The Bootleg Police and........the FTD Business Model

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Earlier this month (November 2008) it was reported that Ernst Jorgensen had sent a message to a number of FTD suppliers indicating:

"FTD does not police your activities but others do. We will however support SONY’s battle to stop illegal product, and we need your support. You may want to consider whether it’s really necessary to fill your magazines with reviews of illegal records, both encouraging fans to purchase them, and drawing attention to your own business. Reviews of such records will lead to speculation as to whether you sell this type of product or not. The professional people who investigate bootlegging are not naive! Unfortunately we have already been asked to stop delivery to one fan club, several others are being investigated, and a few were VERY lucky in the last 12 months not to get caught."

Below is EIN's view on the matter and your feedback

EIN Comments on the message sent by Ernst Jorgensen.....

is it time to rethink the FTD business model?

While your feedback on this issue is mixed, a common theme is dissatisfaction with the job Ernst is currently doing with FTD.

It is EIN's view that Ernst has established what is a remarkable and will be an indelible legacy in the Elvis world. His contribution far exceeds the impact of people like Felton Jarvis and Joan Deary, both of whom made not inconsiderable contributions.

One of the problems facing FTD with its current strategic plan and business model is that increasing the amount of product in an environment of restricted (even diminishing) financial, creative and time availability, means that quality is likely to suffer. This is basic marketing and management theory.

A related issue is that EIN would not be surprised that after enjoying initial success on lifting the number of quarterly releases from 1 to 3, the resulting increase in quarterly profits may have instilled an expectation in Sony BMG management that such a profit level was sustainable. As demand has fallen and so have profits, FTD is likely under more pressure to achieve desired results.

The reality of these factors is that FTD has become somewhat "flabby" in the past few years. Sure, there are still outstanding releases, but as many fans have noted on the various message boards (and below), poor editing and a decrease in the number of previously unreleased tracks are both indicators of a decline in overall quality.

Having said this, Elvis fans are incredibly lucky in having FTD and the related work of Ernst, Roger Semon, Kevan Budd, Vic Anesini etc. We should be eternally grateful for this!

Few other artists have their own Collector's Label. EIN is informed there are similar labels for Jimi Hendrix and The Rolling Stones. Certainly, in recent years, Bob Dylan has taken to officially releasing his "bootleg" series and "Parrothead" Jimmy Buffett, has been releasing digipack soundboards of his live shows for many years on his own record label, Mailboat Records.

In Buffett's case, the soundboard releases are often double album issues and in a number of cases they have also come with an added live show DVD. It must be noted the Buffett releases have a price below what we pay for FTD releases but have the added benefit of being commercially available.

The issue of bootleg (import) releases has always been an incendiary one with the "bootleg police" surfacing every few years to frighten the bejesus out of producers and sellers. While its tactics often force the bootleggers underground, history shows this is only a temporal thing and implicitly this means any rise in profitability is likely to be a short term one.

We should remember that of all the bootlegs released each year only a handful are of high quality or of particular interest. Also, average pressing numbers are only 500 and most titles do not sell out!

There is a strong argument that those who buy bootlegs are the very same people motivated to buy FTD releases.....they are the "collectors".

Yes, there are likely to be some "lost" sales and if those are having a major impact on FTD's survival, the label is indeed on shaky ground.

Perhaps it is time for FTD to rethink its business model and offer its releases online via a dedicated FTD website and/or increased listings on sites such as Amazon and B&N. The increased sales by broadening access to FTDs could prove to be a master stroke!

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Added 19 November 2008

Armond Joseph: Sony's threat, and the letter from Ernst make me laugh! EIN is right in stating that this sort of threat comes and goes from time to time. Think about it logically and you'll see that the threat is bogus. Here's a case in point. The "industry" decided it wanted to go after Napster for sharing music on line. They were so aggressive, they eventually forced Napster to become just one more legit music server.

Now, if you and I can readily find boots, be it on eBay or from a fan-club, don't tell me Sony can't find the bootleggers! That's ridiculous. They know who and where they are. If they really wanted to shut them down, they would do so. So why don't they want to? I bet that some of the bootleggers are in fact big time Elvis collectors. They contribute to the Elvis legacy in ways that we can only dream of. Some of them, I'm sure, paid big bucks for an original soundboard tape.

How in the world did Madison get the multi-track stereo recordings from On Tour? Someone on the inside sold them to a big time Elvis collector. Sony nor Ernst wants to anger the hand that feeds them. So go ahead Sony, and threaten til the cows come home. As soon as the dust settles, I'll place my next import order!

If FTD really wants to win the market, just replicate Madison. They've got it nailed! Stop putting out crappy CD's like "America" and get a sound engineer that may not be as cute as Lene Ridel, but can at least normalize the sound.

Mary: I love my bootleg albums and my Follow That Dream albums. I them to keep on releasing them.

Samuel Ketenjian: My comments are similar to what I wrote on an ElvisNews story.  I have been buying and collecting everything put out by FTD since the beginning, but recently I have had to rethink my position.  We have had heard now for several years about the Sun project and the Hayride 56 complete sho, yet there is no news and no release date!?  The Sun project should be released with everything possible and the Hayride should be a commercial release in an amazing quality package and be promoted as such - it is historic by the greatest entertainer in the world.

I believe some of the problems started when FTD released The Way It Was on a single CD when the book version was already available.  Secondly, releases such as America, Nevada Nights and perhaps now I'll Remember You do not seem essential.  The Classic releases have suffered as well because of too much duplication.  My thoughts are release the above projects, continue the soundtracks to completion, and let each FTD stand on its own and keep its value - no more duplication. My best to the Elvis world.

Bill Waters: I agree with the sentiment that FTD should find one outlet for its product.  I would suggest Amazon, which has divisions in many countries, Japan, U.S.A., U.K., France, China, Germany.  They provide excellent service, first rate packing and competitive pricing and ship internationally.

David Marr: Its not The Rolling Stones who have a collectors label but The Doors. Pearl Jam and Lucinda Williams also release all or some of their concerts on cd for a limited time. I enjoy reading bootleg reviews but i no longer buy them and haven't done so for years simply because everything is slowly being made available officially. I  think that FTD should be made more available to other outlets, perhaps the big city centre shops such as HMV. I also think that more advertising is needed. I never see any reviews for the FTD releases even in magazines such as Record Collector which is a must read for most Elvis collectors. Its a shame that the great amount of work that Ernst and Roger have done with FTD is not more widely appreciated. 

Jeremy Lyons: For f..k's sake its about Elvis not about the all mighty f...n' dollar!

Added 17 November 2008

Mark Cunliffe: It's a shame to hear so much winging about FTD from some of those who have written in. The strategy of release the best of alternative Elvis takes via BMG in box sets and special releases etc (Today,Tommorow and Forever, Close Up etc), and releasing pretty much everything else for committed collectors, to me, has worked well. The net result is that we have, or very soon will have, pretty much everything Elvis ever commited to tape. We have some wonderful FTD compilations (So High, The Nashville Marathon, I Sing All Kinds etc), plus indepth outtakes for each album with the Classic series, plus sound boards from each of the major Vegas and tour seasons. What more could you possibly ask for?
I think the FTD letter is reasonable. Sites that review or advertise bootlegs product are actively supporting illegal activity. It's responsible of FTD to warn of the repercussions. Quite honestly, why anyone sees the need to buy sub standard bootleg product when we have such a comprehensive range of quality FTD releases to choose from is beyond me.
Your article sets out to suggest that there is a financial motive for the FTD letter i.e  it's profitabilty is under threat. I think that that's a big jump to make unless you are party to the financial expectations of the label. Certainly, in public, Ernst has always maintained that sales for each FTD CD is in line with expectations and that profitability is not the main driver of the label. I'd like to think that is still the case.
However, should FTD wish to expand sales, your suggestion of having a dedicated FTD site is a good one. Having each album fully reviewed would also help drive up demand, especially having Piers style reviews pre release. FTD really should head hunt him! In addition, drumming up general Elvis public awareness of the FTD label would be beneficial, via more prominant advertising of FTD on Elvis BMG albums and Elvis DVD's. It's surprising how many Elvis fans still aren't aware of FTD and the fantastic world of new Elvis listening material it offers. In addition, use of google/ yahoo internet marketing to drive traffic to specific FTD product would certainly drive sales, as would be increasing distribution of the FTD releases with the on line shops like Amazon that you suggest. 

Bobby (Texas): You know a lot of the early boots came from my home state or thereabouts! And they were damn good ones at that. America is the land of opportunity and I say let the record companies run free. FTD bootleggers moonshine whatever bring it on.

Jeanne Pellicani: When the FTD label first started out, I couldn't wait to get the next release. In the last few years, with the release of so many classic re-issues and soundtrack albums in the 7 inch format, I've lost interest in a lot of it. It seems they're giving us less new material and fewer unreleased tracks. The CDs have so much repeated material on them that it's a waste of money for me. I also prefer the standard CD size packaging because it's much easier to store. In addition, the FTD releases are very expensive and the economy is bad.  FTD really should re-think their approach. 

Benji: The FTD mob have done a good job and a lot of the boots are substandard.

Daniel Massey: The fact is that the bootleg releases contain material that is of an extremely high quality (a greensboro revolution was taken from stereo multitracks and sounds brilliant!) and are mostly things that FTD would not consider releasing in the near future such as complete sessions from 1969 etc. This means people are more likely to buy the bootleg cd's because it is more value for money. If FTD worked with the bootleggers we would witness a new era of excellent Elvis releases (i know this is not feasible...but it would be good). 

Celia Gregory: I do not have a large Elvis album collection and I do not buy FTD or bootleg releases. I have my favorites and that pretty much keeps me happy. From my position the debate is all about money and with the current global financial meltdown it is not a happy thing I want for Elvis.

Jasper (UK): FTD rules! The bootleggers should crawl back from where they come from.

Added 15 November 2008

Trevor (Essex): Ernst Jorgensen is the best thing to ever happen to Elvis's catalogue.

Guy: The one conclusion I draw from Ernst's action is that FTD is in big trouble! I wonder how much longer it can survive?

Ben: Ernst should be careful. If he doesn't supply FTD releases to several clubs where do their members get the releases from?

Patricia: Ernst is being a little disengenuous in his remarks. As I understand it he is part of BMGs Elvis committee and a key player in decisions about Elvis.

Ken Suffolk: FTD would have nothing to worry about if it released consistently high quality product. It has shot itself in the foot by releasing 12 albums a year. If they rerturned to their original premise and gave us only one album a quarter they would have more time to ensure each release is a quality product and more time to ensure each release is likely to actually be wanyed by fans.

Frank Peters: I will continue to buy both FTD and import releases!

Chad Heywood: FTD is not the label it used to be. Do we really need the deluxe classic and soundtrack series?

Patricia R: I don't buy many bootlegs as they are too pricey. People should stop knocking Ernst and appreciate the terrific job he has done over the years in restoring Elvis's music for the fans.

James: What I want to know is just who has asked Ernst to stop supplying one club?

Mark Chalmers: Leave the import labels alone. If they didn't offer fans something they wanted then they wouldn't exist, would they.

Ricky: What a fuss over a few import albums.

Stanford the Surfie: Me thinks Ernst's use by date has expired.

Watts: FTDs are too expensive. Drop the price and I'll buy more.

Adam: Who really cares about either FTD or boots. Both are exorbitantly expensive and musically are usually overhyped. Give me How Great Thou Art or Elvis' Golden Records anytime!

Bryan T: I for one have my digits crossed that FTD lasts another 10 years. Thanks Ernst!

Sergio: Big business versus the little guy! I'm rooting for the little guy.

Dino: This is a case of too many chiefs and not enough indians.

Adam Tonks: Obviously Ernst doesn't like competition.

Sandra Jennings (Lancs): I know what bootlegs are but how are import albums involved?

EIN Note: Import albums is another term for bootlegs

Charles the Great: Elvis would turn in his grave if he knew what was happening.

Hugh Leonard: We need to back Ernst on this one. It is an important thing. Unlike the bootleggers he hasn't let us down. If FTD goes under I can just imagine all the bleating that will happen and how quicklty the boot lovers will change their tune.

Jenny: FTD was good label once but not anymore they just rip us off by putting out more and more records but not thinking of whats we really want

Ken M: FTD is the official Elvis collector label. The import companies are illegal. Enough said!!!

OMT: So now FTD wants to monoplise the market and control when and what fans are given. Let me think......NO!

Tim K: Ernst says he has been asked to stop selling FTDs to one club. Who has told him this and if he stops supplying other clubs selling boots it may well be he has few clubs to sell FTDs to. That would spell the end of FTD.

Ed: Ernst should leave the import guys alone. If he concentrated more on giving us really good FTD releases rather than moaning he wouldn't have a problem.

Vicky: I bought all of the FTD albums when they first came out. But I lost interest as they releassed more and more each time. I don't have much money and can't afford to buy them all.

Babyface: As we know, Elvis was big on numerology. There are 5 letters in "Elvis" and there are 5 letters in "Ernst". "Import" has 6 letters and "bootleg" has 7 letters. Ernst wins hands down.

Jack Waters: Elvis put it best in his music "Don't be cruel to a heart that's true"

Peter (Washington): If the boots issue is so bad its time BMG told us how much it is costinmg them and EPE in lost sales and royalties.

Eric Porter: What is Ernst trying to do? Kill off FTD? If he doesn't supply those selling boots who has he got left to supply??? How bizarre!

Shelton_060769: FTD has become too greedy by increasing the number of regular releases and introducing visually appealing but musically berfeft soundtracks and unnecessary classic albums. The clasic albums, if that important, should be sold at retail not through a collectors label.

Brian Peachey: FTD must be struggling if Ernst J. is getting involved.  A sad situation as the bootleggers fulfil an important niche in the market.

Karen Sendon (California): Living in America I can only buy the FTD albums from Graceland. Where can I go to buy some import albums?

Amber Smith: I buy more boots than I do FTDs and my respect for Ernst Jorgensen has dropped now that hes sent out this letter.

Send in the Clowns: Cut Ernst some slack. The guys great.

Peta: I buy both FTD and import releases but only the good ones.

Geoff Tennant: Geez, how desperate is FTD getting?  Come on, the quality of stuff from Madison etc is generally first rate and fans want it.

Steve K: The bootleggers are scum!  They deprive artists and songwriters of rightful royalties.  Good on FTD for protecting Elvis’ royalties.

Warren B: In the 80s I couldn’t wait for the latest boot release to arrive in my post box.  As I’ve got older I’ve become more selective both on what boots I buy and what FTDs I buy.  The end result is I only buy releases I’m interested in so neither the bootleggers or FTD is affecting each other.

Tom in Middlesex: I don’t see how a few hundred boots affect the overall Elvis market.  If they do FTD must be in worse shape than we thought.

Sam: Ernst & FTD have done such great things for fans I can understand their wanting to protect future FTD releases.  The quality of boots is so variable it’s a joke.

John: FTD lost me a few years ago.  When it started out it was truly a label for the diehard fan.  But lately its obvious $$$$ are the main motivation.  Too many releases, sloppy editing, exorbitant prices all devalue the worth of FTD albums.

Stevie: Seems Ernst wants the baddies to spend some Jailhouse Rock time.

Colin (Herts): I believe the price of FTD and import CDs is far too high. It is a rip-off and both FTd and import labels set out to exploit fans.

Jack Kearns: There’s room for both FTD and the bootleggers.

Sid Banning: Can’t we just get on with enjoying whatever Elvis album comes out.  From what I’ve read on the boards the boots don’t sell much anymore so what’s the problem?

Jeff: I guess I can understand Ernst’s motivation in publicising the bootleg police.  As his stock of unreleased material dwindles he doesn’t want the bootleggers releasing inferior product which FTD will eventually give us in high quality.

Brendan Howard: The original basis for FTD was lost several years ago. Ernst should sit down and rethink what he originally set out to do. FTD is a victim of expanding too quickly and losing sight of its main purpose. Getting back to basics is its only chance of surviving.

Jupiter Rising (and that ain't all!): How any fan can criticise Ernst Jorgensen is beyond belief. What the guy has done for Elvis and us fans is absolutely astounding.

Fuzzy Bear: Why aren't the FTD albums sold in retail stores like the Dylan bootleg series? If BMG did that they'd have a better chance of sto,ping out the bootleggers.

Garry T: The bootleggers rule!!!

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