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Thursday, July 2, 1998 Published at 18:26 GMT 19:26 UK


CDs: Over priced and over here

Consumers in Britain are getting a bad deal when it comes to music CDs, with prices a good deal higher than in many other countries, according to a new survey.

In Britain you would pay on average around £14.49 for the CD soundtrack to the film Titanic. In Hong Kong, says the survey, the same CD would cost you around £8.

The survey by the consumer magazine Which? was compiled from prices gathered from around 300 shops in nine countries: UK, Australia, Finland, Hong Kong, Iceland, Ireland, The Netherlands, New Zealand and Switzerland.

[ image:  ]
The best prices were to be found outside Europe. Pop singles and albums were cheapest in New Zealand, Australia and Hong Kong. The Spice Girls', Spiceworld, sells at around £13.46 in Britain, but in Hong Kong, you can pick it up for around £8.

The price difference does not concern only the latest releases and chart toppers. Bob Dylan's 1960s classic Blonde on Blonde costs £10.87 in the UK, but for New Zealanders, the survey says it is a mere £3.87.

There was also a large variation in the cost of classical CDs and "golden oldies," with Pink Floyd's The Wall ranging £18.99 to £30.99 in the UK.

What's going on?

Four years ago, the Monopolies and Mergers Commission investigated the price of CDs. It found that Britain's record industry was not guilty of overcharging consumers.

But Which? says the high prices are the result of a monopoly on retailers by the five major record companies: BMG, EMI, PolyGram, Sony and Warner.

It says: "We're concerned about the grip that these companies have over distribution (and hence prices)."

But even if retailers in Britain want to sell CDs for less, they would have a hard job of getting the big companies to supply them with the stock, and an even harder time finding alternative suppliers.

[ image: Survey clears retailers of the blame]
Survey clears retailers of the blame
Furthermore, it is illegal for a retailer to import CDs from the US, where they are cheaper and sell them in Britain, because the manufacture and distribution of CDs are subject to specific and exclusive copyright licences in different parts of the world.

Net music

For the technologically-minded and equipped, there is some hope.

Through the Internet, consumers have the access to online shops around the world, where CDs are on sale for much less. There is also the opportunity available to download music for free from some bands' Websites.

Which? magazine says the Net is "particularly worrying to the record companies, because they offer the consumers the possibility of bypassing legitimate music buying altogether."

The irony is that for an industry that has always championed the use of new technologies and ways of working, this could be the one big threat to its pricing policies yet.

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