In 1963, Karajan's Beethoven symphony set cost one week's wage to buy
How much is a recording worth to you? What’s its value – both artistic and in monetary terms? This is something that’s been brought into question quite starkly in recent years. Firstly, the increasing numbers of super-budget back-catalogue reissues – or even new recordings from the likes of Naxos – have caused many a buyer to pause a little longer before shelling out for a full-price disc. More recent still, the rapid developments in online music – first downloads, then streaming – have made most of the history of music available for free or at the very least through an astonishingly good value subscription model.
How things have changed. An industry colleague this week told me of the price to a record collector, back in 1963, of Herbert von Karajan’s first Beethoven symphony cycle with the Berlin Philharmonic, issued by Deutsche Grammophon (the Ninth Symphony is the subject of this month’s Classics Reconsidered – see page 108). The eight-LP set, when purchase tax was added on, cost £14 and 8 shillings (£14.40). At the time, the average British weekly wage was about £15. In the US it cost $47.98 – about 40 per cent of the average weekly American wage at the time, but even so, still a very significant investment. (As indeed was DG’s in making the recording – the label spent 1.5m Deutschmarks and had to sell at least 100,000 to break even. They need not have worried as, one decade on, it had sold 1 million copies.) The set’s just been remastered and handsomely packaged. You can now pick it up for about £45, less than a tenth of today’s average weekly wage.
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