The Search for Bob Seger’s Out of Print Back Catalog
The music industry's increasing reliance on reissues has become a popular source of complaint among fans over the last couple of decades, but it's still possible for an artist's back catalog to be under-exploited, and Bob Seger is a perfect case in point.
In a well-researched piece for NPR, writer Tim Quirk persuasively argues the case for bringing Seger's back catalog to online services — a migration fans have been patiently hoping to see arrive for years while Seger's longtime manager, Punch Andrews, holds a hard line against the industry's efforts to low-ball legacy artists with digital royalty rates. The fact that huge portions of Seger's discography are unavailable to stream or download a la carte is nothing new; what was surprising to Quirk, however, is how many of those older albums are also physically out of print.
Again, while many Seger fans are aware that his earlier records are hard to find, even a number of his post-breakthrough efforts have fallen out of print. "Out of 17 total, his own website shows only six available for purchase: his '75 through '80 run of Beautiful Loser, Night Moves, Stranger in Town and Against the Wind, plus this century's Face the Promise and Ride Out," writes Quirk. "Used copies of his first seven albums start around $30, and go as high as $200, if you can even find one."
It's a state of affairs that Andrews seems comfortable with. Responding via email to Quirk's request for comment, he expressed skepticism that Seger even needs a presence in the digital arena, arguing that streaming and MP3 song downloads are only of a short-term benefit for artists whose catalogs aren't strong enough to hold up on their own — and anyway, until the industry sees fit to pay superstar acts what they're worth, it's still better to hold out.
"For years, we have been asked to bring the catalog to streaming. We have not pulled the trigger there because the rates are low; so low, in fact, that the label would not break it down and show the artist how little he would make," wrote Andrews. "Bob has always been an album artist and that format has served him very well. Streaming and downloads have always favored singles artists."
It's a common refrain, but as Quirk argues, Seger's dwindling availability could end up undercutting his legacy in the long run. Since releasing Greatest Hits in 1994, Seger's seen sales of his remaining back catalog dwindle, and his presence on classic rock radio has plummeted in recent years — perhaps as a direct byproduct of the fact that so much of his output has been relegated to the collectors' market.
There's a potential light at the end of the tunnel — Andrews has hinted that they're "working on some plans" to exhume some of those titles "in a variety of traditional and non-traditional ways" — but as Seger himself has noted over the years, he isn't in much of a rush to revisit records he now sees as painfully flawed, no matter how loudly fans clamor. Deep into an era in which the announcement of every new "ultimate edition" of a classic LP can be greeted with sighs and eyerolls, Seger represents an interesting — and troubling — flip side to a constantly repackaged coin.
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