Record Store Day was supposed to be an annual celebration of the enduring magic of vinyl. Instead the event has become engulfed in controversy after Paul Weller withdrew his backing and condemned “disgusting” touts who re-sold his limited-edition single for inflated prices on eBay.
Launched in 2008 to boost struggling independent music retailers, Record Store Day (RSD) has become an international promotion backed by music’s biggest names.
With stars delivering exclusive, limited-edition vinyls to be sold for one day only, sharp-elbowed collectors queue up from the early hours to get their hands on the rare releases. This year’s offerings, released last Saturday morning, included a David Bowie picture disc and a specially recorded Jack White 7-inch.
Yet despite vinyl sales reaching their highest level since 1997, with 800,000 LPs sold in the UK last year, few of the RSD releases are destined to be played on turntables.
A copy of White’s “Lazaretto” single, only available from his Third Man Records facility in Nashville, was sold for $650 (£388) on eBay within hours of Saturday’s event.
Now Weller, the former Jam singer, has expressed his “anger and disappointment” after discovering that his own 7-inch single, “Brand New Toy”, was being sold on eBay – albeit for a more modest £25.
Just 500 copies were delivered to the UK’s 240 participating independent stores and Weller’s wife, Hannah, tracked down one eBay sale to an account linked to Townsend Records, an East Lancashire store.
Paul Weller said: “I am disheartened by the whole thing and unfortunately I won’t be taking part in Record Store Day again. It’s such a shame because I am a big supporter of independent record stores but the greedy touts making a fast buck off genuine fans is disgusting and goes against the whole philosophy of RSD.
“There were copies of my single on eBay the day before Record Store Day and I’ve heard stories of people queuing outside their local record shop only to be told there were none left at opening time.”
With 600 exclusive releases, RSD has become more profitable for independent stores than the entire week before Christmas. But Spencer Hickman, UK co-ordinator of RSD and former manager of Rough Trade East, admits that the event has spiralled out of control as a result of the current vinyl boom.
Major labels have become closely involved – a One Direction picture disc ($71 on eBay) was among the 2014 exclusives – monopolising vinyl pressing plants, crowding out indie labels who are unable to manufacture their releases.
Mr Hickman told thequietus.com: “I loved Record Store Day because it was about celebrating the culture that I grew up in … but, for me, this year feels like the first time it’s been entirely driven by capitalism. It now feels like it’s not celebrating the culture of the record store and why they’re so good; it’s about the releases.”
Mr Hickman suggested the event could take next year off to rediscover its roots, but added: “I’ll get shot for suggesting that.”
An RSD spokesman said: “We share Paul Weller’s frustration at evidence that ‘Brand New Toy’ has been offered for sale on eBay, and we are disappointed that despite our best efforts to drive out the touts, once again some people are seeking to exploit the goodwill of artists and labels by selling RSD exclusives at vastly inflated prices on eBay.”
Participating stores agreed not to sell any stock online until 26 April. The spokesman said: “Any store found to be complicit in unauthorised sales on eBay faces being banned from future events.”
Industry sources indicated that at just 500 copies, Weller’s single was one of the most limited editions on offer and was bound to be re-sold given the former Jam frontman’s fanbase.
Steve Bamber, owner of four Townsend Records shops in Lancashire, denied claims that his son Chris was responsible for the Weller eBay sales. He said: “All I can say is that this matter is under investigation. It’s nothing to do with him. I can’t say anything more.”
Record Store Day 2014: the biggest eBay sellers
1. Jack White – Lazaretto 7-inch: $649.99
2. Cake – Box Set: $450
3. King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard – Head On/Pill: $381.93
4. LCD Soundsystem – The Long Goodbye. Live recording of final gig: $349.99
5. R.E.M. – Unplugged: The Complete 1991 and 2001 sessions: $340