MSN Music Blog - Reverb

Grateful Dead's fateful blunder

Deadheads are either elated or screwed on new 60-disc European set

By Mark C. Brown Jan 25, 2011 11:39AM

When the Grateful Dead announced the release of "Europe '72: The Complete Recordings," it was like a dream come true. It contains every note of every show of the band’s legendary 1972 European tour, a holy grail for Grateful Dead fans. It will be elaborately packaged and cost $450. And the limited pressing of 7,200 box sets sold out in less than four days.


That's where the trouble begins and success turns to possible failure.


The Dead came up with a compromise. Those who missed out can buy the music only – sans the elaborate box (of which they'd bragged "wait until you see the case in which the music is housed, the hard-bound coffee-table book, plus all of the other cool surprises we've been unearthing!").

But as MSN Entertainment Senior Producer/resident Deadhead Dave McCoy points out, the cost is still $450 – a price-point penalty to those fans who didn’t jump on board from the get-go.


The box itself, which doesn’t even come out till Labor Day, is already fetching four-figures on eBay.


Look, gauging demand for a product is a very hard science. Prince did up a slick, thick coffee-table book of his 21-night stand in London a few years ago, including a disc of live music from those stands, including a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love.” Much as I wanted that disc, I wasn’t going to pay $50 for a vanity project. But I happily scooped it up at Border’s the other day, as dozens of copies sat, sealed, in the $4.99 bargain bin (and the live disc is damn good).

Prince 21 Nights


But the Dead is known for its elaborate boxes, including “The Golden Road” and “Beyond Description,” seen below.


Grateful Dead Golden Road
Grateful Dead Beyond Description



Given the size and sheer endurance of the Deadheads – and the fact that many of those people are baby-boomers, who still buy more music each year than any other demographic – maybe 7,200 copies of the new box  was shooting a bit low, yes?


So, to wrap it up: Deadheads who shelled out the money early thinking it was the only way to (legitimately) get the music now find out anyone can get the music. The upside: They get the nice packaging that others won’t.


Fans who didn’t get the music in time now find they still have to pay full price to (legitimately) get a much lesser product. Upside: They still get the music, and 60-plus discs at $450 comes out to about $7 per disc, and each disc averages more than an hour of music.


The Dead is stuck in the middle – if it dropped the music-only option price, the original buyers of the full box would howl. It kept the $450 original price, and the rest of the buyers are howling. Plus at the moment it's available only online (which means brick-and-mortar record stores that have supported the band for years are cut out) and only in the U.S. (so if you live in Europe and actually attended these shows, you can't buy it).


But in a community that has been used to “trading” for decades, be it cassettes, mp3s or CDRs, the Dead have created a ripe situation for fans to feel ill-treated and justify illegal downloads of the music, which I guarantee you will be available in lossless formats on a million bittorrent sites within hours of the official release, if not sooner.