This might be heretical thought, but perhaps I’m the Monk who’s going to have to nail these demands to the door of the Record Church. In five swift years, Record Store Day has gone from a curio that didn’t mean much to this record collector to a potentially painful and demanding battle to obtain intentionally rare records that is getting more difficult each year. When I extrapolate where it will be in five years hence, I’m likely to write the whole thing off as pure exploitation.
First of all, I’m against the idea of highly limited editions in the first place. For me, rock and roll is a populist concern that should not be the pursuit of the elite who have unlimited cash at their disposal to pursue. Pressing several hundred to a thousand copies of a record and then making fans jump through hoops to get a copy in a highly competitive primary market smells to me like exploitation. But it can be done in a reasonable way.
OMD released a live CD/Book last year through their web store. For £20 fans could buy a copy. Some groused that it was too much, or they only wanted the disc, not a book. But they didn’t have to buy it, and in several weeks, it sold out from the web store. OMD’s investment in producing it was fully compensated. Presumably, every fan who had the discretionary £20 and desire, bought a copy without resorting to blows. For fans of the future, who have yet to discover OMD, it will be perhaps a holy grail of sorts, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles. It’s an inevitable part of record collecting that will always happen.
With Record Store Day this effect gets magnified by a geometric factor. Let’s say there’s 200 green vinyl singles by Your Favorite Band being released on Record Store Day. Fun for you, but these days there are another 325 releases on average that other, equally fervent fans will be vying for on the same fateful day. This creates a highly concentrated, artificially stimulated demand and a Black Friday like environment that pushes your buttons to consume while reducing the likelihood that you will have your selected goal in hand the evening of April 21st. Last year there was a line stretching around the block at an hour before the store opened. This year, the line began a 3 a.m. the night prior. So record buying has now become an endurance stunt?
What’s even worse, is that this phenomenon, which began in The States in 2008 as a small trickle of stores participating, has now blossomed into a worldwide movement. Worse yet, the releases are relegated to various markets for reasons of licensing issues, meaning that your favorite band’s release just might only be available in a record store thousands of miles away in another country. And this begets the peril of secondary market sniping.
It’s no coincidence that the week following Record Store Day, there are all of the records that you wanted but were unable to buy or one reason or another, now for sale on the internet at several times their initial price. It doesn’t take a genius to see that these records are being bought from the stores just to flip for resale by people who couldn’t care less about the music they contain; they just want the money. This extra profit doesn’t benefit the record stores; they make the same on every sale. It doesn’t benefit the bands; they’ve already gotten their cut [if any] up front. It benefits the record poachers who buy for resale.
Now am I going to decry Record Store Day as a blight on the land? A pox on us all? I can’t deny it fulfills its prime function of getting warm bodies into record stores. It’s obviously working very well, thank you very much. And clearly, this is to the benefit of all of us who exist within the record store ecosystem; either as sellers or buyers. After all, the new millennium has seen the once vibrant record store cut down almost to extinction. It’s shocking to me to visit the horror of college towns without so much as a single record store, but they exist! It’s horrifying to contemplate, but I’ve seen it with my own eyes. And for all of my life having a record store near a college was the closest thing to a sure thing for a disreputable ex-DJ to have a fat retirement fund for his golden years.
Record Store Day has certainly fulfilled its reason for existing. Come April 21, anyone who likes to buy records will have it on their radar. By this time, the net is cast so widely, almost every segment of the music buying market have exclusive releases aimed at their interests. I expect that each subsequent year will see this list get ponderously longer. This year’s PDF was nine pages long. But now that they’s gotten the record buying public to jump when they crack the whip, let’s ask ourselves if this is in the best long-term interests of record stores. Sure, you will spike demand on a single day of the year with this event, but shouldn’t the goal be getting people to visit their record stores on a more regular basis? Wouldn’t that be better for the long-term survival of this market segment? I may not have any answers, but at least I’m asking the questions. Feel free to discuss below.
There’s an easy fix for this “problem” o monk … like only bands that nobody else likes!
chasinvictoria – Congratulations! You are the first beneficiary of my newer, more liberal commenting rules! Otherwise, har dee har, har!
Most of the bands I like now and support with my $$$ are based in the UK. I don’t think that many even have contracts or labels in the states anymore. I read about a of RS releases and looked at a website – which I am guessing was based on the USA – and saw none of them listed. And that’s pretty much what drives how I feel about RSD – it does me no good to get excited about product I am unable to buy (and I have no pity for artists who lose revenue to torrents or d/l sites over this).
I am excited about the new Richard Hawley album that hit the UK stores this week. Still no US release in sight, I watched the prices climb every week on Amazon US for the import and finally was fed up and ordered it straight from Amazon UK. Last I saw it on Amazon US it was $33 – at one point it was $38. I paid 9 pounds for it and bought the last Wim Wenders DVD I cannot buy in the states for 5 pounds. With shipping I bought both items for the same price as buying the one disk new here as an import.
Yet file sharing continues unabated. I could have downloaded the album by now for free. I easily could have stream ripped it off of the free streaming preview on the Guardian’s website over the weekend. Torrents do not consider borders and the record labels have to stop fighting digital distribution; there is no reason that I should not be able to buy a digital release of this album now. Sorry if I went too far into Howard Beale rant mode but the legal distribution of music today is in a sorry state today, whether RSD or just buying a new release.
Tim – It’s actually worse today because it’s possible to completely staunch the [legal] flow of digital music across borders in a way that imports of physical product could never be completely halted. No matter how much the RIAA tried to stop the scourge of parallel imports back in the 80s. And believe me, they tried. All of this happens because bands are carved up across territories like a turkey leg, hanging us out to dry when we have the good taste to enjoy a band that hasn’t got the [dubious] knack of signing a licensing deal in our sad market!
When Napster was all the rage I tried out MP3’s by bands whose albums I looked at and never heard anything by, couldn’t check them out at the library or hear them on US radio. There are many bands that would never have seen a dime from me if it wasn’t for file sharing…the Divine Comedy, The Tindersticks, Swan Dive, the Handsome Family spring to mind immediately, I could come up with 20 more easily if I plugged in the hard drive called “The Evil Jukebox.”
The labels are run by idiots. Someone does all the R&D for you on a fantastic new way to distribute your product and you fight it tooth and nail.
Tim – I try to limit the amount of music I am exposed to. There’s only so much I can follow. The “fat pipeline” never appealed to me on a number of levels. I am compelled to buy many things but the volume of my collection is such that I can’t give them the time they merit. I hate to say this, but when I was in high school, and had a $7.50 a week budget to buy music [or lunch – my choice] and it allowed for one new album [or maybe two if used] purchased per week and then I really delved deeply into that album – giving it a lot of attention.
I feel sorry for young people today who have everything at their fingertips and are none the less fueled by an ever-shortening attention span that precludes them experiencing an album in the same way that I did 30+ years ago. Things like file sharing represented a horror to me. A worst-case scenario, personally. Here are thousands of songs. In file form. Go.
I much preferred my normal purchase filtration process as it allowed for a finite influx of music that was knowable and graspable to me. The quality of my relationship with music is fostered by this approach.
“…ever have the feeling you’ve been cheated…” Mr. Lydon’s sage words which ended The Sex Pistols, if not Punk itself, seem a bit fitting here. I thought last year the RD had gotten too big and didn’t have the indie/underground vibe it had just a few years back. This year I chose to work on RD and went to my local near the end of the day to find getting the PiL release was really no problem.
This past week I was in San Francisco to celebrate my 49th birthday and wound my way down Haight Street to the record Mecca, Ameoba Records, where I spent some quality time sifting through the vinyl and cd’s. Towards the end of my enjoyable sojourn I asked the personable info attendant if there was anything left from RD. He pointed to a WALL and there were at least 30 or 40 releases still stocked. Only one thing was there that I had any interest in (and it was mild) – the 2012 remix of London Calling. Yes I bought it. I walked away from the wall thinking that RD had finally become an industry marketing tool – sort of the way SXSW has over the past decade. I’m not really surprised, and any increase in record sales SHOULD be good for the bands making the music, but the cache has gone.
Echorich – Halleleujah, brother! I think you hit the nail on the head with your SXSW comparison. And it only took five years.
I haven’t bothered with RSD before, but this year I went along (to Rise in Bristol, UK) and queued for an hour or so before the shop opened because I wanted the two reissued Radiophonic Workshop LPs. I was pleased to get those records plus a couple of singles, but I was dismayed by the practice of producing obvious collectors items like an Anarchy in the UK picture disc and the London Calling remix, as well as box sets of Beatles and Dylan 7″s. It’s pure exploitation of the collector’s urge and although I held the Anarchy 7″ in my hand for a few seconds wondering how much I could get for it on eBay later, I didn’t buy it because I don’t want to be part of all that.
But it was good to see, a week later, that they still had those Beatles and Dylan boxes on the shelves unsold, at the same prices. So it does look like customers are wising up and refusing to be cash cows.
John Edwards – I think that there have been too many exclusives produced so the cachet is diluted, and the whole day gets distorted to be a feeding frenzy that, if anything, will be off putting to the new shoppers drawn into the store by publicity on RSD! If I weren’t vested in collecting records all of my life, there’s no way I’d put up with the queues and crowding on RSD! I think they are risking making record stores repulsive to the casual shopper by pursuing these programs. Encouraging in-store performances would be a more inclusive tack to follow where no one who attends would get “left out” by hard core fans queuing all night to rip that 7″ you had notions to buy out of the bins before you could snap it up.