Are you willing to spend $500 for a CD that the record companies give away for free?

Nirvana's "Pennyroyal Tea" commands $1,000 on eBay, but poor David Byrne can't buy a date for $1.99.

By Stephanie Zacharek
May 24, 1999 8:00PM (UTC)
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Collectors of music and music memorabilia are a scary lot, but give them a modem connection and they turn into a really gruesome bunch. It's not unusual to see record collectors duking it out on eBay, or any of the other online auction sites, over a particularly choice rarity, or to find Dylanophiles ratcheting up the bid price on a dinner napkin allegedly scribbled on by the great man himself. But there are plenty of collectors eager to shell out big bucks for more recent relics as well: The June issue of Ice, a monthly magazine devoted to CDs, reports that certain out-of-print and promo CDs are going for outrageous sums on Internet auction sites. For example: a 17-year-old high school student from Euclid, Ohio, paid $810 for a Tori Amos five-track promo. An out-of-print 1994 Dusty Springfield box from Britain went for $411. And on April 22, a zealous fan shelled out $430 for an advance promo CD of the solo album by Jordan Knight (formerly of New Kids on the Block), due in stores on May 25, just so he could be the first kid on his block to hear it.

Prices like that make selling to CD collectors sound like a hugely glamorous enterprise. But even though certain items fetch outlandish prices, for every copy of the Nirvana CD single "Pennyroyal Tea" that goes for $1,000 (as one did recently), there are still going to be heaps of lonesome $1.99 David Byrne advance CDs languishing without a single bidder.


A quick scan of recent promo-CD auctions on eBay found plenty of items going for $10 or less. And a copy of "Thinking of You," by poor Lenny Kravitz, had reached the princely sum of 60 cents with only two hours of auction time left to go.

Even so, it's an education to hop on eBay and see what collectors are circling in the $40-to-$100 range. To someone out there, a promo copy of Celine Dion's "The Collection" is worth at least $67. A Richie Sambora live promo CD had hit $104.49 several hours before auction's close. Sarah McLachlan promos are doing surprisingly well, proving that even fans of sensitive singer-songwriters have a little bit of the barracuda in them when it comes to aggressive bidding: an advance copy of her live "Mirrorball" went for $40 on May 21. (The album is slated for release on June 15 -- for one fan, at least, that's just too long to wait.) McLachlan interview discs have been going for as much as $50. (Sure hope she has something interesting to say.)

Needless to say, Ice reports, record labels (both major and indie) are unhappy about the selling of CDs before their release dates and are taking steps to prevent it. According to Ice, an advance CD and press kit for a Marty Stuart album due to be released on June 15 was taken off the block -- the price had reached $150 -- and this note was posted by the seller: "As of Sunday, April 18, this auction is canceled due to threat of legal action by MCA records." But until the record industry cracks down en masse, people will try to sell whatever they can get away with -- for as much as they can get. And all those Richie Sambora fans with loose hundreds to throw around will be very, very happy.

Stephanie Zacharek

Stephanie Zacharek is a senior writer for Salon Arts & Entertainment.

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