Sunday, April 18, 2010

See also: devouring one's own young, biting the hand that feeds, and other clichés.

So. Yesterday was the third annual Record Store Day.

RSD is my favorite holiday, because I am a nerd. (The fact that I even consider RSD a holiday should tell you that, obviously). I have been attending and eagerly snapping up copies of the various exclusive goods produced and sold commemorating this day since it began in 2008.

(Here's where this post may start to seem a bit emo. It is not emo. Self-righteous and wistful, yes. But when you get down to it, I'm an idealist. Spoiler alert: I know that these are just records and this in the big scheme of things, this does not matter. I know that. But I do believe in principles, and ultimately, that the violation of these principles is what I am on about.)

I always manage to find the dark lining in everything somehow, and naturally, Record Store Day is no exception. For those of you who may not be completely aware of RSD, here's a quick breakdown: it began in 2008 as a way, to celebrate the local, independent brick-and-mortar record store as a meaningful community space and source of socialization, knowledge, and, yes, purchasing music. At least this is the way I understand it, and this is what the day continues to mean to me. It is about much more than the actual stores, it is about the spirit of the stores, and about the patrons who support and love these stores. The day itself is a community-based celebration involving in-store performances, contests, fun community events organized by local record stores, and the availability of special, usually very limited-run exclusive releases from independent-friendly artists.

The first RSD was pretty low-key, last-minute, not well-publicized, and frankly kind of disorganized. There were maybe 8-10 exclusives, all, according to my memory, offered by indie labels. It took visiting 5 different shops, but I eventually had acquired everything I had been looking for. In 2009, the first thing that struck me was how much bigger it had gotten in a year. Instead of 10 exclusive releases, I think there were closer to 50. Furthermore, many of these releases, curiously enough, were being offered by major labels, who seemed to be doing some music-nerd PR by claiming to support independent record stores (even as they offer countless iTunes exclusives, but that's another angry blog post, as even indies are guilty of that). All of a sudden, RSD seemed to be co-opted by the majors and turned into a much larger event. Sure enough, RSD was a clusterfuck last year - I arrived at Vintage Vinyl shortly after opening to find the line out the door. Still, with enough searching I managed to get everything I had been looking for last year, including the insanely popular Flaming Lips/Black Keys split 7" single and the coveted Jesus Lizard 7" singles collection.

This year was the biggest year yet - the official PDF of RSD releases was 10 pages long. Among the list, there was a clear gem of a release - an early, vinyl-only release of Heaven is Whenever, the new album from the Hold Steady, on clear vinyl and in a screen-printed sleeve, limited to (depending on the source you used) 600, 625, or 650 copies. (For the purposes of the rest of this article, I am going to be assuming the 600 figure is correct, as that is the number I have seen used most often). This release was more than two weeks prior to Heaven's official May 4 street date. It was quite obvious to me that I would not be scoring this record, although that certainly did not stop me from trying.

So, predictably, I did not get my hands or even my eyes on a copy of this record. No surprise there. Also predictably, a good portion of the run has already shown up on eBay. Again, no surprise there. This brings us to the elephant in the room (speaking of clichés). The idea of people buying these records just to flip them on eBay is unfortunate but also unavoidable. However, the idea of independent record stores, whose lifeblood is the devoted, music nerd customer, and for whom Record Store Day ought to be a thank you to and celebration of the customers who have kept them alive and viable even during difficult economic times, is frankly kind of reprehensible. And yes, I am making the charge that most of the copies of this record (as well as other Record Store Day exclusives) are not individual vinyl speculators, but rather independent record stores who acquired this stock with the implicit understanding that the patrons of the record store would not be exploited.

As of this writing, there are 18 copies of the limited RSD pressing of Heaven is whenever currently active on eBay, with 13 copies already sold. This is roughly 5% of the entire run of the record, which is a significant amount. The cheapest copy sold for $89; on the other end of the spectrum, one copy went for a whopping $199. It is worth noting that this seller, j_spo from Brooklyn, is selling or has already sold most of the RSD exclusives from this year, and has no other recent sales. The fact that he has/had all of the most in-demand exclusives suggests to me that this is not an individual but rather a record store. I could be wrong, but the acquisition of the Hold Steady record, the Beastie Boys record, AND the John Lennon singles set seems suspicious to me. Also note the use of the Buy It Now or Best Offer feature, as well as the uniformity and utter lack of real description in the item description field. So, yes, I am calling this guy out. It smells like a rotten indie store selling out the patrons who have supported it.

See also eBay user beck*hansen. The alleged Mr. Hansen, located in Waterville, Maine, has 13 RSD2010 items for sale on eBay, including a copy of the Hold Steady Record. He has also already sold 64 RSD items, including a whopping FOUR COPIES of the Hold Steady LP. So, yes, this guy allegedly had scored five copies of the Hold Steady LP to flip. Am I seriously to believe he is not an independent record store owner?

And let's not leave out record stores who are blatantly flipping this product after presumably withholding it from their potential dedicated customers by advertising their name in their eBay handle. Yes, I'm looking at you, Eclipse Records. Just because you are not using an exorbitant buy it now figure does not make your betrayal of your customers any less reprehensible.

This may seem like a lot of whining, and okay, maybe it kind of is. It doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things. It just really makes me angry to see record stores publicly buy into the whole circle jerk concept of celebrating and rewarding the customers with limited-run releases and special events while simultaneously selling them out to the highest bidder without even giving them a crack at it first. I would love to see the Record Store Day folks crack down on this and take action against offending stores by blacklisting them from participation in future Record Store Day events and denying them access to RSD-exclusive merchandise, but my guess is they will not do that. So, in lieu of this, I propose that anyone who finds themselves caring even a little bit about indie retail ethos to please repost this, link to this, e-mail it to friends and allies, or find another way to share this with as many people as possible. If anybody has any connection with Record Store Day officials, please forward it to them. And let's all agree not to support record flippers by not buying the product on eBay, and if a local record store is engaging in the flipping, please let them know that you are aware of it and that you will not be supporting them until they stop devouring their own young. In a volatile economic climate, record stores are already an endangered species, and if the ones who survive continue to betray the trust of those who support them, they may find that support gone when they need it the most.

Also, props and a big Flaws endorsement to Vintage Vinyl in Fords, NJ and Princeton Record Exchange in Princeton, NJ, two record stores that have always been reliable to me on Record Store Day and on every other day of the year and who do not sell out their customers by flipping their own product. When in New Jersey, please support them!
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