What's going to become of the greatest hits record?
A couple of weeks ago, I ripped all my CDs to my hard drive. In doing so I uncovered several fantastic albums I had all but forgotten about, including a number of Greatest Hits discs. Among them, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, the Pixies, Faith No More, and Counting Crows.
While all of those are fantastic listens and were well worth the purchase price all those years ago, it got me to thinking about the current digital marketplace and how things are continuing to change. In this case, I was looking at Tom Petty albums on iTunes and realized that I could buy every song on the greatest hits package without ever buying the greatest hits. And where I could do that years ago, I would have had to buy the entire back catalog. Now, however, when I can buy individual songs online in several different locations and formats, well, is there still a need for greates hits albums?
I'm not sure there is. Let's take as an example, the aforementioned Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers Greatest Hits. The disc has, as you would imagine, many of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers biggest hits and most popular songs. The disc also has two new (at the time) songs not available anywhere else. Now, however, not only can I buy the hits on iTunes, Amazon Downloads, and the Microsoft Zune Music Store, I can buy the individual tracks of the two extra songs as well, without having to buy the rest of the disc.
One argument for the continuing existance of greatest hits packages is that it is very convenient for those who don't want to do all the searching necessary to buy each track individually; there are new incentives being offered by iTunes (and by others I would assume although I haven't done the research) such as videos and live versions of the songs on the album. However, I don't see the greatest hits CD surviving much longer. It would seem to me that a much more effective tool these days would be for record labels and bands to make recommended playlists of their songs available in the various digital storefronts rather than spending the time and money in assembling a disc full of already released material.
But, of course, I could be wrong.