Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Schwann Record & Tape Guide

In 1985 the RIAA honored Bill Schwann for "creating and perpetuating the nation's definitive record and tape catalog." They were referring to the Schwann Record & Tape Guide. They got in at the last minute.  A year later the publication was renamed the "Schwann Compact Disc Catalog." LPs and cassettes were out and CDs were on the rise. For more than 50 years Schwann was the primary consumer listing of classical, jazz and pop recordings. Today it's extinct.

William Joseph Schwann was born in 1913 and grew up to be a musician to the core. He was an organist; he a choir director, studied at Harvard's music dept. and in 1939 owned a record store in Cambridge MA. From that store in 1949 he launched the first long-playing record catalog. The first issue was a 26-page list containing of 674 LPs. He put out one issue a year and in 1971 began calling it the Schwann Record &Tape Guide. It was popular. He had to hire staff. By 1977 it ran 300 pages including 40,000 listings. He sold it in 1976 but continued on as editor until he retired in 1985. More here
In the 1980s it was bought by Stereophile magazine. In the 1990s it was bought by valley Media. But revenue was down. Increasingly data was available from other sources and from web services. The numerous retailers in malls didn't bother with the publication and many small labels and distributors didn't either: a feedback loop that destroyed circulation.

In the year 2000 they gave up on the quarterly format. Shwann replaced its quarterly Opus (classical) and Spectrum (pop) catalogs with annual issues. They moved away from paper and moved online supplementing that content via web content and a monthly magazine, Schwann Inside.In their defense the number of releases was increasing. Opus, even as a quarterly was about 1,200 pages long. That is a very expensive way to deliver 3-month old data. It's hard to imagine that it was printed monthly in the 1980s. More here.

In 2002, Schwann was purchased at a bankruptcy auction by Alliance Entertainment Corporation. [LINK] They were more interested in the database than any possible services. The URL was not redirected to Alliance. An announcement was posted describing the sale on the URL and then it was taken down before the years end. It was over.