Immediately after I found out that Paul Weller was bowing out of all future Record Store Days because his limited edition single ended up on eBay, I was dumbstruck at how ignorant he seemed of the world he now lived in. People have always sold things, I thought, after handing over the single on this special day of days for records Paul Weller repudiated any right he previously had over that item. The fact you can have anything online, sold, packaged and sent on its way again in the same time it would’ve taken you to drag Daisey’s fat ass up to market is of no consequence.
Essentially, “eBay just speeds up a process that is already there” was my line of thinking. People buy things, people sell things, especially nice and shiny limited edition Paul Weller singles that other people want — could someone tell me how anyone in this situation is surprised? The Internet allows people to do some awesome things and some not-so-awesome things, you gotta take the rough with the smooth.
But then the one off 7-inch, “Flame Out” Weller put out for this year’s Record Store Day was a transaction that happened in a special circumstance, I think. Record Store Day is to record collectors, music nuts and audiophiles what Christmas is to Christians and what Mothers Day is to Mothers. To a large fraction of those who observe this day, music means much more than a soundtrack to a car journey or an item on your iTunes. It’s an artifact, a commodity. Playing a record, for them, is an activity that can (and probably should) take up all of your time and attention as much of the time as possible.
The tradition of pressing and selling records independently without the patronage of tycoons is an old one that goes back years. But its been under assault: first crowded out of the high street by Virgin Megastores, Zavvi, HMV et al. and then decimated by the infinitely better option of unlimited choice at an instant that the internet offers. A fightback is on though, and Record Store Day is perhaps the epitome of it — the movement’s national holiday. It’s evident in the way people are consuming music: American sales of vinyl since 2010 have increased by 144%, in the UK last year sales were the highest they’ve been since 1997. A whole culture is waking up, or finding it’s feet — pick your own metaphor.
When Paul Weller sold his one-off limited edition I expect (although I can’t spell out his philosophy word for word) that it was intended to have some amount of sentimental value, a ‘gift to the fans’ if you like. Something to be played and treasured sold for and on Record Store Day, with all the appreciation for physical music that entails. Paul Weller comes from a time and a place when getting hot tickets or limited release music meant queuing up exposed to the elements, not a jolly round your friend’s house, five laptops and the refresh button. Back then, getting the tickets, or the merch, or the memorabilia meant slogging it out sacrificing time and dignity. It was a selection process, a battle which the lukewarm fans of convenience wouldn’t dare enter, for fear of a soaking when you only really liked a couple of songs anyway. A guaranteed ticket could mean days in a tent on a pavement in the pouring rain, hardcore fan territory right there.
That struggle he knew and was accustomed to for years has now gone and fans chasing a good time and others looking for an investment are now at a level pegging. “Welcome to 2014, dickhead” just seems perverse at this point. Weller is a man with his head screwed on who questions the “its the internet lols” logic that dictates that a well-equipped parasitic middle man should be allowed to make it’s nest in a market that deals in people’s heroes. Music artifacts and memorabilia command extortionate prices that are fueled by people’s passions. We’re beginning to see some small speck of light on the horizon when it comes to how people talk about ticket touts, holding people to ransom is no longer seen as a legitimate business venture. But if the lack of progress on the issue of ticketing is disheartening, the empty space next door where people like Paul Weller stand should be just as depressing.
People like Paul selling memorabilia and collectibles should be able to set conditions of the sale that should be enforced by all the major second-hand retailers. If ‘not for re-sale’ can be supported and enforced on a multipack can of coke then it can damn well find itself on these special items too (although not literally of course). Moderating their business so high profile not-for-resale items don’t end up making money for touts is something that can be done in conjunction with labels and the like with simple intermittent searches. I’m not asking for the world here, just simple consumer protection from a internet giant complicit in the sale of something at several times the original price, for no good reason.
Making a quick buck out of other people’s misfortune is not a productive endeavor by any stretch of the imagination. If someone ever hijacked your local supermarket and whacked a crafty 20% on the price of every item to take home at the end of the day, alarm bells would start ringing. High demand ticketed events should have limited number of buyable tickets per person and should come with a corresponding photo ID. Same with collectibles and memorabilia, high-profile high-price items should be protected with a time-limit on re-sale, these items should be databased and the data made available to all re-sale sites. This isn’t a revolution, this is asking for some common sense so that if Paul Weller ever rocks up to a Record Store Day again and sells a single, you pay what he wants you to pay, not what some guy planning for his pension does.
My initial response to this was a flippant attack of the “yeah, this is how it is now, get used to it” variety. And I do it a lot. I do think there are elements of the Internet Age that older generations need to shut up about though. No, no matter how many times you ring your local branch they’re not going to stop offering you Online Banking, this is how it is now Nan. And no, just having your bank details somewhere in the depths of the interwebs doesn’t automatically mean you’re gonna be a victim of credit card fraud. Heartbleed in mind, it’s still a low possibility.
But Paul Weller was right. What’s the fucking point? When the sale of something marking the celebration of independent music culture ends up costing the fan more, making things more exclusive and outpricing the enthusiast — you know the whole transaction is one giant pulsating piece of irony.