How Do They Market Compilation Albums, and Who Buys Them?

I happened to hear on the CBC today that Diana Krall has a new compilation album out called The Very Best of Diana Krall. I’m not a fan, but it got me thinking about ‘best of’ albums, why they’re made and how they’re marketed.

I didn’t think for very long, because I decided that I know almost nothing about the subject. Presumably these albums aren’t targeted at dedicated fans, because they already own almost all the tracks from their original releases.

Just Some Demos I Recorded in My Basement

I say ‘almost’ because the compilation album usually includes one or two token ‘previously unreleased’ songs, which are obviously there entice the loyal fan who wants to own everything by their favourite artists (I’m reminded of an old Barenaked Ladies song). iTunes, PureTracks et al have changed this practice, enabling fans to only purchase the 10% of the music that they don’t already own. That said, I’m guessing that most Diana Krall fans will still be buying CDs as opposed to downloading music.

One way to get fans to buy compilation CDs is to pair them with another whole CD of previously unreleased material. I remember that the 10,000 Maniacs did this, and I bought in. Did I get real value for my money? Probably not, but I was pleased to hear 14 new songs (or versions of songs) that I hadn’t heard before.

Assuming it isn’t existing fans, who buys compilations? I’m so out of tune with the music buying patterns of the average adult that I have very little idea. How do people over thirty buy music these days? Do they go to HMV or Walmart with particular CDs in mind? Do they decide ‘I’m going to buy a CD today’, and then peruse the store aisles for something that strikes their fancy? Do they usually visit the artist’s website first?

How do you shop for music? Do you buy compilations? I’m less interested to hear from the iTunes and Music users of the world, and more keen to hear from people who walk into bricks and mortar stores and walk out with shiny plastic discs.

On a vaguely related note, while watching season one of “Heroes”, I was reminded once again of how Ms. Krall and Ali Larter were separated at birth.


  1. I’m probably an example of an atypical user. I don’t own an Ipod yet. I do download music from friends’ websites, or from the livejournal community “audiography.”

    I listen to a lot of these new songs on my computer. If I like the songs enough, I may go buy an album by that artist.
    I still like cds and have a discman and stereo.

    There are some artists that I will buy no matter what and I will go to the store and immediately purchase their album.

    I also buy a lot based on things I hear about through friends.

    I’m over 30. I buy one or 2 albums a month, I think. I plan to buy an MP3 player soon.

  2. I would buy a best of album if it was an artist that I wanted to learn more about.

    Let’s say that I wanted to learn more about The Who. I would buy a best of, read all about them, then possibly buy some other albums etc.
    I’m a very intensive learner and researcher, so that’s probably atypical.
    Or if I liked a couple Blondie songs, I might pick up a Very Best of collection, to help me as a launching point.

  3. Best Of albums are for artists whose songs you like well enough from what you’ve heard, but not enough to be completist about. Blondie is actually a good example: they had lots of hits, but I’m not someone who particularly wants to delve into their entire back catalogue.

    I’d be interested in buying a “Best Of” that includes “Heart of Glass” and “Rapture” and “One Way or Another” and “Call Me” and so on. But album tracks and B-sides? Meh.

    Another example is the Rolling Stones. It might be worth owning “Let It Bleed” and “Exile on Main Street” and a few other classic full albums, but a Best Of or box set can help mop up the rest of the good stuff without having to buy a bunch of crappy Stones albums after their early-’70s creative peak, or a mishmash of stuff from their early years.

    In other words, Best Of albums are for the casual fan of an act, or to fill in gaps for someone who doesn’t want every single album. Now, why anyone would buy a Best Of Scritti Politti or other one-hit wonder, I don’t know, especially now in the days of iTunes. To me, anyone with a Best Of or Greatest Hits should be an act with at least a semblance of a career under their belts.

    I’d estimate that a higher percentage of over-30 buyers get Greatest Hits CDs as well, in part because our musical tastes tend to have ossified by then, and we’re unlikely to take a risk on full albums anymore.

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