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JAPAN 1ST PRESS CDs – Are they worth the hype (and the nose-bleed prices

By May 3, 2017October 7th, 2021No Comments

Are they worth the hype (and the nose-bleed prices)?

By now, everyone has seen it:  a CD you can pick up at your local pawnshop for a couple of dollars, fetching several hundred dollars on eBay.
The only difference (at least, at first glance) between the CD on eBay and the one in that pawnshop- is where they were made.  One was made twenty years ago in a CD pressing plant in Michigan, in the U.S. (a plant that has probably since been converted to a Wal-Mart parking lot) while the other CD was pressed in Japan.
So why would anyone in their right mind, pay for $200… $500… or even $1000 for a CD, which at face value, one might think is available for $10 from Amazon?
Someone once wrote:  All CDs are made equal, but some CDs are less equal than others.  This holds true not only when referring to CDs,
Over the last decade or so, there has been a significant increase in counterfeit CDs offered online.  One need only take a look on eBay to take in a sea of $10-20 «Japanese» editions (or «Special Fan Club Reissues» or «Limited Edition Private Pressings») of CDs which cannot be found in Japan for under $100.  Yet, miraculously, a vendor in say- Latvia, just happens to have 20 copies of the CD- still sealed.  The fact there are bootleggers making significant profit off counterfeit CDs ought to be of no surprise.
After-all ‘fool’s gold’ is as old as gold itself.
What is however surprising, is the amount of people who are either ignorant of the facts, or simply don’t care about purchasing cheap knockoffs (worth in actuality around $1 per piece:  the cost to print, and ship them in bulk).
It is this the proliferation and dilution of the collector’s market with counterfeit CDs, that has led to a reinforced interest by collectors to seek out the most coveted editions of CDs on the market:  the original Japan 1st press editions.
In the overwhelming majority of cases, a person seeking out an original Japanese 1st press CD is not merely ‘looking for the music’.  Most, if not all CDs issued by CBS Sony Japan, or Toshiba EMI, in the early 1980s for example, have long since been reissued, remastered, and then reissued again a dozen times.  If it were strictly about ‘getting the music’, demand for Japanese 1st pressings would be minimal.  Clearly, it isn’t just about the music.
The continued interest in Japanese first press CDs demonstrates two things:
First- that collecting is fun.  Despite new technologies being introduced (daily it seems), nothing beats holding a CD, a record, a comic book, a DVD, or really- any collectible item in your hand.  No digital file on your mp3 player can match the feeling of finding an original CD in a pawnshop, or receiving it in a package that traveled across the globe to reach you.
Secondly, collecting is more fun, when you don’t have to worry that a possible re-issue (or bootleg) may drive the price down of what you’ve just picked up.  While many import (non Japanese) CDs have dropped significantly in price over the years (on the heels, primarily of reissues and bootlegs flooding the market), Japanese first pressings, have continued to rise steadily in value and demand while supply naturally diminishes.  There are countless CDs- even those issued on relatively large labels merely a few years ago, which today cannot be picked up (even locally in Japan) for under $50-100.  Try finding the first W.E.T. (Jeff Scott Soto) CD with OBI, for under $50.  Or, Balance’s Equilibrium CD (issued in 2009 on King Records).
Original Japanese 1st pressings have very little (if any) variance in value with subsequent reissues.  An original Japanese 1st press CD of any King Crimson, Pink Floyd, or even, Pet Shop Boys CD, will experience no demonstrable shift in market value, despite the fact all their CDs are reissues in Japan (it seems) every year with new extras.  A Japanese 1st press CD, will always be the original true first edition.  A true, genuine, first edition cannot be replicated.  Sure, some attempt to create knockoffs of these as well.  But, until the bootleggers gain access to micro-molecular technology, and will find a way to replicate aging in a product that can pass carbon testing, 1st pressings will remain the safest investment in any music collection.  Take any CD printed in 1987 for example, and hold it next to a replica, printed a few months ago.  It doesn’t matter if the matrix codes are identical, the artwork is spot on, and every other component looks the same.  One thing that simply cannot be replicated- the greatest barrier (and protector) of the collector’s scene, is natural aging of a CD.  Even if you own a say, the original Stryper To Hell With The Devil Japan CD 32DP-579 pressing from Japan, issued in 1986.  If someone were to print up a counterfeit copy of that original Japanese pressing, a collector will be able to determine the natural aging on the original: the ‘feel’ that a 30+ year old record or CD has, vs. something that was just printed in a basement somewhere in Eastern Europe, or possibly the Nevada desert.
Until technology that can replicate aging in a physical object will become available to the public (I don’t see this happening in our lifetime), Japanese 1st Pressings (and in fact, first editions of anything:  books, records, CDs, cars, vintage wines, coins…) will remain the most attractive editions to own.  They sound better, they look fantastic in any collection, they’re the envy of other collectors, and from a financial point of view — the last thing you’ll need to worry about is how many times a new label has reissued the album with a bonus track ripped from YouTube, and an all new re-designed 1 page booklet.

A look back.

Looking back at the early 1980s, the infancy stage for the compact disc, the technology was exciting, especially here in Japan, where national pride, stood behind this fantastic new technology (it was, after all, a Japanese technology that unveiled the compact disc to the world in 1978). The first CDs sold publicly, in October of 1982 in Tokyo (starting with 35DP-1, Billy Joel‘s «52nd Street» issued by CBS/Sony in Japan) were a source of pride among Japanese audiophiles.  It follows naturally, that a great deal of care, pride, and craftsmanship went into- especially- the first few years of CDs issued in Japan. It’s easy to detect this when holding a 32DP series disc from Japan for example, vs. a reissue from 10-20 years later. There’s a world of a difference, even in how the product feels in your hand. The originals were made from higher quality materials, whereas reissues, despite lofty claims to the contrary, often felt and looked like cheaper grade products. While the sound- some may say is better on reissues or re-masters, many audiophiles disagree.  All the new digital techniques, compressions, and studio tricks deliver a very different dynamic than that of Japanese studios in the 1980s.
While Japanese 1st pressings (especially, when the OBI is still present) are generally quite expensive, there is a way to significantly decrease their cost.  If you’re familiar with Kupiku, you already know where this is headed:  you can use Kupiku’s shopping service to pick up Japanese 1st pressings directly from vendors in Japan.  No, not the handful of Japanese vendors you see on eBay, Discogs or Amazon.  Those are re-sellers.  They buy CDs and records in Japan at local prices, and re-sell at a markup to you (you’ll pay the original price that re-seller paid at a local shop in Japan, plus their eBay/Paypal fees (it’s all in the price) plus a hefty markup to make it all worth their time).  This is the very reason Kupiku was conceived not long ago: to enable anyone to access those local prices in Japan, without the need to fly there.  Skip the middle-men and buy direct.  Pay local prices and ship anywhere.
Try some of these recommended searches for direct access to sought after Japanese 1st press CDs, available to you via
CBS/Sony (35DP, 32DP, 28DP, 50DP, 25DP)
Toshiba EMI (CP35, CP32, CP28, CP25)
Warner-Pioneer (50XD, 43XD, 38XD, 35XD, 32XD, 25P2, 22P2, 18P2, 43P2 (24k Gold Discs))
Toy’s Factory (Late 80s/early 90s label specializing in metal):  TFCK
Victor (VDP, VDJ)
King Records (K32X, K32P)
RCA-Victor (R32P)
Nippon Phonogram (33PD, 32PD)
Canyon (later Pony Canyon) D35Y, D32Y, D25Y, PCCY
Polydor (P35D, P32P, P28P)
The above should get you started on tying up loose ends in your collection in regards to Japanese 1st press CDs.  Leave a comment below if there are any articles you’d like to see, or if you have any questions or suggestions for our team.

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