Get Over It Kids: Jack White’s Right

 

 

White Stripes fans who
don’t understand what record collecting is all about veer close to jihad while
the owner and general manager of Third Man Records offer a long-overdue
tutorial.

 

By Fred Mills

 

There’s nothing more holier-than-thou than some
indier-than-thou alternative music fan.

 

It’s been interesting to monitor the current internet
kerfluffle surrounding Jack White’s Third Man Records and what happened when
the label put up for auction, on eBay, several rare, special editions of a
White Stripes double-colored vinyl reissue. You can see the eBay auction page here.

 

As a number of media outlets, including Pitchfork (“Jack
White Fights With ‘Whining’ Fans”) and Antiquiet (“Jack White Kills the
Middleman, Defends eBay Auction”) have reported this week, one copy of The White Stripes LP reissue went up for
bids on Nov. 29 at the opening price of $30 and by the next day it had sold for
a whopping $510. Not a bad payday if you’re a record dealer or a collector who
routinely buys and sells on internet auction sites. But – and you knew this was
coming – in the meantime a bunch of fans, in particular those who had bought
subscriptions to Third Man’s The Vault, which offers White Stripes/Jack White
aficionados limited edition swag at moderate prices, had taken to message
boards and forums to gripe about the rapidly-escalating prices for the items
that had been placed on eBay.

 

White subsequently got on the Third Man/Vault forum to
explain his point of view, which essentially was that it was the label’s
attempt to undermine the actions of what he calls “flippers” – speculators who
buy soon-to-be-rare artifacts when they first go on sale and then turn around
and resell them on eBay – and that by selling the items directly, fans can
still get what they want. That is, paying whatever they feel is justified (in
capitalism, this is called “whatever the market will bear”), and letting the
record label, in turn, get paid to the same tune while cutting out the
flippers. White also engaged in some rather testy back and forth with some of
the folks posting on the forum (read the whole thing at the Antiquiet link,
above), including this juicy exchange:

 

Fan: Well I think it’s official this is my last Vault
experience. Really nothing on here worth paying for anymore. Think you get
something special with a message, but it’s really just a link to fan
exploitation.

Jack: fan exploitation? really? if you don’t want it, DONT
BUY IT. and if you do want it, don’t act like you DON’T want it. get in line
like anyone else, hunt for it like anyone else. you act like we bury them in
tunnels in vietnam
for god sakes, you can get one randomly in the mail if your lucky, in line at a
store if you’re lucky, in your hometown if you’re lucky, etc. who is guaranteed
a rare hard to find record? only vault members and their quarterly
subscriptions. there’s luck in every other version.

Fan: Fuck you, Third Man.

Jack: really? you think we deserve that? would you like us
to just stop making limited edition records? you would go so far as to say fuck
you to us? for what? we didn’t do anything to you but give you what you want.
you’re a vault member obviously, for what reason? limited records you can’t get
elsewhere? would you kindly send us those records back so we can sell them to
some other fan who didn’t get to have them? don’t want a split colored limited
edition record? then guess what? don’t buy one. don’t want them to be
expensive? then guess what? don’t WANT them. it’s you and others wanting them
that dictates the price and the entire nature of the idea.

 

You know what? White’s 100% correct about all this, and anyone who doesn’t
understand it is either hard-headed and pissed off about not snagging an item, or
is simply so naïve and so young to the record collecting game that he or she
hasn’t figured out how it works, and in particular the laws of supply and
demand (another capitalism concept). I mentioned all this to an old friend of
mine who is a record dealer (I myself dabbled in record dealing on and off a
number of years ago), and he agreed: a record does not have a fixed “value” –
it is worth exactly what you pay for it at the time you pay for it, and that
price is subject to change in a heartbeat if another collector comes along who
is willing to pay more for it. He also added that “flippers” are a fact of life
in the record collecting business, and that when you get down to it, there’s
not a whole lot of difference between a flipper who treats records like just
another commodity or piece of real estate, and a record dealer who also buys
collections and individual titles on speculation with the intention of one day
(hopefully) turning a profit.

 

Jack White might quibble with that last statement a bit; in his forum
comments he also mentioned “a guy who waits in a black suv down the block from
third man who hires homeless people to go buy him tri colors when they are on
sale,” which does tend to offend the aesthetic side of the record
collector/dealer’s brain. After all, the reason so many folks got into all this
in the first place has to do with a love of the music itself, and an
appreciation of the artifacts as “art.”

 

At any rate, yesterday at England’s
The Guardian,
Third Man’s general
manager Ben Swank offered his take on all this in an interesting editorial
titled “Why We Sell Third Man Records on eBay.” After noting, “I don’t think
people will be as repulsed by the fact that we’re auctioning our records when
they hear we plan on donating $15,000 to charity from sales of these limited-edition
LPs,” he went on to bolster White’s comments while acknowledging that it can be
frustrating to fans if “by us selling items on eBay it appears we are dangling
something in front of their noses and demanding they pay more.” But, he added,
that was not the label’s intention – rather, eBay was just another way for
people to purchase hard-to-find records, and that he was surprised that more
labels don’t sell directly on eBay.

 

“Record collecting isn’t for everybody,” wrote Shank. “It’s something that
if you dedicate your spare time and money to, you appreciate that you’ll often pay
inflated prices. It’s part and parcel of the game. Sometimes you get lucky,
often you don’t.”

 

Boy howdy to that. A story I like to tell is how, after we
moved into our home about 10 years ago, Nirvana essentially paid for new
flooring in the house: having diligently collected sundry Cobain-related
records and memorabilia since the band’s earliest days, I one day realized that
(a) we needed to fix up the house we’d just bought; (b) we’d blown our cash
reserves buying the digs; and (c) I had a LOT of marketable stuff in the
collection, which dates back to the mid ‘60s. Enter eBay. Yes, that first
Nirvana Sub Pop 45 – a promotional edition, in mint condition – netted me $1,100
from some collector in France.
Nowadays the “Love Buzz” single is routinely flogged on eBay in the $1800 –
$2200 range, but you don’t hear me whining about having gotten a raw deal. It
sold for what it sold for back then, and it sells for what it sells for today,
and that’s just the nature of record collecting, both buying and selling.

 

I’ll just add one more thing: as I said above, there’s
nothing more holier-than-thou than some indier-than-thou person, and all those
fans’ complaints about the eBay auctions sound remarkably similar to some of
the complaints I used to hear back in the early ‘70s from some of my hippie
buddies (yes, I was a hippie at one time). They’d ramble on and on about how “music
is for the people, man – it should be free for everyone!” as a justification
for, say, rushing the gates of an outdoor concert in an attempt to get in
without paying. I’ve heard stories about legendary concert promoter – and noted
capitalist – Bill Graham having to deal with the same mentality, in extreme, at
some of the events he put on in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Graham had a pretty
effective method of dealing with gate crashers, and it definitely didn’t
involve getting on an internet forum and attempting to talk things out.

 

So next time you hear some young indie-rock fan yammering
about so-and-so ripping them off with the prices of some new record release or
piece of memorabilia, tell ‘em they sound like their old hippie parents. It just
might shut ‘em up.

 

Get over it, kids. Jack White’s right.

 

 

 

 

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