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How to read Virgin barcodes?

In the 1980s first CD releases have often released without a barcode on the rear inner liner. Sometimes, however, barcodes were not present on the initial release until the next CD issue. Distributor of the CD (or in some cases the record label) was responsible for the barcodes applied to a given release.

The first barcodes printing started in 1982. Each record company used a different barcode, which differed from another and includes information for the CD distributor.

We may also spot an early copies where the barcodes were not included on the rear inlay, but a stickered barcode was applied to a jewel case. Such a CD releases were mostly sold in the market by a retail stores, in the late 1980s, when the retailer barcodes were more common. The common practice is that, in the late 1980s and sometimes in early 1990s, a big chain stores (such as "Virgin Megastore") often obtain CDs from an old inventory, therefore the early copies (originally released without a barcode) were sold with a barcode sticker affixed to the jewel case by the store.

I should also point out the fact, that in the 1980s manufacturers were not so precise. Sometimes they used an old stock of artwork to a newer CD release. It did not happen too often, but we may also find such releases.

The discography of Phil Collins and Genesis has a many CD releases that have been manufactured i.e. in the UK, but sold in Germany as an import. In this case, the distributor in Germany applied its own labeling system with a price code.

ARIS sticker
Genesis - Wind & Wuthering, CDSCD 4005, 1st West Germany release with the West German
distribution number: 610 441 and a price code 222

Such situation occurred in the early to middle 1980s. When, for example, Genesis CD releases were not properly issued in Germany, but were imported from the UK by ARIS. These copies often contain additional sticker with ARIS distribution number and a price code.

The labeling system for the CD used by ARIS (ARIS-Ariola/RCA Import-Service Gütersloh) was mostly based on sticking or covering existing barcodes with the new distribution numbers (sourced from ARIOLA/RCA catalogue) and a price code, which helps define a price for the imported CD.

Finding the original releases with the original ARIS distribution price codes attached to a jewel case is not easy, because the previous owners often replaced the original CD case or removed applied sticker.

ARIS had used several price codes that were assigned to the price for a given CD. As far as I can tell, "222" and later "225" represents a full retail price for a one CD. However, "223", has been used by ARIS to signify 2CD releases (i.e. "Seconds Out"), when "217" is a "Mid-price" code that represents releases being offered for a half retail price.

ARIS imports were sourced from Virgin and later EMI records catalogue. The CD single releases has also given a price code. "200" is a price code represents the CD single price.

Virgin barcode
Genesis - Wind & Wuthering, CDSCD 4005. The first UK release from the middle 1980s with Virgin barcode

In the mid to the end of the 1980s Virgin/Charisma used barcode numbers starting with 5 0129xx xxxxxx. Also Virgin Records used the same barcode digits (5 0129xx xxxxxx.). Those numbers have changed in the early 1990s, when Virgin Records was sold by Richard Branson to EMI Thorn in June 1992. Once that happened the old Virgin barcodes were replaced very quickly with the new barcodes from EMI. The new EMI barcode numbers begins with 0777 7 xxxxx 2 x.

EMI Swindon
Genesis - Wind & Wuthering, CDSCD 4005 / 00777 7 86441 2 5. The first UK EMI Swindon
re-issue from an early 1990s with a new EMI catalogue numbers

Also all the existing catalogue numbers of the Virgin and Virgin/Charisma releases were slightly modified by adding a new EMI catalogue number that begins with 00777 7 xxxxx 2 x (please see example above).

EMI Swindon
Genesis - Wind & Wuthering, CDSCD 4005 / 00777 7 86441 2 5. The First UK EMI Swindon re-issue
from an early 1990s with an old Virgin barcode numbers and a new EMI catalogue numbers

In the first re-release series from the early 1990s of all Phil Collins and Genesis albums (where the discs were manufactured by EMI Swindon pressing plant in the UK) EMI decided to kept the original Virgin barcode numbers. In later editions these numbers have been changed. EMI also attached to the release a distribution numbers that were, I think, no longer in use.

Explanation of the new EMI barcode from 1992 (click on the image to enlarge

On the picture above prefix F: stands for France and D: for Deutschland (Germany) respectively. In later releases an Italian distribution code prefixed with I: appeared in the barcode box.

PM prefix standing after F (F: PM 500) is a short cut from Pathé Marconi, a France-based international record label and producer of phonographs, active from the 1890s through the 1930s. EMI printed distribution codes from 1969 to 1982 on the international releases and began to display them on a CD releases from 1992 until the mid-1990s prefixed with F: PM.

The information in this brief article is not only for Phil Collins and Genesis releases, but for most of Virgin releases. I hope this article will help you identify a CD release.