The Problem With Record Store Day

Print When Record Store Day first started I lauded it as a welcome way to get people away from iTunes and back into the record store. But every year since its inception I’ve grown more and more sour over the event. In 2011 when I posted some tracks from my RSD haul on my other blog Lost Turntable and got called out for it by one of the events founders, I used that chance to comment on what I thought were growing problems with the event. In 2012, I dedicated a whole blog post to the bullshit surrounding RSD (and other ways bands screw over fans) My problem with RSD is the same now that it was then: it’s no longer about music. More importantly, it’s no longer about record stores! It’s about making a quick buck, and it’s not even about making a quick buck by selling overpriced records to fans. It’s about making a quick buck to sell records to speculators, eBayers who will turn around and sell their finds at an even higher inflated price to turn a profit at the cost of some poor fan who loves a band so much that they have to own everything they put out no matter what the cost.

Since I now live in Japan (and work a 12 hour day on Saturday) I wasn’t paying that much attention to RSD this year. I heard about some of the special releases, like that rad glow-in-the-dark Ghostbusters LP; the insane 5LP LCD Soundsystem hipster explosion; and a ultra-cool neon pink LP of the Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon video game soundtrack. If there was anything I would have wanted this year for Record Store Day, it would have been that. The Far Cry LP was being released by Invada Records, one of my favorite indie record labels. I fell in love with them a few years back when they released a stellar (and still available and in-print) edition of the Drive soundtrack. This was in contrast to the horrible version that US boutique label Mondo Tees put out, a strictly disgustingly limited affair with hideously horrible cover art. So anyway, I was glad to see they were getting such a big name release, and from what I saw of it, I could tell that it was going to look incredible.

What I didn’t know until RSD however, was that the release was being limited to a scant 1,000 copies. That’s not a lot to go around. That’s so few to go around that some (okay me) might say that it’s downright crazy and a crown jewel of an example of everything wrong with Record Store Day. I suspected that this would be one of the most in-demand and understocked LPs for RSD, and it turns out that I was right. I know I was right, because Invada was bragging it about it on their Twitter, shooting out re-tweets like this one.

Now, releasing a ridiculously limited LP seemingly made just for the speculator market is one thing. Bragging about the insane feats people had to go to in order to get it is another set of bullshit entirely. In their defense (seriously, good for them) they were sending out tweets all day directing people to stores that still had the LP in stock, but the aggro-inducing RTs didn’t stop either. The one that really pushed me over the edge was this one, sent out by James White, the awesome artist who designed the dope cover for the soundtrack. 

I mean, what the fuck is that? “Rare and special?”  There’s nothing special about under-producing something or screwing over your own fans for no good reason at all. I still don’t get it. Why make something so great that would appeal to so many people, and then sabotage it by making it an ultra-limited edition that almost no one was able to get? Who wins other than the speculators? I mean, don’t you want people to be able to buy something you made? Isn’t that the point? And yes, I know the album is on iTunes (at least it is in some countries) but owning something on vinyl and owning a digital download is not the same thing and anyone who suggests otherwise is insane.

I’ve never liked super-limited edition print runs, and the older I get the more they piss me off. Because I realize that they don’t just screw over the people who didn’t want to wait four hours in line for a thin chance to get something. They screw over people who couldn’t get in line because they have jobs, or y’know, families that make it impossible to dedicate half of a Saturday morning to standing outside in the cold. They screw over people who need to save up their money to buy indulgences like pretty pink records. And they screw over people who, oh I dunno, live in faraway Asian countries that didn’t get most western RSD titles (although like I said, I wasn’t even trying this year).

So when these people (i.e. NORMAL people) head off to their local record store on RSD only to find out once they get there that everything worth getting is gone, they don’t leave with the records they want and a smile on their face, happy to come back to their local record store next week to see what other goodies it might have in store. No, they leave dejected and maybe even angry. They leave confused about how the hell they were supposed to have a snowball’s chance in hell of getting the record they wanted. And those aren’t the kind of experiences and feelings that will lead to someone returning to a store in the following weeks or months.

And it’s not just the casual fan or person with a day job whose becoming disenfranchised with RSD. I’m seeing it all over the Internet, people dejected that they woke up early and got in line for nothing. The sense of excitement, the thrill of the hunt, that earlier Record Store Days had is being replaced with an overwhelming feeling of “what’s the point of bothering, it will be gone by the time I get there anyway.” Even the artists themselves are starting to get sick of it. Paul Weller just announced that he was so disgusted over how his limited edition single ended up in the hands of flippers (or, as the Brits say, “touts”) that he’s never going to participate in the event again.  I suspect that he won’t be the last artist to do so.

Record Store Day gets its inspiration from Free Comic Book Day, a promotion comic book dealers and publishers launched to get people into comic book stores by giving away free comics. The idea being that if you give them a free book, then maybe they’ll come back to get one they have to pay for. It seems like the record stores skipped the free part and just went straight to the “let’s get their money, and as much of it as possible” part. It’s funny because if they keep up their current speculator-driven industry model, the same thing is going to happen to them that happened to the comic book industry in the mid-90s; they’re going to collapse. And it won’t be pretty.

15 Responses to The Problem With Record Store Day

  • Tim says:

    Great post.
    The section about Paul Weller was interesting. The thing is, they make these records in incredibly small quantities, thereby creating a built-in demand on the secondary market. The touts are doing nothing at all illegal, it may be unsavory but it is not illegal or even immoral. They have a commodity that people want and people are willing to pay for it. Part of the solution is to make more than 1000 of these things and make them available for one day only or only in the UK.

    • Drain says:

      Someone out there may have the record I want from RSD, but there is no way in hell i’m going to give my money to that bastard selling it at an inflated price. It’s absolute bullshit. What makes me sick is that these are the people who think that if they buy every single issue of every single comic book they’re going to have a gold mine when it doesn’t work that way anymore. At some point in time, people aren’t even giving to give the flippers the time of day by quickly turning around to sell something that came from RSD. “Oh? You bought that? Yeah…I wanted it…but not anymore.”

  • Drain says:

    The thing about RSD is that it’s no longer a day where the fan wins anymore. Instead it’s he who covets money more. I don’t hate my record store for participating in RSD; no my anger and hate is directed towards those who ended up turning something so great into….this…whatever one wants to call it.

  • Rob C says:

    I’m one of those music lovers and family men who just doesn’t have 1) the time; 2) the motivation; or 3) the blind faith to think I’m going to get what I want on RSD. I think it’s an event the hipsters have hijacked and another way to showcase their cred…sorry, don’t have time for the BS. The more artists follow the lead of Paul Weller, the more the message will get out there that the game’s over…in the end, artists want their music in the hands of the fans and shame on all those that who try to exploit it for means other then what the day was meant to be about – the music.

  • Eric Schulz says:

    This was the fourth RSD I went to. I actually got there an hour before the store opened and there were maybe a 150 people in line already! (I had NEVER gone before 9am before, sometimes as late as noon!) I had eight RSD releases I was looking for, ended up with three. I collect picture discs/colored vinyl along with stuff I LIKE (not anything that is speculative for investment). In the past, I had found EVERYTHING I had hoped to pick up. I had great conversations with people in line about “the old days” and our favorite defunct record stores. But not this year. I DID, however, stop at a fourth store on my way home and hit the jackpot: nothing from RSD, but CRATES of 70’s-90’s 12″ singles/albums, mostly DJ/radio station promo copies mostly in near mint condition…FOR A BUCK A PIECE! I found titles I had not known existed or had lost or sold off over the past 20-30 years. My stack of 33 records made the whole day worth it!

  • Eric Schulz says:

    Went back to read your prior RSD posts…EXCELLENT reading (and great comments!) And the prices on eBay for the green vinyl Wizard of Oz OST? Of the 56 post I FOUND (and I’m sure there are more) they start at $25 and go as high as $90…for an album that Exclusive Co. was selling for $16.99. Grrrrrr.
    (The listings for the Cure single, which I happily DID get, are just as ridiculous!)

  • Jason K says:

    Eric, those sales are the only thing that interest me on RSD anymore. This is the second year that I conceded I wasn’t going to get any RSD releases, but my shops always have crates on the sidewalk of $1 records and cds. I picked through those for a while.

  • Jason K says:

    The one release I really wanted was a Pet Shop Boys – Fluorescent 12″. This ended up being a UK only and now there are tons on ebay for 40£+. Its funny because 4 years ago the one I wanted was a New Order – Temptation 7″ and it was in such low demand that I found it on Turntable Lab a few months later for $5. Never happen these days.

  • steve says:

    I guess in part the limited thing is in order to guarantee a release will sell out on the day or near as not. I remember two years ago when after the all the big RSD fanfare several releases were then sold off on artist and labels websites, which kind of rendered the day thing a bit pointless.

    It does seem there were a lot more releases for the sake of releases this year but I guess if labels are making money on them that helps them put out other releases then that can be happily overlooked. Am a bit frustrated that a couple of things I’ve been waiting to buy have been ‘pushed back’ a couple of time due to record production for RSD.

    I guess its early days and it may find its place but I agree this year the real winner at the end of it all seems to be eBay.

  • Duncan says:

    I’m sure I’m part of a large group of Blood Dragon fans who have never owned a vinyl record before and simply wanted it as a display/collectors item. Choosing such a cult hit was a perfect way to attract people like myself into the hobby, I was even considering picking up a player specially for it. For some reason it was listed on Amazon so I’ve had it preordered for a few months, only now realising that the stock was tightly restricted and there’s not a snowball’s chance in hell of them ever getting any. So instead of making an awful lot of money, attracting new customers and generating interest in the industry they’ve disappointed an entire fanbase and ensured that the touts snapped up the majority of copies expecting a lucrative profit. Good going.

  • Mikko says:

    This was the first RSD I participated in (in fact the first time I realized such a thing existed) and I know I won’t be bothering with the event again. I figured I was pushing my luck hoping copies of the Blood Dragon OST would’ve ended up here in Finland, but I wanted to believe – it was my favourite album of last year so having a physical copy would’ve been cool. Tough luck, I guess.

  • Eric Schulz says:

    Another rant: I understand that not everything can get released in EVERY country that participates, but I was pretty disappointed that the 7″ ABBA “Waterloo” pic disc was not released in American as it WAS the 40th anniversary of its Eurovision win just two weeks prior to RSD. Also, no Pet Shop Boys “Fluorescent” 12″ single or Roger Taylor’s new LP on a double 12″ picture disc. Sigh…..

  • Jason says:

    I’m tired of people complaining about RSD. What they are really complaining about is either a) not getting the record they wanted, or b) finding the price that stores are charging too much, or c) flippers exercising their right in a free market.

    What’s the alternative? Press more and at a cheaper price? What do you want, 3,000 copies of FC3? Is that enough? How about 5,000? What are you willing to do if they don’t sell out and stores can’t return them to the label (all vinyl sales to stores are final). Are you willing to pay more? Buy two?

    As with any physical good it’s limited. Some things you get, others you don’t – that’s life. Think about it, people are so upset they couldn’t get the REM box set that they’d rather have the whole idea of RSD just go away. Sounds greedy and childish.

    And flippers? Everything is flippable. Art, real-estate, stocks and yes records. Have you been to a record store that sells used records before? They are flippers. They buy cheap and sell high. Look at the wall where the most expensive records are – that rare record on there for $100 – they paid $20 at most for it, and are flipping it. Should they close their doors? Some stores are even dissing RSD – but I bet if they got a used copy of FC3 in they wouldn’t sell it for $15 – it would be on the wall for $150.

    So instead of whining about long lines, low quantities, and high prices – focus on the positives – meeting people, supporting an industry and art that matters, and cherishing the titles you did get versus the ones you didn’t.

    And yes I did get a copy of FC3, on Monday afternoon, two whole days after RSD, at a store, new for $46.

  • Danny says:

    Yes! It’s not just me! You’ve aptly described Record Store Day in a nutshell, there. Anxiety and disappointment for genuine record lovers and fans, followed by severe fleecing from some eBay oik, and all in the name of supposedly promoting local record shops. It could work as a concept if people didn’t buy records that they didn’t want, but rather left them for people who genuinely do, but they don’t. They’re all bought by speculators. I missed out on getting the Pet Shop Boys 12″ only to see two dozen copies for fifty quid a pop on eBay by the time I got home from my disappointing trudge around local record shops (I say local, but it was a 20-mile round-trip on my bicycle). I wrote a letter of complaint to Pet Shop Boys’ fan club (of which I’m a member), but as yet no response… I wonder how much the bands care or know how badly this is all going?

  • Jason says:

    Far Cry 3 being reissued on black wax.

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