I grabbed one from the store because mine needed to be replaced and I noticed that it came with a drill hole on the top left of the spine. Where they originally released like this or is it just something that they did over time?
They’re promotional releases; not intended to be sold in retail. items are “cut out” (physically damaged in some way)to prevent record shops from returning them to the labels for credit. Items are marked as cutouts by slicing a notch or drilling a hole in a corner of the sleeve or jewel box. The term “cutouts” generically refers to discontinued or overstock items that were marked as cutouts by the record label, then sold in bulk to a cutout distributor. The cutout distributor then sells them (usually in “grab bag” form — pay a flat price per unit, you don’t get to choose what you get) to record stores, who sell them on the cheap. Artists don’t get royalties on these sales, which is part of why they can be let go for so little. To confuse things slightly, some labels will mark promo releases in the same way they mark cutouts — by notching or drilling the case — instead of using a “For Promotional Release Only” stamp or sticker. If you run across a “cutout” of something that’s been released in the last couple of months, it’s really a promo. Some promo CDs have a hole punched (not drilled) in the UPC code on the tray insert, but leave the jewel case intact. In general, ragged drill holes or slices mark cutouts, and “clean” punch holes, clipped corners, etc. mark promos.