Caroline Groff, Staff Writer
The return of sunshine and warm weather Saturday, April 13, brought the return of Record Store Day (RSD). The celebration has grown in popularity with the rise of vinyl listening amongst music fans. St. Louis record shops like Euclid Records and Vintage Vinyl were buzzing when doors opened to lines of waiting customers. While many came to enjoy the day of music, some came with a mission to snag the first copies of this year’s rare releases. Only to put them up for sale online for double the price. The growing market for nostalgic music listening has brought the rise of scalpers along with it.
There are aspects of the day that are enjoyable and keep the environment communal. One being the boost of business it can bring for local shops. Many stores make the day a celebration with food, drinks and tents lining their stores to accommodate store-goers. That is, once the store goers get to the front of the line wrapped around the block. As I drove down the street past Euclid Records Saturday, I witnessed this hoard of flannel-clad strangers waiting outside the crowded store. The idea of music and comradery seemed lost as I watched them wait by the windows as others left the registers, bags and receipts in hand.
The music holiday promotes itself as a way to support local music scenes and shops. While it may successfully help stores, local music is left on the wayside. The bulk of releases stay in the realm of mainstream, alternative popularity or already-established artists. This reaches wider audiences but also makes for higher demands, causing the festivities to become more opportunistic. What seems to be advertised as community has come to feel more like a competitive business venture. The behavior moves from passionate to obsessive. A competition of who will get a store’s only copy of the rarest finds. The supplies run on a first come, first served basis. People wait outside of stores well before opening to guarantee their chance at their desired treasure.
Some of this year’s finds include David Bowie’s Pin Ups rereleased with the album cover on picture disc and original New York test pressings of Bob Dylan’s Blood On The Tracks. And to keep with the air of exclusivity, there are only handfuls of these gems in supply. This creates an urgent quality that entices customers and more importantly, online flippers. That’s where the issue lies.
RSD may bring an influx of business, but who are the buyers? Of course, there are fans who enjoy the atmosphere of their neighborhood shop, but the growing presence of these record flippers has created a new dynamic. It’s become the one-day customer waiting in line to stock up on the store’s three copies of Elton John’s Live from Moscow record, while the store regulars that show up late get screwed. Within hours, a disappointed shopper is likely to find those very records being sold on eBay for $100 instead of their original $40 price tag. I looked this title up for myself, as researcher and disappointed shopper alike, and found over 80 copies available online by the next day.
Stores don’t have much they can do to stop the behavior. Even if store owners could magically identify which buyers are going resell the item, there isn’t anything they could really do besides give them a glare as then hand them their receipt. So, what is the solution? Do we have stores boycott the music holiday completely, deny the record flippers their loot and put up “Down with the Man” signs in the windows? It sounds appealing, but I’m not sure getting rid of the day completely would do much good either.
In a perfect world, we could all swear a solemn oath to never buy the flipped releases off eBay again, but I’m sure most people would do that with fingers crossed behind their back. Perhaps a day dedicated to local music would be a more comforting gesture. Stores promoting local artists’ releases could be a step in the right direction. Leading the community away from the hype of exclusivity and toward a broader inclusivity of artists. While the lack of mainstream promotion would likely lead to a drop-in profits, this could re-establish hopes of musical community.
We won’t see change in the Record Store Days of the near future, but there is some solace found in knowing that these local businesses are able to stay afloat thanks to regular buyers and flippers alike. Until the celebration of these shops evolves, the mentality will come down to this: You snooze, you lose.