A great thing is broken, so let’s fix it
Editor’s Note: Soon after the story about Florida State QB Jameis Winston’s frankly bizarre arrest for shoplifting $32 worth of crab legs and crawfish yesterday, I posted this on the social media: “Just got a very strange text: “bring the Old Bay and let’s party – Jameis” That’s weird.” I am reposting it here because quite frankly that is 100% fried gold and I want full credit for it. Now I’m a neutral in the state’s football wars, but Florida fans, if you aren’t waving thousands of cans of Old Bay – a fantastic product which I thoroughly enjoy, btw – the next time you play FSU then I just don’t no what to do with you. I’m giving you this stuff for free. Use it, dawg!
Now, back our regularly scheduled, long-winded program…
I’m very sad, and have been for a couple of weeks. You see, I just found out on April 19 that one of my formerly favorite days of the year is broken and has been completely ruined by the forces that usually take something good and enjoyable and turn into a flaming pile of poo. Those forces are of course greed, corruption, and cable reality TV (stay with me on this one, it makes sense eventually, I promise.)
If you know me at all you of course know that I’m talking about Record Store Day. Even though I haven’t been able to go for the past 2 years because it conflicted with the Bike MS ride, I still really enjoyed the fact that there was a day like this out there celebrating some of my favorite places in the world, and have written many times over the years about my RSD experiences. (See here for an example.) I definitely still support RSD in theory – anything that boosts the sales of brick and mortar record shops is a good thing. The problem is that the folks who would most enjoy the products sold on RSD – people like me who, you know, actually buy records the rest of the year – are getting squeezed out of the festivities as a large portion of the limited edition items that are offered on that day are ending up on eBay at ridiculously inflated prices before most of the decent record buying public even gets through the door of the shops. Many of the people I know who should enjoy RSD the most are starting to view it much like a hardcore drinker must view New Year’s Eve. (As are some of the artists.)
Now, this isn’t the fault of the record stores themselves by any stretch of the imagination (except for the one or two each year that break the rules and put items up for auction. Thankfully those who do are generally banned from participating again.) It’s the folks who have watched a few too many episodes of Pawn Stars or Storage Wars and consider themselves internet resale geniuses that buy something they know was produced in limited quantity and is in demand by people with a track record for paying inflated prices for things they really want. And no, I didn’t glance furtively at my copy of the massive Stone Roses 25th Anniversary box set while I typed that sentence. You must have imagined that.) They have no intention of actually listening to the records and enjoying the music. These people make make angry. And since these folks have no other job or anything better to do with their life other than try and profit off of other people’s creativity, industry, and ideas, they ave all the time in the world to camp out overnight at record shops or stand in line for hours to be near the front of the lines when the shops open. (Cut to shot of Skylar White with a stack of records ready to wrap up and ship, right after she finishes packaging up the sad, crying clown statuette.)
Take for example the R.E.M. Unplugged box set that was an RSD offering. Now, admittedly, there were too few of these produced (believe it was limited to 2500), so I knew the chances of getting one of these would be slim. What actually happened, however, was completely insane. By noon on that day there were literally dozens of these box sets, which retailed for around $90, on eBay for between $200 and $500. $500! Seriously? What was even more disturbing was that several of these auctions were offered through EBay mobile accounts, so it’s not hard to picture folks putting these sets up for auction while standing in line to pay for them. If you did this, btw, you are the worst person in the world. Well, maybe not, but you are definitely in the top 100. Ok, maybe top 1000. Regardless, not cool.
So, how do we fix this problem you may ask? I don’t know if you can ever completely put a stop to this kind of shenanigans, but here’s a couple of things that I think would help. One would be for record companies to be a little less stingy with the reprints of popular items. Now, I’m all for offering limited edition items on RSD itself to drive sales, so perhaps the reprints could be more bare bones packaging and presentations. This helps the original RSD offerings maintain their value and interest for the record collector and give folks plenty of incentive to come out and enjoy RSD (For the record, I went to RSD at my local shop, Park Ave CDs, after the crowds had died down and had a blast, and picked up a couple of the records I had hoped to get – the Joe Strummer/Pogues Live in London reissue and the Gram Parsons outtakes record. The REM and LCD Soundsystem sets were long gone, of course. As was Cake (!), which was also going for hundreds of dollars on eBay. I mean, I love some Cake on occasion, but if you’re shelling out 4 hundy on them it may be time to consider medical assistance.)
Another move the record companies could make is not to make the local stores completely eat overages for items that don’t sell – something that isn’t done for regularly stocked items. Many retailers are afraid to get left holding stock of high ticket items and frankly don’t order as much as they should, at least from the anecdotes I’ve read and heard.
Finally, the stores themselves could try some different ideas to help ensure that sales are going to folks who are going to people who will actually listen to them, or at least put them on their Cake shrine surrounded by candles and incense. (I know shops care about this stuff. I’ve heard of more than one shop turn down large sales on RSD to customers who were clearly there just to try and flip the merch online.) One idea would be to do away with camping out overnight for spots in line and allocat the first few hundred spots based on some type of customer loyalty program. That way those folks who are there supporting the shops the rest of the year are the ones who get first crack at the RSD merch. The shops are winning still and the folks who actually enjoy music can purchase the RSD offerings at a reasonable price.
Anyway, that’s just a couple of ideas off the top of my head. We’ve got the technology to do all sorts of amazing things these days, so I’m sure there’s a solution out there that I’m missing. RSD is something that is worth saving before things spin out of control and the backlash begins in earnest.