Since the inception of this site several years ago, we have become overly familiar with the idiosyncrasies of early scene releases. One particular observation is the disproportionate abundance of releases from 1999; far more than from 1998 and earlier.
Below is a breakdown of our release archive by years. It is also worth noting that many insignificant releases from 1999 have been intentionally excluded from our database in an attempt to somewhat 'curate' the content on offer. Without this filter, the number of releases from 1999 would be far greater.
1996: 1 release (!)
1997: 49 releases
1998: 796 releases
1999: 3401 releases
So what explains this disproportionality? The obvious answer would be that the older the release, the harder it is to acquire. This is absolutely true, but there are likely a variety of other factors at play that are worth considering.
1999 saw the mp3 scene - and the wider warez scene - really explode. Faster internet speeds and cheaper storage space led to an increased demand for music (and other warez); it's no coincidence that Napster started the same year. More people involved in the scene meant more releases and more topsites, resulting in albums spreading further and increasing the likelihood that a specific release would remain on a hard drive for years to come. It also meant that a number of organised, dedicated mp3 archives surfaced (although very few are still online today).
Dupechecking for mp3's began in January 1999. Prior to that, there was little regulation and mp3's were very disparate. Thanks to MP3Check, releases were more 'permanent' and thus potentially more likely to be archived long-term.
The end of 1998 saw the introduction of RIAA rules, bringing long-needed regulation to mp3 scene releases. This resulted in higher-quality releases, often with a bitrate of 192kbps or higher. Releases from 1998 and earlier were generally encoded at 112-128kbps, far from acceptable by modern standards. However, 192kbps is still considered adequate by many, meaning these releases are less likely to be replaced.
Somewhat related to the above, release file naming became much more regulated in 1999. If we look at file naming from 1998 and earlier, we can see that there were many occasions where NFO files wouldn't even contain a group name, and some used alternative extensions (TXT, etc). This makes searching for them now particularly challenging, compared to newer files which generally contain the group name and year.
This is far from exhaustive, but offers a few theories to help explain the irregularity. As always, we welcome any submissions to help restore the balance. Please get in touch if you can help.