Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Have eBay Flippers Ruined Record Store Day?

I see grumbling along these lines every year: "Record Store Day is supposed to be about getting people back into brick and mortar record stores, but everything just ends up on eBay for crazy prices. eBay flippers have ruined Record Store Day for everyone!"

It's a fair point, and one that has gotten a lot of attention this year especially after Stereogum listed "The 10 Most Expensive Record Store Day '14 Flips On Ebay," and Paul Weller, disgusted by eBay profiteering, announced he would no longer participate in Record Store Day in the future. Stories like these might lead you to conclude that everybody that waits in line on Record Store Day is doing so merely to flip what they buy on eBay for big profits. But is that really what's happening?

First off let me state that if you waited in line on Record Store Day and missed out on a release you really wanted, only to see it going for high prices on eBay, that's really annoying. I'm sorry that happened to you. But if you take a step back and look at it statistically, I think you'll see that eBay sales, while numerous and sometimes profitable, only account for a small percentage of Record Store Day action.

Let's take one release as a case study. It's one I was very happy to score a copy of, and seems to have generated a lot of post Record Store Day eBay sales: Devo Live At Max's Kansas City, November 15, 1977.

So far, by my count, 119 copies of this release have sold on eBay for prices ranging from a high of $107.50 to a low of $32 (I bought mine at retail for $20). In addition, there appear to be 28 copies currently listed for sale on eBay. That's a total of 147 copies sold or listed on eBay so far. That's a lot, but considering the release was limited to 2,000 copies it still only accounts for about 7.4% of the total. The vast majority of the other 1,853 copies have likely made it into the praying hands of happy Devo fans or are still sitting in brick and mortar retailers waiting for happy spud boys and girls to discover them. Of course it's likely that more copies will find their way onto eBay in the future, but I doubt it will ever amount to more than say 15% of the total pressed.

By contrast, a less in demand title like Grant Hart's Every Everything LP+DVD set has generated a mere 15 sales on eBay so far, but I was no less excited to score a copy of it on Record Store Day. There are currently another 11 copies for sale on eBay (some with a "buy it now" price below what I paid in store last Saturday). Despite the fact that only 1,500 copies of this title were pressed, eBay sales account for less than 2% of the total at the moment.

It would take a far more patient person than myself to do a rigorous statistical analysis of what percentage of Record Store Day releases end up being flipped on eBay. I'm fairly confident however that the actual number would be fairly small, likely below 10%.

I realize this is cold comfort to you if you missed out on the one Record Store Day 2014 release you really wanted. If you find yourself in this situation, I would urge you to be patient. Every year immediately after Record Store Day certain items go for big money on eBay, and every year those prices come back down to earth within a week or two. Before bidding on eBay, I would recommend calling some record stores listed in the Record Store Day registry and ask if they still have copies of what you want in stock. You would be surprised how much Record Store Day inventory (even the more in demand titles) doesn't sell on Record Store Day. Bigger stores like Bull Moose and Amoeba list their unsold stock online the day after Record Store Day for retail price (plus shipping of course). If you do end up going the eBay route, I strongly recommend waiting a week or so when there is a very good chance you'll find what you want for only a moderate markup.

I've helped out at my local independent retailer--In Your Ear Records in Warren, RI--the past few years, and I've seen first hand that they do an enormous amount of business on Record Store Day--far more than normal. Most of people who come into the store seem only marginally interested in the limited edition Record Store Day releases, and are happy to browse and soak up the fun ambiance of the day as local DJs spin tunes and local artists play their music. Many of these customers come to the counter with large stacks of new and used records and/or CDs. Hopefully some of them will come back on other days of the year.

The folks who run Record Store Day have penalties in place for record stores that flip on eBay (they can lose ordering privileges), and most record stores limit the number of copies of Record Store Day merchandise individual customers can buy. Beyond that, there is very little that can be done about eBay flipping. All other solutions amount to throwing the baby out with the bathwater. The bottom line is that Record Store Day really has been good for record stores (if it weren't, you would see more stores refuse to participate) and eBay flipping is little more than a minor sideshow (albeit an annoying one). And if you're desperate for the R.E.M. Unplugged box set, remember it's going to be released digitally eventually anyway.


Anonymous said...

When a store has 100+ people wrapped around the block a half hour before opening, believe me- they are not "marginally interested in the limited edition Record Store Day releases, and are happy to browse and soak up the fun ambiance of the day". They are there for the RSD titles, especially since the store is too crowded to browse casually.

Another note: you wrap the entire thing up with this gem: "And if you're desperate for the R.E.M. Unplugged box set, remember it's going to be released digitally eventually anyway." thereby shrugging off any reader that prefers a physical vinyl product. Why should they bother coming back to your 'toilet' to read? *shrug*

Pete Bilderback said...

Not sure why I am responding to someone who has promised not to come back, but since you make a couple fair points here goes...

On your first point, yes, it is clear the limited edition RSD releases generate a lot of interest and get people into record stores. I was not attempting to claim otherwise. That is what they are supposed to do. The fact that some record store have long lines on RSD does not convince me that RSD is broken or has been ruined, rather it suggests the opposite.

On your second point, it was not my intention to shrug off any reader who prefers a physical vinyl product. I prefer vinyl myself, otherwise RSD would not hold much interest to me in the first place. For those who just want to hear the music, it's going to be released on CD and as a download, the limited edition vinyl set is not the only way to hear it.