Record Peddler: Speculators Make a Mockery of Record Store Day

Categories: Record Peddler

recordpeddlerheader.jpg
[Record Peddler is an occasional column by Sam Lefebvre on life and music as viewed from behind the counter of an independent record store.]

Record Store Day is an internationally recognized, annual event in which record labels release special titles, often in limited quantities, that are only available in independent record stores on a particular day. The fifth annual Record Store Day took place last Saturday, on April 20, 2013. Record Store Day is intended to revitalize interest in local record shops, whose economic difficulties over the last decade are well-publicized and oft-lamented. Record Store Day urges fans to patronize these stores, at least for a day, if they wish to buy special titles from their favorite artists.

That's the idea, at least. The scene at 1-2-3-4 Go! Records when we opened at 8 a.m. to a deluge of zealous resellers (or "flippers" as we facetiously refer to the speculators buying and reselling titles for ridiculously inflated prices online) revealed a much uglier scene. The first flipper lined up at 4 a.m. The second was only minutes behind him. By the time we opened, a line had formed around the corner.

rsd2.jpg
The doors opened, and our first customer zealously snagged particular titles from the wall. Among his selections was a boxed set of Dave Matthews Band live recordings. At that point in the morning, copies of the record were already fetching as much as $500 online. At the regular retail price of $79.99 we were obligated to sell it, making quite a sound investment for the speculator. The second flipper was keen on the potential gain as well, but we only had one copy, and the savvy businessman began offering the first flipper cash to hand over the DMB record. Meanwhile, the initial rush was like dozens of seals jockeying for position, rolling over and jostling one another, the peculiar slime a flipper exudes from his pores wafting about the early morning air.

We bought a new cash register for the event. Sleek, flawless, the register softly cooed "Fuck me. Fill me with capital and return me tomorrow." It was an orgy of consumer excess inside our brick and mortar establishment, and worse on the Internet. Another Grateful Dead release, another Phish record, more from Dave Matthews Band, the umpteenth reissue of a White Stripes album -- the most banal titles from artists whose innumerable releases already flood the marketplace were somehow the most sought-after. Flippers didn't veil their intentions whatsoever, either. Many of them grabbed an armful of titles and proceeded to research their potential cash gain with a smartphone before deciding what to invest in.

I listened to Otis Redding, resented my involvement in this travesty of fandom, and tempered my guilt with games. After several inquiries about whether we had any more Dave Matthews records, I began replying, "Yeah, it's over there and says Pussy Galore Groovy Hate Fuck on the cover." There are worthwhile releases on Record Store Day. It's not all opportunistic reissues of readily available material. Groovy Hate Fuck couples industrial clamor with primitive punk thumping for one of the most maladjusted records of the 1980s. Everyone should own a copy. Pulp released a 12" single of "After You," the legendary English group's only offering of new recordings in recent years. But, these records were pressed in relatively greater quantities and thus less "flippable," so many copies still languish on the shelf.

Record Store Day is by far the busiest day of the year for many independent record stores around the country, but the event's intention of bolstering these establishments' profiles and garnering attention from the community is largely lost in the hustle of record flipping. Plus, the practical breakdown of economic relations between the official Record Store Day organization, participating record labels, participating record shops, and online resellers places shops in the position of greatest risk. Record labels are guaranteed to sell out of a Record Store day title, even if the retail cost they pass along to stores makes 7-inch singles upwards of $10 and LPs many times that. Meanwhile, online resellers easily flip titles for many times the normal store markup. There were over 400 RSD titles this year, and in efforts to satisfy diverse consumer demographics, record stores attempt to stock as many as possible. If a certain title flops, it is non-returnable, meaning that the record label collects and the store absorbs the loss.

rsd3.jpg
The Record Store Day organization markets the event very well. Its website is peppered with celebrity endorsements and idealized recollections of record store patronage, but the group doesn't go after those who exploit the event. Participating record stores sign pledges to "sell the commercial Record Store Day releases to their physical customers, on Record Store Day; not to gouge them, or hold product back to sell online," but a simple search of participating stores in the Bay Area yields contradictory results. For example, the Record Store Day site's search function brings up "stores" like Creative Music SF Online and Donnie's Records -- both retailers that sell music exclusively on the Internet. The official Record Store Day website proclaims "A Record Store Day participating store is defined as a standalone brick and mortar retailer whose main primary business focuses on a physical store location." Apparently, though, stores that have moved from brick and mortar to online-only, like Creative Music SF, and online stores that aren't even open on April 20, like Donnie's, can still participate.

Later in the day at 1-2-3-4 Go!, many earnest patrons spent money, hung out, ate from food trucks out front, and the event resembled what it's intended for: a reason to get citizens in local record shops. But the fact that record labels and resellers exploit the event at stores' expense, and the official Record Store Day organization ignores the flagrant opportunism, makes a mockery of its supposed mission.

-- @Lefebvre_Sam



My Voice Nation Help
10 comments
ex-coworker
ex-coworker

Really, the only thing I wish Sam hadn't done was to say where he worked and use "we" in the article to express his observations. It's his opinion, which he's more than entitled to, but it's not his place to speak for the rest of the shop. Bad for business and all that.

That's the risk however of telling the truth about flipper mentality. No one behind the counter of a brick and mortar store has any shred of respect for the ebay scum that line up 6 hours before doors open to buy a shrink-wrapped turd to sell online as soon as they get home. My favorite RSD story this year has to do with a guy who was outside an SF shop in the wee hours of the morning, waiting hours for the doors to open on the 20th. Then he had to take a wee, so he paid a homeless dude or gutterpunk $20 to keep his place in line while he attended to some urination. Came back a few minutes later to see that his $20 line holder had disappeared into the early morning mist. There's one DMB box set flip chance shot to hell, eh? No idea if this is just a legend, myth, or moral lesson, but I personally love it. And that is Capitalism with a capital C.

Oh, by the way, phithyalfred, these people in the shop asking for a title that is so obviously for flipping purposes only should know better than to ask for it and expect a polite response. These are not customers, they are simply the scummy cream of the capitalist crop that along with the major labels' cooperation will continue to cause feeding frenzies like the DMB ebay flood this year. In my honest opinion, fuck em. They'll come back right on schedule next year at RSD 2014, and that's the only time of year they ever grace the store with their presence anyway. Maybe next year they'll piss in an empty bottle rather than lose their place in line for that one copy of ebay prime rib? Oh...the dignity. No. Customers are the people who don't rush in with iPhones buzzing and complain that they can only purchase one copy of any given title, being rude to staff and other patrons to get their flip material. Customers are the ones who drop by and hang out later, after all the insanely limited edition shit is already picked over. You know, the ones that make eye contact and possibly even conversation.

As to holding on to RSD bullshit releases in the store and jacking up the price to "market value", that's against the contract signed to participate, so just drop that stupid position that the stores can make more from these releases if they wanted to...it's a lie and it's crap.

And you want a solution? That's up to the labels deciding to press 500 copies of something they damn well know could move 100x that number. The knee-jerk reaction of the flipping scumbag will of course be to throw it up on ebay as soon as they get their hands on it. A $480 profit on an $80 investment? Shit yeah, that's not bad personal business. And that's not going to change until the labels stop with the b.s. and just print up enough copies to make it a legitimate release rather than something that will probably never have the shrinkwrap removed. I'm sure the artists involved would be happier knowing that a real fan was able to own their merchandise for a reasonable price, and actually (gasp) listen to it. Or maybe that's just me living in a utopian state of fancy.

Example again being the DMB box set from last month. By 4pm on the West Coast, 7pm Eastern Time, over 12% of all the copies of that fucking box set were for sale on ebay. Less than one full business day. 12% of them, and all at least triple, some up to an ambitious 9-10x the retail price. Blame the label for feeding this flip mentality. The flippers...they're just the same as Wall Street and banker scuzz, making their quick buck and getting the fuck outta Dodge. But the only ones who can end this charade of releasing instant ebay feeder material under the guise of being a celebration of brick and mortar record shops are the labels, and potentially the artists. Does Dave Matthews give a fuck? I dunno. Does the label that released that boxed turd? No, they do not. Unless that changes, or Dave and his buddies in Pink Floyd or Led Zep or whoever the fuck else decide to put pressure on the labels to be more legitimate with these hyper limited editions, RSD will continue to be an ugly scene of money grubbing b.s. for the first 30min of each yearly occasion, followed by several hours and hopefully days/weeks of fans actually being able to buy something that just might be special to them instead of an investment. 

Bitch and moan, etc. Peace to pieces.

JNJN
JNJN like.author.displayName 1 Like

This is the funniest article I've read of Sam's so far, really sorry that the rest of you are so humorless. May people like Sam forever patronize you for being the soft, capitalist shop patrons you are

philthyalfred
philthyalfred like.author.displayName 1 Like

You seem like a whiny aging hipster hellbent on seeing the negative in everything.I'm not a flipper nor am I a big fan of them but a CUSTOMER IS A CUSTOMER what they do with an LP after they pay for it and walk out of the shop is NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS really weak piece,you did not even bother to offer any solutions,just gripes.If you worked for me and was rude to  customer as you were to those asking about the DMB set,you would be fired ON THE SPOT.

What this article does is nothing more than make me NOT want to visit 1-2-3- 4 GO Records,you have managed to defeat the whole point of RSD more that 100 flipper EVER could.

-sigh-

Yoey_Ramone
Yoey_Ramone like.author.displayName 1 Like

Hello,

This is just written by a petty loser, the store itself is amazing. If you are ever in the area and want to visit a place that has a great mix of genres and also hard to finds 1234 Go! Is the place in the East Bay.

This kid that wrote this article no longer works at the store. The staff and manger are super nice people, that's why they are my favorite record store.

I love your comments on the article by the way, kudos to you :)

-Joey

philthyalfred
philthyalfred

@Yoey_Ramone Cheers! Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts.I will visit 1234 Go! ASAP can't let one bad apple spoil the barrel.Good day Joey. 

1234gorecords
1234gorecords like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

I am the owner of the store spoken about in this article and I would like to have it noted that these opinions are strictly those of the writer and not of the store, it's owner or anyone else who works here. Although I agree that labels and distributors are foisting all of the risk on to the stores they're trying to help, sometimes to their detriment I don't agree with the tone of this opinion piece or the tack it took towards customers. Even the flippers. I'm of the opinion that once you've paid for it and it leaves my store it's your business what happens next. Every record isn't an emotional keepsake meant to be held forever. If you feel like you can make rent flipping a few RSD records you bought from me, more power to you I suppose. It's not really the spirit of the day but then again my store signed a pledge to keep that spirit, the customers did not.

lemmycaution
lemmycaution

 I saw Pussy Galore open for Sonic Youth at the 9:30 club in DC in 1986.  They were selling the Groovy Hate Fuck album.  I didn't get it but I always remembered the title.  I also remembered them because they were drumming on a carburetor.

matt
matt like.author.displayName 1 Like

I don't know how it is in your market area, but many store owners in my neck of the woods claim that they may not survive without the economic boost provided by Record Store Day. I can't think of any other reason a record shop would allow an organization that doesn't have their best interests in mind to dictate their price point (at a minimal profit margin), while not allowing them to return unsold goods. 

The 'flippers' (a group which I occasionally count myself a part of, though I am also a record collector and most importantly a music fan ) are the only ones that seem to understand the principles of economic supply and demand on this particular day. As a store, when you received the Dave Matthews Band set, you could have examined it and said "Well I don't think 500 is enough copies of this, demand will exceed that" or "$79.99 is too cheap for music of this superb quality" and raised your price accordingly as you saw fit. This is what stores do on every other day of the year. Every store I know sets a markup on their non-RSD stock such that they believe they will maximize their profit while still selling their entire stock. The markup is not always uniform across stores within a community, and generally the market balances itself out. Stores that price their goods cheaper naturally sell out first and sometimes stores that set their markup too high end up with leftover stock which must be heavily discounted to sell. If this practice was followed on Record Store Day it would effectively take the power away from the 'flippers' and put it back in the stores' hands. They would again have control over their economic situation, for better or for worse. Then, of course you would be assuming the risk of not selling that item, or having your customer storm out at the sight of a $500 price tag on Dave Matthews Band and head to the store down the block to see if they had it cheaper. But if you raised the price to its true value price, at least you would be able to sleep at night knowing that you had gotten the item into the hands of someone who really wanted it, because a 'flipper' isn't in the business of breaking even. Of course you may be sitting around at the end of the day with an empty cash register and a room full of records, and you may even have to resort to the internet yourselves to find deserving customers for the vinyl.

Everyone has smart phones and access to the current true price point of an item if they take the time to look it up. The 'speculators' aren't speculating at all. They can look on their portable device and track what an item is selling for at any given time, as can a customer, as can a store owner. If an item has a sticker price below its true price then anyone can buy that item and sell it at the increased value set by the market. When I buy records to sell rather than to keep, I don't gouge the price at all. I usually set a purchase price below that which items are selling for and I sell my items, on average, in a couple of hours or less. This tells me that this price is still actually below the saturation point as far as supply and demand. In fact, customers who buy from me usually thank me for not gouging the price, because even though my markup is usually double what they would pay in the store, it is still cheaper than what the market would bear. 

Don't get me wrong, I can definitely understand your frustration, and it isn't a simple problem to solve if stores wish to continue taking part in this day. You feel forced to participate in an event that undermines the true ideals a neighborhood record store wishes to represent. The place that is meant to be a safe haven for music lovers to gather and relax and share stories and make friendly recommendations is suddenly turned into the Running of the Bulls. The system in place is broken. As a shop, fettered by the RSD rules, you have no real way to get the records to the true fans at a reasonable price. If all stores can afford to do it, perhaps an RSD strike is in order to hash out some new rules which can benefit the right people. I can't speak for all 'flippers' but I would be perfectly happy with a new system with rules that get the records in the hands of the right people for a fair price. However, as long as the system is set up to make it easy to make a profit, I will continue to do so. I have no moral problems with what I do, and I don't only do it on Record Store Day (that just happens to be the highest volume of things I can make a profit on). Maybe the reason I don't have a problem with it is because the records I buy for myself are usually old and hard to find and they have a very high market price too, and I couldn't afford them if I didn't sell records myself. 

If record stores don't need the Record Store Day hype, then maybe they shouldn't participate in the event. I know stores that get by ok without it, stores that participate and love it, stores that reluctantly participate because they feel forced to, and stores that don't participate and are harassed by their customers (not true daily customers, but rather once-a-year customers) for not carrying the limited exclusives. Any store that can manage to run a profitable business on its own still has a choice in the matter and doesn't need any RSD handouts to draw attention to them. The quality shops in my neighborhood fill their store with customers every day and will surely outlast this once-a-year event.

mojobooksandmusic
mojobooksandmusic like.author.displayName 1 Like

@matt"As a store, when you received the Dave Matthews Band set, you could have examined it and said "Well I don't think 500 is enough copies of this, demand will exceed that" or "$79.99 is too cheap for music of this superb quality" and raised your price accordingly as you saw fit. This is what stores do on every other day of the year." 

This is exactly what Jack White did when he started selling his own limited editions on Ebay a few years ago. Now he is the current Record Store Day ambassador. http://www.antiquiet.com/news/2010/11/jack-white-defends-ebay-auction/

Now Trending

From the Vault

 

Drink

San Francisco Event Tickets
©2014 SF Weekly, LP, All rights reserved.
Loading...