With another Record Store Day behind us, the lucky owners of one-off exclusive slabs of vinyl and box-set CDs will likely start finding a place for them amongst the rest of their music. Of course, some didn’t even open them, keeping them only as a memento, or to make a collection complete. These are rare items now, why dare ruin their pristine quality? That thought could also be applied to those who chose to play the new St. Vincent or Sigur Rós tracks on their turntables, but put it back into its sleeve after a couple of listens; you don’t want to literally wear your piece of wax away. After all, it’s not like you can drop by your local record store and replace it like any other album.
This is a thought another buyer might have had, as they walked out of their local record store last Saturday, with their treasure under their arm; but for a different reason. What with this stuff being so rare and valuable – even before it has hit the shelves – it makes for profitable fodder on eBay. Everyone knows this, of course, and some people aren’t shy about it when they stand in line outside their record store, discussing what they’ve got their hopes set on buying, and then selling on afterwards. Check the worldwide auction site a few hours after record stores have opened their doors to the lines of people outside, and you’ll find the exact items you hoped to get your hands on, with pretty much the whole catalogue of exclusive content there for you to bid on by the end of the day.
Is there anything to be done? Stores often implement restrictions on the amount one person can buy, mainly due to the limited number of copies they actually get, but that won’t stop the items appearing one by one. Restrictions could be set in place by eBay, banning all the items from being sold on the site, but what with the huge amount of music being sold on there as it is, such a task would be near enough impossible to curate. And there’s also the fact that there’s a marketplace beyond eBay, and those who want the records will find a way to get their hands on them. After all, through the right channels – and with the right price – pretty much anything can be bought on the internet.
But perhaps Record Store Day is the problem itself. Let me be clear: I think the day is a wonderful event, uniting all sorts of keen music enthusiasts, and providing great support for the stores themselves. Some places report that they take more in the one day than they do in the entire month. But all this focus, all this exclusivity is a little sad, in that it takes the presence of one-off items to entice people into the doors of a record store. Sure, they’d likely still appear if an item were to be released on any other day, but most likely only because the rare item itself is there. If there weren’t any exclusive items to buy on the day, I doubt there would be quite as an impressive turnout.
I started thinking about this after visiting my local record store (the wonderful Avalanche Records) today – three days after the big day has been. Due to the fact I was working, I hadn’t had the chance to visit during the weekend, and asked the owner at the till how the day went. I was happy to hear that it was a good day for him, but he mentioned that unlike the year before, a lot more people were coming just for the exclusive content. In 2011, he explained, customers were buying a whole host of things alongside the one-day releases, but this time they only had eyes for certain items.
And, as I said, it’s a little sad that this is why people went. Top marks for actually going there and buying these items, and consequently helping your local record store, but I only wish they were enticed there for more natural reasons. I know there are plenty of people who go there to just browse the vinyl, or pick up the new weekly releases, but it’d be nice if more people actually visited their record stores on April 21st to actually just go and be there, as opposed to go there and buy something special.
It’s a tricky ground to stand: as said, I don’t want to debase Record Store Day, but I just wish this sort of enthusiasm would happen more than once a year. Originally the day seemed intent on being a celebration of the independent shops that provided millions of fans across the world with huge variety and specialist tastes, but now it seems like a version of some post-Christmas sale, with people lining up the day before to make sure they get their hands on a particular item. I realise that by releasing these items exclusively to independent shops, they get benefit of sales that could easily be lost to big retail supermarkets who have no real concern about the particulars of what music they’re selling (as long as it doesn’t have too offensive a cover). But outside of Record Store Day, when’s the last time you heard about or saw people lining up outside a record store to get their hands on an exclusive release?
The internet is mainly to blame for that spectacle never happening, as records are leaked into the public domain weeks, if not months, before their official release date. Not only that, the demise of the record as a physical object is part of them problem. People are content with just heading over to iTunes and downloading the album they want in a matter of minutes, instead of heading down the road to pick up a CD. One of the reasons (I hope) people went out to buy that exclusive stuff on Record Store Day is because it was exclusive and new, and buying the CD, or 7” vinyl, or whatnot, was the only way they’d be able to hear it. And this feeling is easy to lose track of, especially when you see the post-Record Store Day download links (both legal and illegal) appearing on the internet, belittling the exclusive listening experience that was once available to those trusty, loyal materialists who went out and bought the real article.
What is an idea then, perhaps, is to have more of these exclusive releases throughout the year, so music fans will make more than an annual effort to get themselves to a record shop. It’s a shame when big-selling artists offer the likes of Best Buy exclusives, and the uproar a collective of indie stores tried to cause when it was announced that the Watch the Throne Deluxe Edition was set to be a Best Buy exclusive for the first ten days after its physical release date, was entirely justified. Even though, at the time, Jay-Z was likely too busy getting set to be a father and Kanye West was too busy making awesome decisions in bike stores, and the specifics of the actual album’s release were dictated by some record label executives, the fifty-plus indie stores who signed the letter on it original publishing, shouldn’t have been so easily ignored. These stores are what keep the majority of the music loving materialists together, linked by their desires to own physical items. If they’re going to be so easily ignored by the big name artists and labels, then it should give us more reason than ever to not buy our music at places other than our local record stores and also to resist buying into the quick-buck making sellers on eBay.
I’d like to say that, with the regularity of Record Store Day, and the profits it brings the independent stores (along with the crowds of people), the future of the record store itself isn’t bleak. But such a prediction is hard to make, and even though this year is said to be the most successful yet, nothing is set in stone. As I said, there will always be people who love visiting their local store (myself included), but there needs to be a greater sense of worth put in these stores, mainly from those who, I hate to say it, are exploiting the fact these stores are merely selling what they want. These people need to realise that without the existence of the record store, the items they pine after probably wouldn’t even exist. They owe it to the stores to give them more than five bucks for a 7” single before walking out and not visiting again until next year. We should be supporting these places for the sake of the record store itself, and not just for what the record store is releasing on that one day. As the official Record Store Day site wistfully proclaims: “A record store is for life, not just for Record Store Day.”
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