The Cure, circa 1989

Revered catalog label Rhino Records — which put out the Left of the Dial box set and countless classic college-rock reissues by the likes of The Cure and Depeche Mode — today conducted across-the-board layoffs, jettisoning 30 to 40 employees across “all departments, including A&R, marketing, promotion and publicity,” according to Variety.

In a statement announcing the layoffs, parent company Warner Music Group blamed its cuts at Rhino on a “fundamental transformation of the physical new release and catalog business.” While Warner did not announce it is shuttering Rhino altogether, industry observers and music fans alike are wondering tonight whether the label can go on.

Rhino Records

At the very least, it seems the days of Rhino’s lovingly curated box sets and bonus-filled reissues are a thing of the past. According to the Variety report, Warner said Rhino will be transformed into a division that “handles WMG’s global digital catalog initiatives, film, television, video game and commercial licensing, and name and likeness representation for legendary artists.” Doesn’t sound like Rhino will be producing many CDs anymore, but, rather, all-digital collections such as this year’s Factory Records: Communications 1978-92 “box set.”

Which is a shame, given its stellar track record, particularly in recent years as it delved into the archives of ’70s punk and ’80s college rock, releasing the stellar box sets No Thanks! The ’70s Punk Rebellion, Left of the Dial: Dispatches from the ’80s Underground, A Life Less Lived: The Gothic Box and The Brit Box: U.K. Indie, Shoegaze and Britpop Gems of the Last Millennium, as well as expanded catalog reissues of Echo & The Bunnymen, The Jesus and Mary Chain, New Order (OK, so they botched those), The Replacements and so many more.

One of the big question marks in all of this is the fate of the Cure’s ongoing reissue campaign. Between 2004 and 2006, Rhino released expanded reissues of seven of the band’s albums, from 1979 debut Three Imaginary Boys through 1987′s Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me (as well as The Glove’s Blue Sunshine, a Robert Smith spin-off). Next up should be long-discussed reissues of the group’s two most commercially successful records: 1989′s Disintegration and 1992′s Wish.

A recent post on Chain of Flowers, the essential Cure fan site, suggested those titles aren’t coming; a reader e-mailed the question to Rhino, and received this response: “We do not have current plans for further Cure reissues.” (An e-mail from Slicing Up Eyeballs to a Rhino press contact asking about the Cure reissues went unanswered last week.)

Shortly after that initial post, however, Chain of Flowers offered an update from band associate Chris White, who told the site “the Disintegration and Wish remastered CDs are still being worked on, and that, as of last week, release dates were still being discussed, and that Rhino would be the last to know when/if they were coming out.”

That may certainly have been the case, but now it sounds like Rhino could have known what it was talking about, at least in the sense that it likely no longer plans to release as many physical CDs and box sets. Obviously some label will be willing to put the Cure titles out — there’s money to be made — but it probably means even further delays for those much-anticipated releases.

UPDATE 9/25/09: A new Variety story puts the total Rhino layoffs at 38 people, or about 20 percent of the company’s staff. However, “Rhino still plans to produce physical releases, sources added.” Rhino also issued a statement today: “We remain firmly committed to the core principles that made us the company you know and love: creating the best, most informative, innovative, and fun CD, vinyl, and digital music products, and doing everything we can to showcase the amazing artists and catalog with whom we work.”

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