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I chatted with Steve Warrenfeltz, the owner of my local record store Kiss The Sky in Batavia, IL, the other day. They had moved to their new location last summer and being that the store is about three blocks from my front door, I informed him I was excited to be able to walk to his location for Record Store Day, even late at night for their usual midnight sale. “No midnight sale this year,” Steve replied. He explained that it was part of each store’s pledge (an agreement made with RSD in order to participate and carry several RSD-sanctioned releases), and that although he disagreed with the policy, Kiss The Sky would not be a participating RSD store if they didn’t oblige.
Having interviewed Carrie myself for a podcast last year prior to RSD 2012, I reached out to her via a message on Facebook, wanting to refrain from posting my questions as comments, which I felt would lead to a long back-and-forth between commenters (or even between commenters and Carrie) and I didn’t feel it was my business to “announce” this change publicly before RSD did, if they choose to.
RSD has its detractors, especially from those who actively shop in physical record stores every day of the year. The complaints are often same (limited releases create over-crowding and scalpers; “I don’t need a special day to support my local store”) but for me, I use a probably somewhat-broken analogy of attending a sporting event: Scalpers may take the best tickets and hike up the prices, but I still am going to buy a ticket to the game. I still want to participate. I just don’t let it ruin my outlook. Unless they’re doing something illegal or that could be perceived as soulless, attempting to get more bodies in record stores is something I can always get behind.
Despite all the work that goes into organizing a national event like RSD, Carrie found time to reply - something she didn’t have to do - and her points are well-made. Here’s what I said about the experience of midnight sales in my recap of RSD 2012:
The last album I can remember standing in line for is Radiohead’s seminal Kid A, and it was a neat experience being there: You’d talk with folks in line about what you heard the album might sound like, then you’d walk in and hear it being played overhead. You’d rush to your car after purchasing it and play it the whole way home, and probably one more time all the way through before bed to soak it all in. So as romantic as it is to stand in line at a record store now - and it’s great for RSD to give folks a reason to, who wouldn’t normally - it’s sad that those record release lines are a thing of the past. (An argument could be made that Radiohead themselves have been the primary champions of the communal listening experience in the Internet age: They’ve avoided leaks for their last two records by quietly releasing both In Rainbows and The King of Limbs seemingly overnight digitally, therefore forcing millions fans to hear the album at the precisely the same time. It’s a nice, welcome strategy in the 2000’s, when release dates don’t mean much to your average music consumer.)
Even without midnight sales, RSD is pretty much the only time you’ll stand in line to purchase music these days. With the digital revolution, there is a severe lack of chances for people to await similar, or the same, releases in the flesh at one time. I enjoy pretty much everything about RSD, from the lines to the new releases to the general joy everyone seems to exude in a store that day. And this year in particular, they’ve made a perfect choice in Jack White as their ambassador, inarguably the biggest artist doing the most to keep physical vinyl media alive. But I wanted to know the reasoning behind this change, and why stores that want to open early, like Kiss The Sky, can no longer do so without breaking the RSD pledge.
Here is Carrie’s reply to me, which she has given me permission to post:
“We did ask the stores to refrain from midnight sales, and there are several reasons why. It’s also not the only thing we asked of them. It was part of our revamped Pledge, which was revamped after reading through and taking into consideration every compliment and complaint from customers and stores in the past year. We actually received quite a bit of feedback about midnight sales, and we put a lot of thought into our request to the stores. It basically broke down into three reasons:
1. CUSTOMERS: One of the things RSD does is bring NEW people into record stores. I have said or typed the phrase “find a store near you” so many times, I probably say it in my sleep. But customers are finding stores near them. And going to them, the morning of Record Store Day, to find that all the releases were sold by 12:15 AM. And they are not pleased. No matter how good a store’s promotion is, no matter how complete their email list, or full their Facebook page, they are never going to get the word of a midnight sale out to all their customers, and that leaves them feeling frustrated and angry. We heard from quite a few of these.
2. FELLOW STORES: Midnight sales were originally created as a way to let folks be the first to get a release — before they could go to a big box store or some other place and get it. These are releases where the competition was those big box stores and midnight sales were a way to turn it into an event. Well, RSD releases are ONLY at record stores, the only competition is your fellow indie record store, if you have one in town. And I hope I don’t sound immodest when I say that RSD is the biggest event a store can have — bigger than any midnight sale. RSD is the one day of the year when a store can open their doors at any time they choose and still have a line of people out the door. But you’re right that when one store in a market opens, the other stores feel they have to as well. And that isn’t always wise or fair. And it also, to be honest, starts leading to a sort of “Black Friday” creep — with more and more focus on the releases, and less on the idea of the day itself — a celebration of the stores.
3. THE INTERNET FLIPPERS: Finally, there’s this. People who buy items and flip them are the bane of our existence. Of course, we do whatever we can to control this if it’s a store employee doing it, but when a customer walks out of a store with a piece, they are free to put it on the internet. And they do. Lots of them. And if someone on the East Coast buys a piece at midnight and immediately puts it on eBay, it’s still 9 PM on the West Coast, and it actually begins to effect whether people will go out to the stores on the West Coast to buy what they’re looking for. There’s a big difference between buying something on eBay at 9 PM the night before, and buying something on eBay at 5 AM the morning of.
As I’ve explained to a few stores upset with our decision, and maybe even to the owner of your store, we don’t have a lot of rules or regulations for the stores. In fact I think most people would be surprised at how few we do have. But when we do implement something like this, it’s after we’ve listened to and weighed a lot of feedback and think it’s best for Record Store Day, the stores, and the customers, taken as a whole.”
I can see the points made about “new” customers, but like anything, it’s a shame that a few bad apples - primarly folks snatching up releases only to sell them immediately for inflated prices - had to spoil an aspect of record shopping that others look forward to. Luckily, it’s just an aspect, and I’ll still be shopping on RSD, and every other day of the year.
Record Store Day is Saturday, April 20, 2013. You can find your participating stores via the RSD website, and follow them on Facebook and Twitter. You can listen to my interview with Carrie prior to RSD 2012 here.