Friday, April 23, 2010

A Success for Indie Record Stores, Not Indie Record Fans

According to almost any news outlet or blog, Record Store Day 2010 was a rousing success. People lining up early outside record stores, limited edition items selling out quickly, stores selling non-exclusive items as well…everyone’s happy. Or are they?

I went to Amoeba in Hollywood, my favorite record store, and a place I can’t leave without spending $200 or more. I arrived about 20 minutes before the store opened, and I’d say there were roughly 150 people in line (last year for RSD, I’d guess maybe 50 or so were waiting outside, not in a line but just in a crowd). By the time the store opened, there were at least another 100 or so behind me.

Once the doors opened, it was a mad rush to the two areas designated for the RSD exclusives. The people who got to the stations first were looking through everything, sometimes calling band names out and passing stuff back, sometimes just everyone grabbing at everything. After reaching over a smaller person to grab the two things I could get my hands on, I gave up. It was too much work, too much stress and too much competition.

I went to find my wife, who had gone to the other station, and she was still behind quite a few people. At that time, one of the guys in front was getting thrown out of the store – I’m not sure why, but I can guess. My wife finally got to the front and was able to grab a couple things, but she had a worse time than I did – people grabbing her, not really respecting the line, etc.

While I was demoralized by the lack of civility at the store, I was more distressed by what I saw online later that night (no, it wasn’t 2 girls 1 cup). That’s when I went on eBay, searched for “record store day” and found over 1,500 items for sale, including the Beastie Boys 12” for $66 (it cost under $10), the MGMT 12” for over $40 (it was around $10) and the UK-only Blur 7” for almost $200 (not sure how much in store but I’m guessing well under $10). At the time I post this, that same search on eBay lists 1,939 items, including at least two listings for the Smashing Pumpkins 7” for $175 (retail price of about $6). I could have grabbed that Pumpkins 7” – when I was in line at Amoeba, there was a copy just sitting there near the line – but I didn’t, because I haven’t really enjoyed anything they (I should say “he”) have done since 1998.

Unfortunately, an affinity for the music is not what brought some people to RSD – it was to buy low, sell high. And there is nothing wrong with that in theory – I often brag to my wife about albums I bought years ago for $12 that now go for $200 on eBay, yet I feel – and this may be a point of contention – like I somehow earned it. That is, I bought an album when it came out because I liked the band, and years later that album or band became more popular, making that record scarcer. This seems more genuine than just being first in line, wanting to get your hands on the records that you think will make the most money on eBay. This, to me, cheapens the RSD experience.

I’ve seen other complaints on line, and I’ve also heard of stores doing things to make the experience a bit less of a ratfuck, such as more orderly lines and better displays. One idea I read that makes sense to me is that the customers bring a list of what they want, and the employees fill out their lists, and when they run out, that’s that. Will that stop records from being sold on eBay? Definitely not. Will it mean that I don’t want to punch somebody in the face for grabbing something from my hands? Definitely.

If I sound like an old curmudgeon (I’m 97 years old), then so be it. But if this, or something worse, is what I have to look forward to for RSD 2011…well, that may be the one day of the year I don’t want to go to Amoeba.


  1. Here are my thoughts. If there is going to be mass hysteria like that, then:

    1. The store should allow only a select number of people into the RSD area at a time. If a person leaves, another is let in and so forth.
    2. Limit one title per customer. Buying three copies of a limited offering should be a red flag. (I am not saying you can only buy one thing, you just can't buy multiples of the same title).
    3. Amoeba should put out quantities a bit at a time. If they had 20 copies of the Beastie Boys, then, 5 should be put out until they are out of stock.
    4. Another option would be to draw numbers (so lining up does not matter) Ie. Get in line and draw a number to see your turn to go inside and shop.

    Anyways, I know how you feel. I might have gotten thrown out myself if someone pushed me or my wife. You reacted a lot calmer than I would have. My blood pressure is rising just thinking about it.

    Here is to next year! We should coordinate again.
    Better odds that way.

  2. Thanks for the comments. Amoeba did have a one-title per person limit, which of course is necessary. And they didn't put out every copy of everything at once, which actually became a separate problem - people eventually found the extra stuff under a bin near the rest of the records, opening up another crowd of grab-assing.
    The real problem might just be in the display - the people who are only looking for 1-2 records had to search through everything. Maybe a separate display for each release or something would mitigate that problem.
    And none of this will keep this stuff from reaching eBay, but it hopefully would get more music in the hands of people who want to hear the music, not make a profit for themselves.