1. Introduction

At least two billion records and pre-recorded cassettes are sold annually in the world. In the most industrialized parts of the world almost every home has a record or cassette player and miniature 'sound archives'. Even in less developed countries, commercial recordings have a long history and enjoy considerable popularity. There are very few countries without regular commercial production of sound recordings. 1

To the sound archivist, commercial recordings are just one type of sound recording. The archivist who is specially concerned with, say, wildlife recordings, political speeches or folk songs, does not attach much importance to the question of whether a particular recording derives from a broadcast, a commercial issue or a recording specifically made for his archive. From his viewpoint, this is a perfectly valid approach. Commercial recordings have a variety of content and may be of interest to any type of sound archive.

However, there is another way of looking at the matter. This is perhaps best illustrated by the analogy with written material. There are many different types of written documents, ranging from manuscripts and official documents to newspapers and books, and there are also many kinds of libraries and archives that preserve written materials. But many countries have a national library which has the task of preserving the most important printed works published in the country. In several countries the national library actually has the task of preserving a copy of every book and periodical published. The printed word has a wide audience; it has left some mark on national culture and thus deserves to be preserved for future generations.

It makes sense to look at commercially issued sound records in the same way as printed books are viewed. Such recordings have also been made public; they have become permanent statements and deserve to be preserved. The number of recordings issued in any country is certainly much smaller than the number of printed works. If a country wants to preserve a complete or representative collection of its published literature, it should also pay similar attention to published sound recordings (not forgetting films and other moving images).

  1. 'Commercial' in this connection simply means that the recordings are offered for sale to the public. It does not necessarily imply the existence of a profit motive or a specific economic system. 'Non-commercial' recordings are those made exclusively for broadcasting organisations, archives or private use and which may not generally be available for purchase.