Longbox: between CD case and LP sleeve

This way of packaging and presenting music on optical discs was common in North America throughout the 1980s and early 1990s. We will tell you how it appeared, how it was remarkable and why it suddenly disappeared from the shelves.

An example of issuing envelopes of music albums on the request
An example of issuing envelopes of music albums on the request “longbox”

At the peak of creativity

The sixties and seventies brought to the world many notable works in the field of design and decoration art. Envelopes for vinyl records were no exception and, perhaps, one of the most interesting ones was presented on the verge of a change of eras – at a time when Philips and Sony engineers were already preparing to present a new medium – a CD.

A few months before its appearance, namely on August 15, 1979, Led Zeppelin’s last studio album, In Through the Out Door, was released on vinyl. It was designed by a British design studio Hipgnosis, which prepared several versions of the envelope at once. According to the producer’s idea, they hit the shelves in a cover pack of opaque brown paper. The buyer did not know which cover would be available and would be in his hands, which only added intrigue and interest to the new album.

This envelope was illustrated with a situation with a man who decided to visit a bar after parting with his beloved. Employees and visitors of the institution look at him, who, like the main character, are located at the counter, next to it and at the tables in the hall.

On facial and back the side of the envelope contains images taken from different angles. With their help, we look at what is happening through the eyes of the participants.

But variability is not the only feature of the publication. The processing and effects added a certain value to the design, which made it possible to achieve the impression of an aged photograph and to make part of the image more contrasting. A bright element was highlighted with a brush, reminiscent of the traces of “street sweepers”, and – according to the author of the cover – hinted at something new, hidden behind a tarnished reality.

However, the collectors tried to “collect them all”, knowing about one more “Easter egg” – the properties of the insert – actually the third envelope, if we take into account the wrapping one. It was made from thin paper, on which a black and white image of objects from the bar was applied. The point is that when in contact with moisture on the liner show through pastel colors.

Such an unusual design illustrates the attitude to the packaging of records of that time. Longboxes that appeared in the early 80s along with the first albums on CD could not ignore it. However, as well as the infrastructure of the stores that continued to sell vinyl.

Whoever can see is not ashamed

Manufacturers understood that the discs would first have to be placed on counters designed for twelve-inch vinyl. Few people will update stores for the sake of an untested novelty, but they will definitely want to put it in a prominent place. Therefore, the first standardized packaging for CDs received such a strange form factor – six by twelve inches. On the top shelf of the counter, where the records were placed face-to-face to the customer, two longboxes could be neatly stacked and displayed in all their glory.

The new envelopes included only one disk, and only after a few years they began to use the empty internal space more often, adding a second. They were printed on adaptation from release on vinyl, and inside included a plastic case with a disk. By the way, longboxes were similar in size to box-keepers, designed to protect small goods from theft. It was not a coincidence – the manufacturers really tried to make the media attractive to the shops: it was more difficult to take out discs in such a package in a pocket, which meant that sellers could refuse to fiddle with boxes, in which even cassettes were often displayed.

Photo: Warren B. Source: Flickr.com
Photo: Warren B. Source: Flickr.com

Interestingly, longbox releases have pulled other formats as well. [на фото выше] – they began to be placed in similar envelopes to attract the attention of buyers. All this together to some extent resembled the usual for that time an approach to the layout of comics.

Fighting excess

However, as it turned out later, the longbox added about a dollar to the cost of each disc. And the envelope was often simply torn off after the purchase. As soon as the scale of consumption of music on CD became significant, the industry started talking about optimization.

By estimates experts, by changing the packaging, it was possible to get rid of the 8.3 tons of garbage generated annually by those who threw out the longboxes. Some musicians immediately supported this initiative, and right on their albums: David Byrne did sticker with the words “this is garbage” on the longbox with the words “Uh-oh“, And the fictional group Spinal Tap came out An 18-inch superlongbox demonstrating the redundancy of this type of packaging.

Then the whole eco-movement “Ban the Box” appeared. Its leaders convinced manufacturers that they could not only save money, but also divert the anger of the public from retail, where the audience was faced with longboxes, which by that time had become a real irritant, face to face. Then, specialized shelves for disks were already installed in the stores, so no one balked – this design option lost its advantages and was quickly abolished. Longboxes disappeared from the shelves, first in Canada, and by the mid-90s in the United States.

The most common, of course, are classic CD cases. Although they have many alternatives like digipaka… It was a good attempt to return to the benefits of longbox in terms of packaging color. However, with the beginning of the DVD era, the shelves flooded kip cases made of flexible plastic – the quality of packaging design faded into the background. They paid attention to him only in situations when it came to gift and collectible publications, or about the personal preferences of music and film lovers.

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