Libraries reap CD windfall

Wednesday, July 7, 2004
Berryville Librarian Carol Ann Engslov and Library Administrator Jean Elderwind looked over some of the free compact discs that music industry officials were ordered to send to comply with an antitrust settlement. CCN / Anna Mathews

With a cautious enthusiasm, Jean Elderwind helped sort through the hundreds of compact music discs that arrived at the Berryville Library.

"They are great, free and wonderful," said Elderwind, administrator of the Carroll-Madison Library Association. "It's a happy surprise for us."

She also noted that there would be an expense involved in getting the CDs entered into the library system.

"It takes time and there is a cost for the data base," she said. "But, it's far less than the cost of a new music CD."

The Berryville Library, along with libraries statewide, received its share of music CDs that were sent by the recording industry to settle a national price-fixing lawsuit.

Elderwind said she found out the libraries would be receiving the CDs about the same time they began arriving by the box loads.

Each of the six libraries in the Carroll-Madison Library Association were sent about 250 CDs each, and the administrative office received its own shipment, Elderwind said.

"Even our little-bitty St. Paul library, a retired book mobile that's open 10 hours a week, received the CDs," she said. "The hills really are alive with the sound of music!"

All told, the Carroll-Madison Library Association unpacked more than 1,700 randomly selected music CDs from 11 music genres, including classical, country, latin, musicals, big band and some alternative.

"Look, there's three copies of Ricky Martin in this one box," exclaimed Berryville Librarian Carol Ann Engskov. "It's kinda like Christmas!"

While it was fun to sort through the CDs to check out the selection, they were put back in their boxes and stored away.

Elderwind said library association members need an opportunity to meet and discuss what course of action to take with the CDs.

That time won't come until after the summer season ends.

"In Carroll County, we have 72 children's programs going on over the summer," said Elderwind. "After we're done with those, then we'll meet and discuss."

The cost involved with entering the CDs into the library system is significant.

"Every item that comes in has its biographical information entered into the system," said Elderwind. "That takes time and there is a cost for the data base. It's 97-cents per title. And, the plastic cases that the CDs come in would need to be replaced. But, the cost is still far less that what we would pay if we purchased the CDs,"

Elderwind said the association has been thinking about establishing a CD collection for use by its patrons. Currently, each library has a few CDs available.

The unexpected arrival of so many CDs all at once has Elderwind thinking the libraries are being propelled into the CD world, ready or not.

"Eight years ago, we were thinking Internet access," Elderwind recalled. "Then along came Bill Gates with his donation. His foundation helped it happen that much faster. This is the same, only on a smaller scale."

In a letter from state Attorney General Mike Beebe that accompanied the shipment, Beebe stated, "I am pleased that my office's enforcement of the state and federal antitrust laws has led to this positive result on behalf of the consumers in Arkansas. My hope is that through this distribution of CDs, consumers and their families will continue to receive the benefits of this settlement for years to come.

"This distribution of over $75 million worth of CDs coincides with a direct cash distribution to consumers of over $44 million," he continued. "totaling approximately $120 million in cash and product returned to victims of the alleged price-fixing scheme."

The lawsuit accused five big music labels and three national retailers of price-fixing. The industry was charged with unlawfully conspiring to inflate CD prices by establishing policies that set minimum prices for advertised discs.

In the final phase of the settlement, the companies were ordered to send out more than $76 million worth of CDs to libraries, colleges and schools.

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