The OBI strip that comes on Japanese LPs and CDs is somewhat of a curiosity when first encountered by Western listeners. Perhaps you go to Wikipedia to learn the basics that OBI. Keep digging and you learn it originated as a way to provide details such as the LP’s name and track list to the Japanese listener in their native language. By sliding this paper slip over the LP, the OBI preserved the original presentation of the LP as it was designed, while also providing the details of the LP to listeners who don’t read English (or whatever language is on the LP sleeve.) This is a packaging improvement of ingenious simplicity.
However, the OBI strip is much more than just a strip of paper. It took on a life of its own among vinyl fans. The OBI provides the benefit of distinguishing Japanese pressings from the same LP pressed elsewhere. It can be incorporated into original designs for an LP or as a unique aspect of a repressed version. Each of these types of OBI designs creates a unique version of the same music. On some of the pressings, the OBI serves as a way to distinguish the first “deluxe” pressing of an LP from the longer run “regular” release. In these cases, the “regular” may also be on 140G vinyl instead of 180G and not have an OBI. In these cases, the difference in the LP price is far more than the cost difference between 180G and 140G worth of vinyl or savings on not having to print the OBI.
Which gets to the real driver behind the OBI in LP collecting. It has nothing to do with the strip of paper or even what it says. It is about what it signifies to the owner of the LP. It may be that the OBI calls out the uniqueness of the pressing to any and all that see it. It may signify the familiar-yet-unique experience that many Westerners have in Japan (or with Japanese products). It can also signify the completeness or best-possible version of a Japanese LP; allowing the listener to see exactly what the original owner saw when they bought an LP decades ago. Or perhaps it clearly calls out the repressing version; many classics have now be repressed by both We Release Jazz and Project Re:Vinyl. The unique OBIs make them easy to tell apart, but could also signify that the owner knew about the earlier pressing (or was willing to pay more).
In thinking about the emotional and irrational nature of the OBI, the author didn’t have to go too far back in their vinyl buying history to find examples of paying more for an OBI (or devaluing the OBI on an impulse buy to save a few dollars.) This really isn’t about the paper or even the information it contains. It can be as simple about having the complete version or the best version of something, in a world that makes you compromise endlessly about everything else. Perhaps in these terms, the OBI can be understood by a friend or family member that does not “get it.”
In 2021, collecting vinyl is an irrational hobby (as most hobbies are.) But do you know why we do it? Because we love it! Go ahead and enjoy your vinyl, the incredible packaging, and of course, the OBI. Even if the OBI is “just” a piece of paper. You know what else is just a piece of paper that has value because we say it does? Money.
A few notes:
- It is pronounced Oh-Bee
- We didn't even get to the funny Discogs posts about people who don't "get it."
-Or a classic LP like Tatsuro Yamashita's For You standing out by not having an OBI.