Public librarians aren’t prone to looking gift horses in the mouth, but many have nevertheless been taken aback by the odd and in some cases overly generous allotments of free music CDs that have begun arriving in the last week as the result of the settlement of an antitrust lawsuit against major record companies.
The CD cornucopia — consisting of approximately 5.6 million compact discs — was billed as a windfall for libraries and schools when it was announced in September 2002 as part of a $144 million settlement of the lawsuit, which alleged that music distribution companies illegally inflated the price of CDs by requiring retailers to sell them at or above a set level in order to qualify for substantial advertising funding.
But when the first shipments began arriving last week, some librarians suspected that the companies — the Bertelsmann Music Group, EMI Music Distribution, Warner-Elektra-Atlantic, Warner Music Group and Sony Music Entertainment — were dumping CDs that had been gathering dust in warehouses when they received hundreds of copies of some titles for which there is little or no demand.
Computer programming glitch blamed
The good news is that the mystery has been solved and the source of the overabundance has been determined to be nothing more sinister than a computer-programming glitch that will soon be fixed, law enforcement officials say.
The bad news is that libraries that were among the first to receive their free CDs are now going to have to figure out what to do with all the duplicates.
Among them are the librarians at the Tacoma (Wash.) Public Library, who last week received a shipment of 1,325 CDs that included 57 copies of “Three Mo’ Tenors,” a 2001 recording featuring classically trained African American tenors Roderick Dixon, Thomas Young and Victor Trent Cook; 48 copies of country artist Mark Wills’ 2001 album “Loving Every Minute,” 47 copies of “Corridos de Primera Plana,” a greatest hits compilation by Los Tuscanes de Tijuana (2000); 39 copies of “Yolanda Adams Christmas” (2000); 37 copies of Michael Crawford’s “A Christmas Album” (1999) and 34 copies of the Bee Gees’ “This Is Where I Came In” (2001).
“Not to disparage the artists represented, but I was pretty surprised by the numbers,” said librarian Lara Weigand, noting that the library system normally would stock no more than two copies of the most-popular titles at each of its 10 branches. “I didn’t know what the terms of the settlement were for schools and libraries, but I did not think that it was the intent that we would get more copies than we could use.”
Other libraries reported similar anomalies in their part of the settlement, which earlier this year led to approximately 3.5 million consumers who signed up as complainants in the lawsuit receiving checks for $13.86 apiece.
‘Tons ... of Christina Aguilera's Christmas album’
Eva Silverstone, communications director for the Spokane Public Library, said the library in eastern Washington received many copies of “Three Mo’ Tenors” among its 1,325 CDs, along with “tons of copies of Christina Aguilera’s Christmas album.” All told, she said, 15 titles represented 36 percent of the shipment.
“We’ll be able to add approximately 283 titles to our collection,” she said. “We’re obligated to either trade the others with other libraries or give them to our friends of the library group for sale, with any proceeds going to support the music program,” she said. “It’s a positive thing, but it’s also a little bit disappointing.”
The public library in Worcester, Mass., with a main library and two branches, received 150 copies of “Nastradamus,” a 1999 album by the rapper Nas, and 148 copies of “Entertainment Weekly’s Greatest Hits of 1971.”
“It’s an OK album with some decent songs on it, it’s just that we don’t need 148 of them,” Penny Johnson, head librarian of the Worcester library, said of the latter. She said that other libraries in Massachusetts that received more individual titles than they can use are arranging to exchange their excess copies and will then try to sell the rest.
The Des Moines (Iowa) Public Library was on track to take the lead in redundancies, though the identification of the programming bug may come in time to avert what might have been a record overkill. Its crate of 2,647 CDs, due to arrive in the next couple weeks, was listed as containing 430 single-song discs — 16 percent of the total -- of Whitney Houston singing “The Star Spangled Banner” at the 1991 Super Bowl, according to Steve Cox, of the Iowa State Library.
430 copies of ‘Star Spangled Banner’
Carla Tibboel, collection development librarian in Des Moines, was astonished to hear that piles of the patriotic hymn were supposedly heading her way.
“Whoa! That’s a little more than we actually need,” she said with a nervous laugh.
While some librarians said they immediately suspected the strange allotments were the result of the music companies involved in the settlement dumping unwanted product that had been gathering dust in their warehouses, state officials involved in the settlement say there is an innocent explanation for the mix-up.
“In trying to give everyone a variety of genres, the claims administrator wrote an allocation program that resulted in some entities getting large numbers of a certain title and others getting no copies,” said Tina Kondo, senior assistant attorney general for Washington state, one of 43 states and territories that participated in the antitrust suit. “We checked with the claims administrator and they’re in the process of reprogramming the allocation formula.”
Amy Lake, a spokeswoman for the claims administrator, Rust Consulting of Minneapolis, Minn., did not return phone calls seeking comment on the snafu.
The adjustment in the program will come as great relief to librarians who have been hearing reports of the weird shipments in the last week and contemplating what surprises they might have in store.
“We’ve been wondering if we’re going to get 12,000 Yanni CDs,” said Wallace Hoffsis, director of collections development for the Sacramento (Calif.) Public Library.
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