No more lo-fi packages for artists, like Whitney Houston or Sean ''Puffy'' Combs

Used to be that greatest-hits albums were made up of a dozen hummable tunes slapped together in a lo-fi — and highly profitable — package. No more. The glut of new releases is pushing labels to outdo each other with must-buy add-ons: remixes, B sides, live cuts, or — best of all — brand-new songs. ”Even fans who already own all of an artist’s albums will [pay] to get those few new tracks,” says Jason Olim, CEO of Internet retailer CDnow. The ’98 fall collection illustrates this gotta-have trend:

Mariah Carey turns her 13 chart-topping singles into Ones. The wallet-opening hook: new duets with Jermaine Dupri, Brian McKnight, and Whitney Houston.

It’s a small world: Whitney Houston’s own double-disc collection (still untitled) offers the same Carey duet from Prince of Egypt, and new tracks produced by Babyface and Missy Elliott.

Sean ”Puffy” Combs is promoting his label’s future along with its past on Bad Boy’s Greatest Hits. Classics from the Notorious B.I.G., Faith Evans, and Mase mix with a new track from a Puff Baby: the debut single from 12-year-old Combs protege Jerome.

Nostalgia for the ’80s should help this new-wave quartet: Fans of Bono & Co. can find what they’re looking for on The Best of U2: 1980- 1990, with added B sides and a newly reworked single, ”Sweetest Thing.” Ladies and Gentlemen…The Best of George Michael boasts three new cuts from the ”I Want Your Sex” machine. Depeche Mode’s The Singles ’86-’98 is a two-disc fret that features one new song. And Phil Collins is in the air this fall with Hits, which tacks on a cover of Cyndi Lauper’s ”True Colors” with Babyface on backing vocals.

Other stocking stuffers include Sultans of Swing: The Very Best of Dire Straits; Hatful of Rain, The Best of Del Amitri; The Very Best of Meat Loaf; and last — perhaps even least — Forty Seasons: The Best of Skid Row, hits and rarities from the Jersey-based metal band. Says bassist Rachel Bolan: ”It’s like a personal phone call to everyone we’ve ever played live to.” I, for one, will let my machine take that call.