Limited, ultra, deluxe: The box set goes beyond

By Chris Talbott

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 21 2011 12:00 a.m. MST

The trend of pricier box sets seems incongruent with the musical landscape: Many people buy their music digitally, and downloaded singles now rule over albums. When an act's catalog can be downloaded in moments, who is purchasing these lavish collector's editions?

Rising country star Eric Church counts himself among those fans. His favorite box set chronicles the entire history of seminal rock group The Band, complete with previously unreleased tracks, live cuts and covers he'd never heard before.

"I love (box sets), but I'm old school and probably in the minority," Church said. "I like those kind of things. I still like to go back and listen to albums in their entirety. I love obscure tracks, live tracks, 'Live at the Fillmores.' I love that stuff. ... I feel like it's a great experience for fans, especially musicheads, to get their hands on stuff like that."

Billy Joel likes the way his new 16-disc box set, "The Complete Albums Collection," presents his career. However, he has some qualms about the steep price.

"I don't know who can afford to buy a box set for $290 or whatever it costs," Joel said in a recent interview. "It's not exactly a bargain. It's a lot of money. It is expensive, especially for people who are used to downloading something for 99 cents. You compare this to that, and you're in a different league all together. But I'm just glad that the original art form is available so people don't just think of me in terms of the top 40 hits. ... I like my music to be heard in the context that it was originally conceived."

(Sony does have its own website, Popmarket.com, where they offer box sets at a reduced price for a limited amount of time — sort of like Groupon for music).

Elvis Costello recently panned his new set, "The Return Of The Spectacular Spinning Songbook," on his website: It's listed on Amazon.com for more than $250. He said "the price appears to be either a misprint or a satire."

He told fans the pieces of the set will be available individually at a much lower price in 2012, then took the "unusual step" of suggesting the Louis Armstrong "Ambassador of Jazz" set instead. It will be cheaper, he noted in a blog post.

"Frankly the music is vastly superior," he wrote.

Rich Greenbaum, a record collector, frequent reviewer on Amazon.com and a 56-year-old school counselor from West Sacramento, Calif., loves finding new sets, but doesn't love the extras that are starting to drive up prices.

"I'm not interested in the fluff," Greenbaum says. He cites as an example Pink Floyd's new "immersion box set" for its classic album "The Dark Side of the Moon," which comes with marbles, a scarf and coasters.

"Sure, it's got the triangle with the rainbow through it (the logo)," Greenbaum said of the extras. "But I would've traded that any day for a double disc of a Pink Floyd concert featuring 'Dark Side.'"

AP Music Writer Nekesa Mumbi Moody contributed to this report.

Follow AP Entertainment Writer Chris Talbott at www.twitter.com/Chris_Talbott.

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