Last week Bob Dylan announced the release of the eleventh entry in his ‘Bootleg’ collection, a huge catalog of Basement Tapes tracks spanning six CD’s. Now, as a colossal, monumental, even absurdly devoted Bob Dylan fan, I was naturally pretty excited. Until I learned how this release is handling the pricing and distribution.
I’ve never had an issue shelling out a bit extra to get Dylan goodies. His content has always been notoriously expensive, since Columbia capitalizes on his name for sales and I’ve accepted that as a loyal fan always eager for more Dylan to munch on.
I was a bit annoyed with Columbia with the last series when they elected to only release a ‘sampler’ to streaming services like Spotify for the Bootleg Series. It was frustrating, because the rest of the series’ are all available on these services. However, Columbia, again, wanted to get you buying the CD, so I did.
This new Bootleg Series is taking serious advantage of fans. The regular two disc CD collection will cost $20 - a reasonable price tag… if you were getting the whole collection. The whole collection, which is six CD’s, goes for $150. So, in order to get every song, you go from paying $10 a CD with the ‘highlight reel’ option to $25 a CD for the full catalog. The cheapest method to get all the songs is to digitally order them for $60, bringing the price back down to $10 a CD. That’s absurd, though, because digital files are supposed to save you money, not allow you to break even by getting less.
The vinyl option is priced at $100, which is fair, but only includes content from three of the CD’s. So, even a vinyl aficionado like myself is turned off to this route, due to the lack of content there as well.
I have no doubt that Columbia will opt for the ‘streaming sampler’ again for this series, meaning fans will be forced into paying unreasonable price tags for content. It’s also worth noting that this content isn’t going to be as high in quality as previous Dylan bootleg releases. This is stuff cut out of the Basement Tapes. The Basement Tapes were already demos, and that release was the best of those demos. Then ‘Lost on the River’ got the best unreleased lyrics to work with, which comes out right around the time of this release. (A new record where the likes of Elvis Costello and Marcus Mumford re-imagine recently discovered Basement Tape era lyrics.) So, we’re getting demos of demos, the bottom of the barrel that is left over from ‘Lost on the River’ and a previous 1976 release of the content. So, as much as I love Dylan, this will logically be his weakest bootleg release. I suspect it’ll sound like much of the Basement Tape era we’ve already heard before, which in honesty, isn’t particularly strong to begin with.
I’ll get highway robbed and pay for the digital files, because at least I’ll be able to get the content without shelling out $150. This Bootleg Series, though, seems poorly organized and centralized widely around capitalizing on the hype ‘Lost on the River’ has accumulated through its teasing of the Basement Tape era once again. Columbia and Bob Dylan continue to betray their fans through this sort of market scheming; it’s a shame an alternative doesn’t exist.