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Published: November 25, 2006

Where Collectors Can Get Lost Classical Recordings

By STEVE SMITH

Long before the closing of Tower Records was announced, the notion that a music store should offer a comprehensive selection of classical recordings had been abandoned. Older discs, which typically sold too slowly to help bricks-and-mortar stores meet their costs, were deleted from record labels’ catalogs. But they remained desirable to collectors, and the Internet music retailer ArkivMusic (arkivmusic.com) has recently introduced the ArkivCD program as a way to keep these recordings available.

ArkivMusic, a four-year-old company based in Bryn Mawr, Pa., maintains a database of more than 70,000 classical CDs, DVDs and SACDs (super audio compact discs), all sold through its Web site. Over the last two months, the company has added more than 1,600 ArkivCDs to its site: custom-burned CD-Rs of otherwise unavailable recordings, packaged in standard jewel boxes with facsimiles of the original cover and tray card. So far, liner notes are not included.

The concept of offering deleted recordings on CD-R is not new. A gray market has long existed for vintage LPs transferred to disc by private collectors, and in 2003, when New World Records (newworldrecords.org) absorbed the assets of the failed label Composers Recordings Inc., the company announced that the CRI catalog would be digitized for on-demand sales.

Eric Feidner, the president of ArkivMusic, said that offering out-of-print recordings had always been the company’s goal. “It was in the original business plan as the big idea,” he said. “But in order to get to the point where we could actually sell the big idea, we had to build a big customer base selling everything else.”

ArkivMusic began to license out-of-print recordings from independent labels two and a half years ago, storing the recordings as uncompressed digital files on its servers. The company did not publicize the series until last month, when a large influx of titles licensed from Sony BMG and Universal Classics was made available. The new additions included recordings by Eugene Ormandy, Martha Argerich, Jessye Norman and others.

Mr. Feidner said many of the initial offerings in the ArkivCD program were chosen using data culled from his company’s partnerships with classical radio stations, including WQXR-FM, which is owned by The New York Times Company. ArkivMusic links the playlists posted on these stations’ Web sites to its own site, enabling click-through purchasing.

“About 50 percent of what gets played on most classical stations on any given day is an out-of-print recording,” Mr. Feidner said. “That’s our wish list, because stations play these things all the time. People are looking for them.”

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