Classical and Opera DVDs: Cheaper than CDs


We haven’t addressed anything new in the music area recently (I have a long queu of comments getting ready) but this discussion of classical/opera DVDs caught my eye. While the article is mostly an exposition on the virtues of DVD for these genres of music, one cannot help but notice a key economic issue: Opera & Classical DVDs cost less than music only CDs:

“Though VHS offered only a postscript experience to classical music (and didn’t sell well), DVD has become a medium unto itself, a genre with its own rules, never usurping the primary strengths of the compact disc or the live concert, but having virtues of its own.

DVDs offer no great sound and picture advances over the now-defunct laser disc. But unlike those bulky, heavy discs, DVDs are, as Video Artists International chief Ernie Gilbert put it, “cute.” That means storage is easy. There’s no hunt-and-rewind tedium. “With DVD, you click and, in a quarter of a second, you’re there,” Gilbert says.

Sales regularly hit 5,000 units, the standard break-even figure for classical CDs, and go as high as 40,000 worldwide, says Klaus Heymann, the Hong Kong-based head of Naxos International. Also, the hard-core classical community doesn’t have to wait around for the video companies to finish issuing meaningless Luciano Pavarotti galas before going on to the real stuff.

Major classical labels initially hesitated to jump into DVD, so smaller, specialized concerns took the medium directly into niche marketing. Upfront “authoring costs” (translating video to the small disc) were as low as $2,000 a few years ago, says Gilbert, and are now half that.

Once a nightmare of regional formats, DVDs are increasingly universal (look for the “0” in the code box), though savvy consumers still need a specially doctored player to read all codes on discs available on European Web sites. Disc prices, which range from $10 to $35, are still unstandardized. The Deutsche Oper’s Die Meistersinger is $39, but the Australian Opera’s better cast sells for as little as $25.

Whatever the reason, even the most expensive DVD operas cost less than sound-only, full-price CD sets. “And that’s contentious,” admits Chris Roberts, head of Universal Music’s worldwide classical arm. “Fewer and fewer sound-only opera recordings are being made, and some people think DVDs are an excuse to get out of making them. But DVD is a better way of doing it.”

The ongoing slow death of the CD format continues apace . . .

DVD’s classy way with classical music
David Patrick Stearns
Inquirer Music Critic, Posted on Sun, Sep. 26, 2004

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  1. Dave S. commented on Sep 29

    Just read this article and was about to send it to you, but I see you are on top of things.

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