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Deletion is a music industry term referring to the removal of a record or records from a label's official catalog, so that it is out of print, but usually at a record artist's request.[1]

Deletion can be for a variety of reasons, but usually reflects a decline in sales so that distributing the record is no longer profitable.[2] Singles are routinely deleted after a period of weeks, but an album by a major artist may remain in the catalog indefinitely.

Deletion in the music industry differs from print publishing in that recording contracts generally do not return the rights to the artist when a title ceases to be manufactured. When Polygram took over JMT Records, a small jazz label, in 1995, it was understood to have announced that the entire JMT catalogue would be deleted, shocking dozens of artists. According to Tim Berne, "this means that the majority of my work simply vanishes."[3]

According to Louis Barfe, "many deleted gems are locked in archives, unheard and quite possibly deteriorating." Although he recommends that they digitize this music and offer it for download, he notes that "niche labels have sprung up specialising in reissuing out-of-copyright recordings".[4]

More recently, the rise of digital media has eliminated much of the cost of music distribution, and companies have begun to see deleted records for their long tail potential, selling via iTunes and other online means.[2] A single company, ArkivMusic, has struck deals with all four major publishers (and numerous minor ones) of classical music recordings to make their deleted records available via a burn-on-demand service.[5]

When titles are deleted, the remaining stock would be defaced with a cut-out through the sleeve or case. Cut-out records formed a grey market outside the major distribution channels. In the 1993 book Stiffed: A True Story of MCA, the Music Business, and the Mafia Bill Knoedelseder wrote of how MCA Records became the subject of a federal investigation of its cut-out sales practices after a deal allegedly involving organized crime.[6]

A prominent exception to the practice was the label Folkways Records, whose founder Moe Asch "never deleted a single title from the ... catalogue". According to Asch, "Just because the letter J is less popular than the letter S, you don't take it out of the dictionary." When the label was disbanded, Asch enlisted the Smithsonian Institution to maintain the catalogue "in perpetuity".[7]

In July 1972 British music paper Melody Maker reported that a cutprice LP issued by Virgin Records was facing deletion because, ironically, it was too popular. "The Faust Tapes" [1], then at number 18 in Melody Maker's chart, actually cost more to produce than its selling price (48p) and so Virgin lost supposedly £2,000 on sales of 60,000 [2]. It has since been argued that this move was merely a publicity stunt by Virgin's owner, Richard Branson.

The British duo The KLF summarily deleted their entire back catalogue when they 'retired' from the music industry in 1992 [3].

The 2006 Gnarls Barkley single "Crazy" was deleted by Warner Music [4] after six weeks at #1 in the UK as a deliberate move to protect it from overexposure. Deleted records cannot remain on music charts, so the single was no longer charted after two weeks.

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