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Second-Hand Discs

THE recording industry's attitude toward record stores selling used compact discs has something mean-spirited and shortsighted about it.

Country singer Garth Brooks, hailed as the best-selling musician of the decade, has announced that he will not allow his compact disc recordings to be sold by stores dealing in second-hand discs. He is supported by some fellow artists and by large music-store chains with close links to the record companies.

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He is opposed by independent discount budget record stores, such as Wherehouse Entertainment, of Torrance, Calif., which has filed a restraint-of-trade suit against the four largest recording labels, charging them in effect with price fixing.

The problem, ironically, is the high quality of the silvery discs themselves. In a free market the cost of secondhand goods relates to that of new goods, minus depreciation.

But absent wear and tear from a phonograph needle or a tape head, the sound of a used compact disc is virtually that of a new one. Thus Mr. Brooks's effort to shut out competition.

But we accept the existence of markets for used computers, cars, and houses. Artists of a generation committed to recycling should be pleased that their work endures so well.

One would expect that when all this sorts itself out, the prices of new and used discs would be rather close together, with the prices of new discs coming down. The availability of some new discs at bargain prices - symphonic classics at the checkout counter of the local supermarket, for instance - suggests that what one pays for in buying a superstar's latest release is a hefty markup unrelated to manufacturing costs, plus the expense of publicity and marketing.

Of course all parties to this dispute want to make money. But in the cultural marketplace, one element stimulates another. A music-lover unwilling to pay top dollar for a new disc by an unfamiliar artist may be enticed by a less-expensive used recording.

Today's musicians should consider, do they want their music to be bought - or do they want it to be played?

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