Advertising and Marketing

Overpackaged CDs and tinned fiction

Exploded view of Second Hand Roses' new album.
What does it take to sell a CD these days? Here's what the latest album from the Second Hand Roses includes: outside box, inside folder, promotional stickers, promotional cards, info sheet, and the disc itself.

Wang Xiaofeng, who took apart and labeled the contents of the record (image at left), mused on his blog about industry trends toward hefty CD packages:

I don't know what China's recording sector thinks it's doing these days - the albums I've seen, at any rate, apart from the CD itself, which hasn't really changed, have packaging all decked out so that I haven't seen two records packaged in the same way. Let our enjoyment of philosophy be just that - there's no need to personally prove the philosophical principle that "there are no two identical leaves in the entire world." China today has no two records whose packaging scheme is identical. I'd guess that if things continue like this, there'll come a day when they'll make the CD into a triangle or a star.

This frustrates me. My record shelf was made to order several years ago, and to fit more records into space available at work, I designed it to fit international standard CD packages. But today's domestic AV houses are after uniqueness - some make their stuff as big as a book, while others go as big as a magazine. The most inflated was Zhou Bichang's record, even bigger than a magazine - stick a handle on it and you could sell it as a fan. After I picked it up, I tossed it out without a second thought, since I had no idea where to put it if I kept it, and my house already has air conditioning. Who knows what this gang of recording sector morons are up to all day - though in this respect, they're quite similar to our electronics manufacturers, forever working on external appearances: the small-size air conditioners are always the imported ones, the multi-chip DVD players are always the international ones, mobile phone technology is always from outside the country. We are always producing pretty, new shells. I suspect that the people in this gang were originally sex researchers looking into the "seventy-two sexual positions". China's shell technology is far, far beyond its "core" technology (“核”技术), and messes with people all day. I find that this is similar in one respect to China's literary field - some novels are really just exceedingly simple fuck pieces, but they're written up into thick stories of chaste emotions. And simple record packaging gets redone into something as complicated as internal organs. Today the emphasis is on "economical but not simple", but they're going against the tide. Use those smarts to do something good, why don't you?

Opening up the Second Hand Roses album today was an unforgettable journey comparable to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer or The Wonderful Adventures of Nils. At first, to remove the album, I clawed at it forever but couldn't get it out. Then I discovered that a simple poke in the rear end would do it, with the result that once I gave it a poke, a whole pile of stuff came clattering out. Stuff like stickers, album promo cards, website promo cards, and before I realized what was happening, two discs also dropped out, closely followed by the plastic CD shell that fell to the floor...completely scattered, no two pieces remained together. Like a radio repairman, I began examining how to put it back togehter. After picking it up and looking them over for a while, I discovered that it was actually pretty high-tech - the plastic tab to hold the center of the disc was detachable from the plastic shell - but the idiot inventor never thought of the strange effect this invention would produce in a brutal packing and shipping environment with Chinese characteristics. It took me forever before I got it lined up correctly to attach - even harder than when we shot down the American plane back in the day. After the ordeal of putting it together, I discovered that the plastic shell could be removed from the box. Looking carefully, I found that they'd only used a dab of glue - with a bit of effort, you could peel it off. Who knows what manufacturer they got that junk glue from.

Then there's this: a series of novels for teenage girls, each packaged in its own metal tin. Danwei previously looked at the practice of loading YA novels with "free gifts"; this series, published by the People's Daily Press, takes things one step further by making the packaging itself collectable.

It's a good thing, too, since the free gifts included with this book are rather disappointing: a deck of cards, a cork-lined drink coaster, a password for some QQ service, a bookmark, and a calendar for the month of April, 2007. The 12 books in this series each match a zodiac sign; this one, Forecast for a one-way love trip, stars the "Prince of Cancer". Anyone who collects all 12 (total cost: 420 RMB) can turn in their bookmarks for a special 2007 wall calendar.

Does the gimmick work? At 28 yuan per, they're just a bit more expensive than their cardboard-boxed competitors, and the newsstand clerk advised me that all of the titles she carries sell fairly well. And, unlike certain metal-tinned German techno dub CDs, these books won't be destroyed by their packaging.

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There are currently 3 Comments for Overpackaged CDs and tinned fiction.

Comments on Overpackaged CDs and tinned fiction

Joel, this post brings back warm fuzzy memories of my vinyl buying days, when purchasing music was a blissfully physical process, like buying powertools or lumber, and not some kind of ethereal "virtual" experience. Not that the virtual approach doesn't have its charms, mind you. But something has been lost in the conversion.

Perhaps this is just showing my age, but to this day I look back warmly on buying Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon" LP, with its luscious double album-style sleeve and its posters, photographs and other paraphernalia. (And when discussing that album, "paraphernalia" is an apt word.) Some years later when I bought the CD it was not nearly as satisfying. The CD came with...a CD. These days I guess you'd order it off of iTunes and if you're lucky you'll get a postage-stamp sized digital version of the album art.

This is my roundabout way of saying to the Chinese, "Right on, brothers! You cram those CDs all full of useless crap!" And to Wang Xiaofeng, despite a trenchant observation about "core" vs. "shell" capabilities in China, a hearty invitation to lighten up.

Maybe I was too harsh in this writeup - unlike your "warm fuzzy memories", what this brought back for me was a sense of embarrassment and frustration at the number of times I was seduced by packaging that masked the sub-par contents, even to the point of damaging whatever it was that I was buying.

I guess I have no problem with extra junk (actually, I still get taken in fairly often), so long as it's not an excuse to jack up the price beyond what's reasonable.

The reason, of course, is to differentiate the product from pirate versions. If you only get the CD, what's to stop you from buying an illegal copy for a fraction of the price? The stickers, cards, leaflets and what-have-you create a clear difference between the official and unofficial versions.

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