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With now a keen interest in the state of the recording industry, I was happy to read Joseph Dalton’s optimistic view of it in the current NewMusicBox. Many independent labels are staying the course and some are even increasing their output of CDs. New startups appear every year to fill a perceived need in the market, including Navona, the label Vespers is on. While no one seems to be making a killing, a lot of labels are plugging away.

New voices and new sounds appear every month. I’ve enjoyed getting to know some of them while preparing my weekly contemporary American radio show on WRTI, Now is the Time.

I’m also shamelessly interested in how Vespers is doing on, and I check all the time. Lame, yes, I know. Doubly so, because I really have no idea what the numbers mean. They don’t tell you how many CDs are sold, only the sales ranking, “updated hourly.” Vespers broke through at 100,000 plus (meaning 100,000 were selling more than me), jumped in one day to 27,000, then bounced all over. As far as I know it’s been as high as 3,000, as low as 90,000, and hovered between 7,000 and 20,000 for the longest time. As I write we’re at 47,008—pretty good, I think, as I look up and down at rankings for other CDs. The price moves with the ranking, too—very interesting—I wonder what algorithm drives that, and where the ratchet notches are.

Amazon listThen there are the lists, broken down by category, and while I guess the numbers are correct, the categories are simply fiction. I have dipped into the Top 100 of Hot New Releases in Classical (#59 on July 6th!), and that category makes sense, but usually to find Vespers in a list you have to look in more tightly defined ones. Just don’t expect the lists to make sense. I usually turn up in Hot New Releases / Classical / Historical Periods / Classical (c.1770–1830). Yes. I don’t know, either.

That “circa” slays me, by the way. I mean, relating it to a composer who’s still alive (that would be me, as of this writing), it’s only 200 years off—does the “circa” really matter? Yes, I know that Beethoven was born in 1770. Then why make it c.1770? And if c.1770, why not make the end of the period c.1827, when he died? Who died in 1830? If the question of my mortal existence is irrelevant, I should think that one would err, if err one must, by placing Vespers in the Renaissance category, c.1450–1600. Oh, I see, all the periods begin with “circa,” and none end in “circa.” Okay, that makes even less sense.

But really, it’s hilarious, especially when I see that Phil Kline, David Lang, and Steve Reich are in the same boat with me; so’s Bach. Some artists thrive in the c.1770-1830 period no matter what they perform, such as Yo-Yo Ma, Il Divo, Andre Rieu playing Strauss Jr., and Stile Antico singing Lassus. (I did write Amazon about it, and also asked them to add Piffaro, The Crossing, and Donald Nally as Performers; while they did add the names, they remained unmoved, apparently, by the appeal to my contemporaneity.)

But again, I don’t know what these numbers mean. If Amazon sells 50 copies of Vespers, how much does the ranking move? 100 points? 20,000? For a few days, every time I’d check the HNR/C/HP/C list, I was either #24 or #48. Hm. Oh, look, right now it’s #31, and hey, 14,093, glad I checked.

Well, I did admit to shamelessness. (Does admitting to shame mitigate it? I didn’t think so.) And there are so many other places it’s for sale, some of which I’ve listed here. I just really shouldn’t look anymore. It’s unseemly, isn’t it. Wait, has an hour gone by yet?

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