Now that’s what I call a licence to print money

A still cheerful article from 2001

Since the original Now That’s What I Call Music! album was released, featuring such luminaries of the 80s pop music scene as Phil Collins, Culture Club, Duran Duran and UB40, the series has sold 70 million copies worldwide.

Each edition sells between 500,000 and two million copies – far beyond what would be considered a runaway hit for an individual artist.

As one A&R executive with one of EMI’s rivals, which itself produces “chart toppers” compilations, put it: “Now and other compilations are basically a cash cow. And labels love milking them. It allows the labels and artists to recycle their recent chart hits and get the royalties for the song a second time round in a format that offers something for everyone – it’s musical Quality Street.

“There’s no doubt that it’s a money-spinner,” the A&R executive continues, “The customer gets a sort of four-month summary of the latest hits for the price of a CD and we can rely on a windfall from the recent back catalogue.”

The first Now That’s What I Call Music! compilation was dreamt up and produced in the space of a week in December 1983 by executives at EMI and Virgin – then still an independent label owned by Richard Branson. Previously, the major record labels had refused to release their hit singles onto a market still dominated by tacky Telstar compilations for fear of diverting sales of individual artists’ competing albums. But when the debut Now racked up sales of 900,000 within just a few weeks in Britain alone, the record company moguls realised they were onto a commercial winner.

Ashley Abram, the man who dreamt up the original idea and has produced every Now compilation since, says: “The first album showed that if you had the best acts and chart records, you could get sales. The idea is to get a cross section of what has been in the charts and what is in the charts or will be within the next few weeks in a package that appeals across the board. The way the Now series has continued to succeed is through offering quality songs but also by the fact it reflects the charts – it naturally changes with the times.”

Such was the success of the brand – Now 3 dominated the UK album charts for nine weeks – and a plethora of copycat formats, such as The Best (insert musical genre) Album in the World… Ever!, that it led to a separate compilations chart being formed in 1989 to prevent the main album listing from being dominated by compilations.

According to British Phonographic Industry figures, compilations accounted for 24.1 per cent of all albums sales last year – with Now’s 47, 46 and 45 taking the top three positions respectively.

via Now that’s what I call a licence to print money – Features, Music – The Independent.

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