases with modest or no liner notes, etc. Most of the discs have two albums on each disc. And each of those is made available in stereo and the original quadraphonic version. The on screen menu for the multichannel version is basic but functional. The sleeves state clearly: “Remastered from the original analogue tapes by Michael J. Dutton.” In all cases these are the first reissues of the quad versions in more than forty years. They sound very good. Price is £12.99 (around $17) each whether one buys them direct from the label’s website or from Amazon.

One of the titles I bought was Earth, Wind & Fire’s fine 1976 album Spirit which is coupled on the disc with 1975’s triple platinum album That’s the Way of the World. Both albums are presented in their stereo and original quadraphonic versions. Issued in 2020.

The disc sits on my shelf alongside Mobile Fidelity’s 2005 issue of That’s the Way of the World, which is also a hybrid SACD but is presented in stereo only albeit with 5 bonus cuts that are not available on the English release. The MoFi is sourced from the original master tape. The liner notes and packaging on that reissue is also minimal but is more attractive than the Vocalion Dutton release.

I have not A/B’d the discs yet. My point is that MoFi SACD titles sell at $30 in the US (around £22 and for a great deal more over here if one can find them. So on the face of it, the English disc offers two albums in stereo and multichannel for around half the cost of the MoFi that offers only one album in stereo albeit with five bonus cuts.

I am not picking on MoFi for their pricing. $30 or thereabouts is fairly standard pricing for an audiophile SACD reissue.

I have no idea if Vocalion Dutton have the licence for Europe only. That may be the case. But wherever they sell them they need to sell enough units to recoup their costs.

How is it possible to sell these discs at this price point? I can only think that there are significant costs of some labels in making reissue titles available that are not related to the physical cost of manufacture (I should be surprised if making hybrid SACDs in Austria is inexpensive) or licensing costs. And it seems those costs may be more flexible than one might think. They may have a great deal to do with distribution and retailer costs.

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