It's finally showdown time in the record business over the controversial CD longbox.
If longbox foes and supporters agree on anything, it's that the true test of the longbox's future would come when a major rock star put out a CD without its bulky 6x12-inch package.
The future is now. Two of rock's top stars, Peter Gabriel and Sting, are about to release albums that either ditch the longbox entirely or offer a replacement package that cuts down on paperboard waste, which has made the longbox such an ecological eyesore.
A major force behind the recent series of Amnesty International concert tours, Gabriel puts out his Geffen Records album "Shaking the Tree: 16 Golden Greats" on Dec. 4. He'll be followed by Sting, another Amnesty participant and a longtime environmental activist, who'll release his new A&M album "The Soul Cage" on Jan. 22.
Gabriel's CD simply comes in a jewelbox. Sting's album uses a proposed longbox replacement, the Digitrack. It's a multi-paneled 5x11-inch paperboard package that is displayed in removable -- and potentially recyclable -- plastic holders, which allows it to fit it current CD retail bins but fold up to jewel-box size for use at home.
The Gabriel CD poses the biggest test of anti-longbox fervor. Many retailers, most notably Show Industries chief Lou Fogelman, who runs several major record-store chains including Music Plus, have vowed not to stock or sell CDs distributed without a longbox.
'When Peter came to us a few weeks ago and said he wanted to put this out without a longbox, I told him of all the consequences," said Geffen president Eddie Rosenblatt. "He knows this means he's going to lose a lot of sales, but he's willing to take the punishment. It's difficult to quantify, but judging from our discussions with our sales and distribution people, it could cost us 40% of the records we'd normally ship to our accounts."
Rosenblatt would not provide specific figures, but gauging from past release patterns of superstar-hit packages, it's probable that Geffen is shipping about 100,000 less records than its normal 250,000.
Rosenblatt isn't eager to antagonize retailers, saying he believes they're willing to phase out longboxes "in an orderly" fashion. But he says his label wants to ban the box entirely, not settle for one of the many proposed alternatives now being touted by retailers. "The halfway measures don't solve the problem -- they simple continue it," Rosenblatt said. "You're still having to throw away or recycle a lot of material."