Ok, So What Is An OBI?
Known also as a ‘spinecard’ to video game enthusiasts, but commonly referred to as an OBI (or OBI strip) by CD and vinyl collectors, the OBI has for over 30 years been one of the most recognizable unique features of CDs, records, DVDs, video games, and similar products manufactured and/or sold in Japan. It is essentially a small piece of paper tha sits (in most cases) on the left side of the jewel case of a CD, book, video game, or DVD, wraps around the case on the outside, and displays extensive information about the product.
In the infancy days of CDs, and Video Games, the OBI strip contained very basic information about the product. However, over the years, the obi strip has become an integral part of Japanese packaging. It contains extensive information about the product, including (but not limited to), it’s original release date, official price, details about the artist, their history, and much more. Naturally, most of the information presented is in Japanese, as it is intended for the Japanese clientele.
The term “OBI” itself, is a Japanese word, written as 帯. It means, literally, “belt”. It was originally used to describe the belt that holds together a kimono or yukata (traditional Japanese attire).
It is believed that the earliest OBIs applied to CDs were used by CBS-Sony records in Japan, as part of their 1982 35PD-series CDs (the first of which was 35DP-1, Billy Joel’s 52nd Street release on CD, issued and sold to the public in Tokyo and Osaka, Japan, in October of 1982, several years before CD technology hit the shelves in other parts of the world).
Value To Collectors
To many collectors and the majority of Japanese, a product originally issued with an obi strip, will no longer hold much value if it’s obi strip is no longer present when re-sold later. If you purchase or own Japanese CDs, DVDs, Video Games, or Books, and they came with an obi strip- be sure to keep the obi and take good care of it. The re-sale value of most Japanese items if the obi is still present, is exponentially higher. It’s not at all uncommon to see a given Japanese CD complete with obi, sell for say, $100, while others may have difficulty selling that same CD- without the obi strip, even for a mere $10-20.
As a natural response to the appeal of the OBI strip to collectors around the world, there has been an increase in bootlegging activity over the years of Japanese products with obi strips. There are extensive operations all over the world these days, dedicated to printing counterfeit copies of CDs that look as close to a sought after Japanese original as possible. While age-old stereotypes will point the finger at the usual suspects (operations in south east Asia, and eastern Europe), bootlegging of Japanese products is by no means limited to these regions. Sellers operating out of the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, among others, offer massive selections of counterfeit editions of Japanese products on major online auction sites today, with general impunity.
A Few Examples
Below are a few visual examples of the OBI strip, insights into the rich array of information they provide.
Below is one of the more sought after video games (Ginka Fukei Densetsu Saphire, or, 銀河婦警伝説サファイア ), released for the PC-Engine system in Japan. A very rare shot of this game complete with it’s original obi (or, spinecard, as referred by in gamer circles). Without obi, this game regularly fetches a premium in the range of $500-800 or so depending on condition. With obi, one will be very fortunate to find one at all, and if so, unlikely for anything under $1250-1500, even in Japan.
Some of the earliest OBIs released with CDs, were issued by CBS-Sony records Japan. They are known today to collectors as ‘box obi’ due to their inclusion of a lower and upper tab that effectively render the obi to act as a ‘box’ for the cd case to slide into as seen on this 1984 CD issue of West Side Story soundtrack from Japan, issued by CBS-Sony Japan.
Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon (2003 SACD issue from Japan). The obi features extensive information about the release as shown below.
Let’s take a closer look at the OBI shown above for a Japanese CD. The designs vary from release, but generally, most OBIs designed over the last 15-20 years will contain similar information. As noted in the example above:
1. The track-listing will often be found on the rear flap of the obi.
2. General selling points (mention of bonus tracks, or any special extras) will usually be shown on the front flap of the obi.
3. In the case of this CD (an SACD), a general introduction to SACDs is shown here.
4. The “catalog number”, TOGP-15001 in this case, often next to the original price, usually found on the spine of most OBIs and, generally on the bottom as seen here. One of the most effective ways to search for Japanese CDs online, is by using their catalog number, or barcode number (in this case, 4988006809994). Try entering either into a search engine specific to Japanese products (www.Kupiku.com is a good example) and you’ll find the exact Japanese edition you’re after.
5. Most OBIs will include the date on which it becomes legal for Japanese stores to offer this item at a discount. In Japan, laws prohibit vendors from selling new products at a price below the original price, for a set period of time. Until that second date, the item, if found new in any store in Japan would always be sold at the exact price listed on the obi (in this case, 2,800 yen). After this second date, it would become permissable for store owners in Japan to offer the item at a discount. This rule of course applies only to new/sealed goods.
6. Generally, this is where the artist and title of the CD would be placed.
7. Probably the most often misunderstood part of the obi: the release, or, printing date of the product. Often confused with the original release date of the recording, this date tells us when exactly this edition was released in Japan. On the left side, we would see the printing date, and, usually, in brackets next to that date, we would see the date the original recorded was released. For example: let’s say that Metallica’s “Master of Puppets” CD was originally released on January 1, 1986. To simplify matters, if the a Japanese re-issue of Master of Puppets was released on January 1, 2016 in Japan, you would see a date here of 01-01-2016 (01-01-1986).
Another example can be seen below:
1. We can see the track-listing here.
2. Artist and title of the CD.
3. Promotional information about the release.
4. Original price of the CD, and it’s catalog number, TOCP-3100
5. The date until on which the price of the CD (if new) can be discounted in Japan.
6. Printing date of this edition.
There were a few unique designs and styles experimented with in the infancy days of OBIs in Japan. In addition to the ‘box obi’ style used by CBS-Sony Japan in the early 1980s, Warner-Pioneer Japan devised what is known today as the “sticker OBI”. When the CDs were sold as new, the obi was included inside the packaging, literally, as a sticker or decal, made from vinyl/plastic material. When the CD was opened, it’s new owner would carefully peel the sticker paper from the obi and attach the “sticker obi” onto the case. This style of OBI was most commonly found in Warner-Pioneer’s earliest pressed CDs in the early/mid 1980s (38, 35, and some 32XD, and XP series CDs). However, as other labels failed to adopt this style of obi, and many buyers likely complained about their lack of durability (if the case the obi was attached to will be damaged, it will be difficult to remove the obi and re-apply to a new case), this style of obi was quickly abandoned in favor of the common “paper” obi.
An example of the sticker OBI, for Emerson Lake & Palmer – Pictures at an exhibition Japanese CD issued by Warner-Pioneer Japan in the mid 1980s, with catalog number 32XD-372.
In rare cases, the OBIs would wrap around the entire back of the jewel case, as can be see in this sought after MFSL CD issued in Japan in 1987. Refer to the back of the case: the obi wraps around the entire back:
In some instances (boxsets for example), the OBI’s design would actually be truer to it’s Japanese name (OBI, meaning, belt). Refer to these examples:
The OBI on this Kate Bush This Woman’s Work Anthology 1978-1990 Japanese boxset, TOCP-6460-67, actually looked more like a belt. As it was open on the bottom, it could slide up and down the box-set. This design of the OBI was generally reserved for box-sets.
A picture of the Japanese Beach Boys History CD Box Vol 2, TOCP-7764, shows a similar OBI design over the box.
There were rare cases, where some CDs were not releases with an OBI in Japan. Most notably, 8cm CD singles, as shown below. These highly sought after CD singles, issued in Japan from the late 1980s until approx. 2001, were not released with an OBI strip.
Muriel Dacq L’Enfer A L’Envers Japanese 8cm CD Single, catalog CSDS-8139
Madonna Oh Father CD Single from Japan, catalog 09P3-6206
Diana Ross When You Tell Me That You Love me CD Single from Japan, catalog TODP-2363
Additionally, there were cases where a standard obi was not issued with a product at all. Instead, a “sticker” on the factory seal, would serve the same purpose: provide detailed information about the release, show the catalog number, often the barcode, and other details. This was common with digipak editions of CDs, and some boxsets, as can be seen in this example. The red stick on the seal of this Japanese Pat Metheny More Travels COBY-91019 DVD was the “obi” in this case.
The Rolling Stones Black and Blue CD Japan 32DP-605 original 1st Pressing.
David Matthews Dune CD Japan KICJ-8065 King Records / CTI Records Japan First Pressing.
Ultimately, the jury is still out on how important or valuable an OBI is to a CD, video game, or similar product. Some don’t mind saving a significant amount by buying a second hand Japanese product without the obi. But, many others (in fact, the majority of those who invest in Japanese albums, CDs, and video games), will pay a premium to have a truly complete product- and won’t touch a CD or video game, unless it is complete with it’s original obi strip.
Ultimately, if votes were cast with wallets the obi would win by a landslide.