Record Store Day, Kickstarter, Limited Editions and Manufactured Rarity – Screwing Over Fans for a Quick Buck

Allow me to present a hypothetical situation:

Say you’re a Flaming Lips fan. For months you’ve heard about this crazy Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends album that features collaborations from everyone from Chris Martin and Bon Iver to Prefuse 73 and Ke$ha. You want it badly. It’s announced that the album will be a Record Store Day exclusive. You get to your local record store an hour before they open and find that there’s already a line around the block. You wait regardless. When you finally make your way inside the store you find out that they sold out within minutes. Now if you want one you have to go to eBay and shell out $100.

Another hypothetical problem:

You love Amanda Palmer. You find out that in a few weeks, Amanda Palmer and her husband Neil Gaiman will be releasing a live CD. The release date comes, but you discover that the album isn’t available for you yet. It’s only available for those who backed its release on Kickstarter. You would have done that if you had the money at the time, or if you followed Amanda or Neil on Twitter, but you’re not up on such things. As such, now you have to wait an unspecified amount of time to get the album. But then it turns up online illegally. Now instead of gladly handing over money for the album, you just download it. You make a promise to yourself to buy it when it does come out officially, but by the time it does you’ve lost interest. You have your music, but Palmer and Gaiman didn’t get a dime, and the sour experience of being screwed over and treated like a second-class fan probably sticks with you.

And a  final hypothetical dilemma, I promise:

You LOVE Pearl Jam. You’ve seen them live over 10 times, own all their albums on vinyl (which isn’t easy) and you’re even a member of the their fanclub. But their fanclub is poorly organized, and you never get the email about a deluxe 3-disc edition of their documentary PJ20. By the time you do catch word about it, it’s sold out. The two discs of exclusive content aren’t made available anywhere else (except for iTunes, and only for Americans). You try eBay, but you see that the few copies that make it there are being sold for over $300-$500. Dejected, you just download it illegally. During this whole process, the band and the fanclub, who claim to care about fans more than any other organization, completely ignore you.

Beginning to see a pattern here?

In recent years, artists and labels (both big and small) have turned to limited editions as a way to entice people into buying physical product. Record Store Day is the biggest example of this, but examples like the other two I gave are just as common. They do this because their margins (the difference between the cost of production and the price they sell it for) are always higher with a physical product. And since they’re dealing with fans who by their very nature have a collector’s mindset, the very act of limiting the supply increases the demand. In fact, it increases the demand so much so that the demand ends up outweighing the supply exponentially. The labels win, they get their money, and the few fans that are lucky enough to snag their ultra-mega-limited edition item win as well. But everyone else just gets screwed.

Now, sometimes it’s not that bad. In some cases, the limited edition is just an alternate format or packaged edition of an already available product, such as a colored LP or alternate cover. It looks really cool, but the content is the same.  The fan that scored with the limited release has the same music/video content as the person who could only make out with the regular version. No one is out anything major.

But what if the limited edition has music or video content that can only be found on that limited edition? Those fans want that content, that’s why they’re fans. I don’t know about you, but when I truly love a band with every fiber of my being, I want everything they put out. I want the version of the album with the bonus tracks, I want the import singles with the remixes, I want the EP that only came out in Japan. I want it all. But when you make an item limited to such an extreme like they seem to be doing these days, this becomes nearly impossible.

And I’m not saying that limited editions with exclusive content are by nature a bad thing. Sometimes they’re a necessity.  For example, Amon Tobin is releasing a limited edition box set filled with LPs, CDs and DVDs that will all have never-before-released content exclusive to the box set. However, that “limited edition” box set is limited to a not-that-limited 4,000 copies. For an artist as niche as Amon Tobin, that’s actually a pretty hefty number for a box set that costs $200. Everyone who really cares about it will be able to get it. I’m willing to bet that Tobin, along with the production people at his label, Nina Tune, got together and figured out exactly how many to make so everyone who really wanted one would be able to get it, while not leaving themselves with much in the way of surplus along the way.

But if you’re the Flaming Lips, you have more fans than the few thousand that will be able to get the album on Record Store Day. If you’re Amanda Palmer you have more fans than the few that knew about Kickstarter when you launched that campaign. And if you’re Pearl Jam, then you definitely have more fans willing to buy a 3-disc box set of your movie than the very few that you made available. In these cases, what’s the point? How is it a benefit the fan to force them to either spend way too much money on eBay to get what they want or to steal it online? How does that help them? Better yet, how does that help you, the artist? You don’t get any of that money (unless your Jack White and you’re selling your own stuff on eBay, classy). As an artist making music in 2012, you should be ecstatic that anyone will buy your music, and you should make it as easy as possible for them to do so.  The only people whose lives are being made easier with all this bullshit is the speculator.

Speculators aren’t fans. They are people who buy a product with the sole intent of selling it at an inflated value. It’s like daytrading, only with collectibles. Speculators love shit like limited editions and Record Store Day exclusives, because a lot of them have inside tracks to get the stuff that’s in most demand before they’re actually available to the public. This year I heard about many RSD exclusives reaching eBay before this Saturday. You think the people posting those auctions were customers who got lucky? They weren’t. They were record store owners and employees looking to make a quick buck by screwing over their customers and going directly to the secondary market.

That’s horrible, but can you blame them?  Because if history is any indication, the majority of stuff that came out this Record Store Day won’t be worth much more than retail in just six months time. That right, that super-limited edition 7″ single you bought with no intention of ever playing because you thought it might be worth a mint in a few years? You’ll probably be lucky to get what you paid for it three years from now. These releases rarely have staying power, it’s probably because 90% of RSD “exclusives” are either only timed exclusives, or get re-released digitally or on other formats within months of their RSD release. It’s hard for something to maintain its value when the one thing that gave it value in the first place, a false sense of rarity, is removed.

That’s great for people like me, who actually want to buy and hold on to stuff, but bad news for probably a good percentage of assholes who buy this stuff, who are only in it for money that they think they’ll get later on. So not only are these super-limited editions bad for bands and their fans, but their even worthless to the majority of speculators who buy them as well.

But what about the record stores themselves? Isn’t that who Record Store Day is really supposed to benefit? Well, call me a cynical asshole (seriously, it’s cool, you wouldn’t be the first), but I fail to see how one day of crazy business is going to save a record store. The kids going to their local record stores to pick up these limited editions items aren’t the kind of people who are going to back to their record store to buy a non-limited edition item. Record Store Day is for record collectors. Record stores are for music lovers, and the stores, labels and artists should be trying harder to find (or create) the latter, instead of catering to the fickle tastes of the former.

13 Responses to “Record Store Day, Kickstarter, Limited Editions and Manufactured Rarity – Screwing Over Fans for a Quick Buck”

  1. Keith says:

    I agree with all of tour points completely. I swore off RSD after nearly getting trampled for that Foo Fighters disc last year. RSD should take a que from “Small Business Day” – it should be about patronizing what is already there. Since most record collectors patronize the crap out of their local record shops, constantly sifting for gold in the mud, RSD should be about making mini pilgrimages to the store “one town over” or off the beaten path. It should be about buying records as gifts for others. It should be about taking a chance on a tip from the store clerk based upon your musical tastes – or as happened to me last week, it should be about going in for one CD, and leaving with that one and another because the clerks were playing the new Delta Spirit and I was blown away.

    In a similar vein to the exclusives, why (now that the Internets are here) do the labels still release albums in one country more than a year before others (Amazon UK will sell me an import CD, but not an import MP3), or why do they release singles to radio two months before the MP3 is available. It’s like they are going out of their way to NOT make money.

  2. Lost Turntable says:

    All excellent points! Thanks for the comment.

  3. Guest says:

    Comic Book day gives out free comic books. Record store day you pay regular price (or more).

    The oddest thing about RSD is that nothing really is on sale. At least for the local local stores here. It’s not a customer appreciation day, but it should be.

    I went to Record store day to see what was up. Last year, I at least got few free posters. This year, there were no poster give-aways at the local record shop. And just like last year, there was that vibe of “manufactured rarity” instead of it being simply a day about enjoying records.

    Hopefully next year will be better.

  4. Tony says:

    That was as good as or perhaps more satisfying than an Mp3 DL from you today. I actually went out for the first time to RSD to a store that’s empty most all year long. It felt good to see people into this but it was nowhere as cool as going to Wax Trax 3 days a week like I used to. Sad around the edges and you see it.

  5. Drain says:

    i absolutely agree with everything you said. although, i think i might be familiar with that amanda palmer kickstarter thing coz of her mentioning something like that on twitter a few times but i kinda lost interest in it when she kept going on and on about “maps of tasmania”.

  6. Blaine says:

    Cynical asshole?! Nah, just down-to-earth honesty. Your music uploads are great, your rants are legendary! I’ve never been to a store during RSD, and after reading this it solidifies my intentions to never do so. I love buying that CD or record I’ve been longing for, or sifting through bins of who-knows-what?! to find that one song, from that one album that I’ve been dying to add to my collection; but dealing with people solely in it for the money is aggravating and depressing. Money motivated individuals don’t bother me, except when they infringe on the grounds of art and its collectors. There are a multitude of ways to make money in this country, stepping on someone’s toes to make a quick buck should not be one of them. Unfortunately, as you said, it’s the fault of the labels, artists and stores that participate in nonsensical crap like RSD that prolong this tireless exercise in catch and release…for profit.

  7. John says:

    Maybe things are just done differently around here, I don’t know. I agree about the exclusivity of some of the items really punishing the fans, and that the guys buying these things just to flip them on eBay or even worse the ones acquiring them before release flipping them being scum. However, I live in a college town of roughly 300,000 people and there’s only about 3 stores here anymore where you can buy vinyl or music in general and have any real variety. They’re the stores owned by locals, the people who are passionate about what they do.

    All 3 local places did something for RSD beyond just having some of the exclusives. One local place didn’t even have any of the exclusives, but in the spirit of the day they were having a 50% off sale…yeah, that’s not a typo, 50% off of everything in the place. It’s a store that specializes more in hiphop and r&b so the exclusive releases aren’t really the kind of thing that appeal to most of the customers of that store, but you best believe 50% off everything was drawing people in. They also had a spread of food for people including wings and barbecue.

    A second place is a campus indie music store. They have mostly CDs, both used and new, but also carry a sizable amount of vinyl used, new and repress. The line to get into the place when they opened on RSD was probably a city block long. The thing is, that isn’t all they did for the day. They had a 10% off all music aside from RSD releases, they had a slate of bands playing live in-store all day long, free beverages, and a taco truck outside with food for people. They made it an event so people would want to come out there even if they couldn’t be there right at opening to get the RSD releases. I was there when they opened, left to go to the other two places in town, came back at around 5pm and the place was still pretty packed with people watching the band and just shopping in general despite any RSD worth a crap long since gone.

    The third place in town is more of a resale shop of all kinds of things, but they have a HUGE area of their store devoted to used vinyl, and within the past year or two started carrying a lot of new and repress vinyl as well. They got some of the RSD exclusives in, and when they opened there were apparently 30-40 people lined up at the door. To put this in context, on an average Friday when they put out the new stock of used vinyl there are usually 4-6 people waiting to get in so it was a huge difference. Much like the indie store, this place had a slate of bands playing all day long. They also had a 10% sale on all music other than RSD releases. They had free snacks and beverages for people, and they gave away door prizes at the end of the day. Everybody who visited the store could enter to win, you didn’t even have to buy anything. Again, they made it an event and it drew a lot of people in.

    I can guarantee you all three businesses made a lot more money on those days than they do on average days. Does it mean people will visit the stores more other times of the year? Perhaps not, but even if it gets a handful of people to check the stores out for the first time and then become regular customers I don’t think it’s a bad thing. Regardless of that, I don’t think you can overstate how much it helps out a small local business to have one really big profitable day like they got this past weekend.

    I didn’t get all the exclusives I wanted, but I still got plenty of stuff and I was happy to be spending money at local businesses I believe in. Record Store Day isn’t perfect, but I also don’t think it’s a horrible thing.

  8. Keith says:

    To the points above – I love the idea of RSD being a semi-annual event to clean out record store stocks to that they can afford to refill the shelves with new stock. Imagine if on Side #1 of RSD, everyone is encouraged to come in and buy their favorite albums at a “stock blowout” discount and in the week ahead you ceremonially gift those albums to friends. A month later, there is the flipside of RSD where shops encourage everyone to trade-in underplayed albums that deserve to find better homes. Oh, one can dream.

  9. Jason says:

    I agree with John there. While some good points are made in the original post, it still comes down to each individual store as to how good it can be.

    Here in St. Petersburg, Fl our main record store Daddy Kool is downtown in an art district/block. While they did have the RSD exclusives, most of the people shopping were just there to shop and to be a part of the event. There was a sidewalk sale with boxes of $1 cds and $1 vinyls. I was able to dig through both and found some jems (including 2 Pet Shop Boys imports I didn’t have, and that’s hard to do, and a Dub Pistols “Official Chemical” 12″ with mixes I did not have [Steve Lawler]). Coolers of free Red Bull and 5 Hour Energy were everywhere. Local shops made cupcakes and had cupcake girls walk around with them. Free posters were outside, and there were different specials every hour (20% off the store early,10% off from 10-11, 15% 11-12 and so on). Grab bags on the way out with every purchase (included magazines, stickers and local coupons). A DJ playing an extremely wide array of music, along with a hype man were out front. 2 local live venues/bars on the block had free live shows from noon-midnight.

    Every shop on the block had “RSD sales” and it seemed like a giant party celebrating music. I was there for a few hours, but it went on all day and night. I won’t give away $$ but they blew away their “record” total of last years RSD by almost 20%, and that was after it more than doubled 2010.

    The one thing I definitely disagree with is this
    “This year I heard about many RSD exclusives reaching eBay before this Saturday. You think the people posting those auctions were customers who got lucky? They weren’t. They were record store owners and employees looking to make a quick buck by screwing over their customers and going directly to the secondary market.”

    In this case (as is the case with concert tickets as well) many people put these items on ebay before they are in their possession, just to have them out there to get the bids as early and often as possible. Would a scumbag store owner still take something and sell it on ebay? Sure, but I don’t think that is happening very much.

  10. Jason says:

    Also – I just shared this post with a friend who works at the store I reference.

    “My only complaint is this. We got stiffed on the Flaming Lips LP. Then how does Good Records in Dallas have this (see attached photo)? We order ten copies, get zero and Good Records has hundreds of copies AFTER Record Store Day? What in the heck! How are these things doled out? Mojo in Tampa got the Flaming Lips LP and the Deftones – Covers LP (last year), and we got stiffed on both titles! Mojo is primarily a book store!”

    The attached photo is crazy, wish I could share.

  11. Keith says:

    Jason just made my day by informing us Daddy Kool is still in business. When I was going to University of Tampa in the 80’s, that was one of my favorite stores (back then, it was down in Bradenton). When I fell in love with Kate Bush, the owner (who at the time also promoted shows around the area) helped me track down every piece of vinyl (including The Single File 7-inch box set), cassette and CD in existence – plus some great posters I still have. That store embodies the true spirit of RSD 365.

  12. Richard says:

    There’s a lot of great, imaginative content that’s put together for RSD; in 2-400 piece runs of 7″ vinyl for $19.99 each. Odd collaborations or covers… I love that kind of oddball split like the Feist / Mastodon disc. I’d pay a fair price for it, but I really don’t care about the fetish object – I want to hear the music.

    So, when assholes like Jack White release something specifically for the Smeagels out there who want their precious collectable one of a kind vinyl? I say download. Download it, burn it onto CDs, and hand them out on the street corner.

    What you’re looking at with the exclusives on RSD isn’t a return to the love of vinyl for listening to music – you’re looking at a return to bootlegging.

  13. piz says:

    thanks for the post.. it was a good read!
    this topic of exclusives, limited editions, & even basic releases get’s me so worked up lol

    I’ll download if i must, but i don’t really want to… i wanna hear my own rips.
    if i enjoy your work, i will support & drop the cash… don’t screw me over 🙁

    Bjork is my #1, but luckily she’s never really given me ish. I’m lucky because she almost has too many releases…. lol, almost. But even if it was too much, I like having the option of whether or not I want to purchase. But no matter, I purchase it all not because of the value it may / may not have, but because I true love the music she puts out & the joy I get from owning it. I would be buried with the shit if I could lol.

    Anyway, I would ramble about this for days, but you have said all there is… Again, great post!

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