A recent glance at Amazon.de (that’s the German version of Amazon.com) would have revealed this astonishing top-10 list of best-selling CDs:
- J. Lo (Jennifer Lopez)
- Wagner’s Ring (Wilhelm Furtwängler)
- 1 (The Beatles)
- Viva Verdi (Claudio Abbado, Georg Solti, et al.)
- Beethoven String Quartets (Alban Berg Quartet)
- Beethoven Symphonies/Concerti (Otto Klemperer and Daniel Barenboim)
- No Angel (Dido)
- Richard Strauss: Orchestral Works (Rudolf Kempe)
- Sing When You’re Winning (Robbie Williams)
- Bach Organworks (Werner Jacob)
Six out of the top-10 best-selling CDs were classical. At No. 2 we have a 14-CD set of Wilhelm Furtwängler’s historic performance of Wagner’s epic “Ring Cycle,” some 15 hours of the most difficult-to-absorb music ever penned by man. What could account for this apparent rediscovery of classical music? As it turns out, most likely nothing other than an error by some low-paid clerical worker deep in the heart of Amazon Germany, who evidently priced these mega-CD sets at the price of a single CD on sale. That’s roughly $7 plus shipping.
So somewhere in Germany a few obscure CD sets were mispriced. Pre-Internet, that would have been like the proverbial tree falling in the forest. But last month, news of the mistake spread worldwide at roughly the speed of light. It started innocently enough with on “rec.music.classical.recordings,” one of the thousands of Usenet newsgroups. In addition to the hundreds of regular participants in RMCR (as the insiders call it), there are also hundreds or perhaps thousands of “lurkers”—people who scan the bulletin board regularly for information, recommendations, and just plain amusement. This is a parallel universe where people who see themselves as the last bulwark against the tide of popular culture can share their passions and commiserate about the decline of civilized entertainment. Many of the regulars are who have CD collections numbering in the thousands, or even tens of thousands, with strong opinions on the relative merits of each and every one of them (and on many others as well). Many own dozens of recordings of the same piece of music.
The message about Amazon.de drew around 200 responses over a three-day period, including helpful instructions for those having difficulty navigating the German Web site. (One message included a Web address for a free site that translates text.) Before long, however, someone at Amazon.de discovered the mix-up and unceremoniously canceled all the orders. This was followed by a cavalcade of sorrowful postings, each relating how an order had been canceled and describing a range of emotions from “crushed” to “miffed.” Subsequent messages took on an air of entitlement, with calls for media coverage and investigations into German consumer protection laws. By Day 6 the storm seemed to have subsided, and messages were again appearing with titles such as “Reiner or Stokowski Shostakovitch 6?” “Poulenc and Debussy on Naxos,” and “Best LvB’s Eroica Sym # 3, Kabasta or Mengelberg?” Amazon.de’s top-10 list was restored to its usual pop catalog.
Oh, and the Furtwängler Wagner’s Ring? Available for about $90, plus $15 shipping and handling. Its current Amazon.de sales rank is 11,517. But classical lovers, take heart: Viva Verdi was still hanging in there at No. 24.