Bielefelder Katalog 1999

by Mike Hennessey

 The good news for the international record industry is that worldwide record sales increased by 3 percent to a total value of $38.7 billion in 1998. Unit sales of records last year amounted to 4.1 billion. These figures, released by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, which represents more than thirteen hundred record producers and distributors in some seventy countries, are generally seen as highly encouraging.

But behind these impressive statistics lurks a far more disturbing situation as far as the record industry is concerned. For the fact is that the practice of buying legitimate recordingsCDs, LPs, and cassettesis fast going out of fashion. Increasingly, music lovers are downloading top-quality digital recordings from the Internetin many cases free of charge. There are today hundreds of thousands of illegal music files on the Internet.

Another major threat to the legitimate industry is the enormous growth of CD-ROM piracy. In the United States alone last year it is estimated that CD-ROM piracy cost the legitimate industry more than three hundred million dollars.

The principal reason for the boom in this pirate activity is the huge increase in the number of blank CD-ROMs being manufactured around the world and sold for as little as one dollar per unit. It is estimated that as many as one billion CD-ROMs will be manufactured this year, and professional CD-ROM copying machines can be bought for as little as two thousand dollars. Basic, one-copy-at-a-time models can be had for a mere two hundred dollars.

This cheap technology has given rise to the phenomenon of "garage piracy" involving the production of limited runs of pirate CD-ROMs largely featuring specialist repertoire.

The IFPI now estimates that around one in three of all recordings sold throughout the world is illegal. And what's more, the enthusiasm among young people for recorded music is diminishing. Wolfgang Orthmayr, who runs Germany's largest record store chain, World of Music, says, "Recorded music is no longer the top youth leisure purchase in Germany but has been superseded by video games and mobile phones."

World of Music says that record sales by German retail outlets were down by as much as 25 percent in April. Some estimates put the decline at as much as 30 percent.

In this context, the appearance of the 1999 edition of the Bielefelder Katalogthe thirty-seventhis a reassuring reminder of the good old days. It underlines the substantial gap between, on the one hand, the ephemeral, disposable popular music of today with its fickle consumers and, on the other, the enduring Jazz repertoire with its dedicated enthusiasts and collectors for whom the Bielefelder Katalog is such an invaluable reference work.

 I am not implying for a moment that all Jazz repertoire is to be treasured, but there is a vast difference between the committed Jazz record buyer who prizes his collection of 78s, LPs, and CDs and the average consumer of pop music who flits from record to record, trend to trend, artist to artist as the fancy takes him or her.

In this context, I must say I enjoyed the comment of Kenny Wheeler, quoted in the latest issue of the German magazine Jazz Thing, who observed, "I wish that Elvis was still alive and his music dead."

The new Bielefelder reflects, to a small extent, the period of stagnation though which the record industry is going, since the number of new Jazz releases listed is down from 1,500 to 1,200, and the total number of available Jazz releases is down from 9,416 to 9,057. However the contraction in the number of multinational record companies (PolyGram now acquired by Universal) and the continuing failure of some record companies to advise Manfred Scheffner, editor of the Katalog, of their releases, are also contributory factors.

Nevertheless Jazz record producers are indefatigable optimists. As I have observed before, it is incredible that with Jazz repertoire accounting for about 2 percent of record sales internationally, so many Jazz albums continue to be produced.

The 1208-page Katalog is, as usual, split into three sections, the first listing tune titles, the second artist, and the third the releases, listed under record labels arranged in alphabetical order. All are cross-referenced.

The tune selection lists 48,714 tune titles (49,840 last year) from A Baby's Smile recorded by Lee Morgan to Zylog by Gary Thomas and Seventh Quadrant. The number of artists listed is down from 21,507 to 21,333, from vocalist Tom Aalfs to guitarist Stanislaw Zybowski.

As usual the Katalog provides detailed information about the recordingsrecord title, format, name of group, compositions played, recording dates (where known), bandleader, and sidemen with instruments.

Known pirate Jazz recordings and bootlegs are not included in the Katalog, but their numbers are growing exponentially. It is a daunting thought, but if the pirates finally take over the record industry, we face the eventual prospect of the publication of a catalog of pirate Jazz recordings which outweighs the two-kilogram Bielefelder. The handwriting is on the wallor should we say, on the Net?our CD-ROM bandit!

(CD-ROM Piracy)

The Bielefelder Katalog, which is also available on CD-ROM (legally), costs 40 DM by surface mail or 58 DM by airmail and can be ordered from Manfred Scheffner, Post Box 60 07 32, 81207 Munich, Germany.

by Mike Hennessey

Jazz Now Magazine -- July 1999 Issue