Third Man Records recently announced they'd be selling limited edition colored vinyls of some White Stripes records or other (I don't know the details and, actually, don't care). The day before they were due to go on sale at Third Man's only outlet, in Nashville, the record company put five of them up for sale on eBay. Bidding quickly got to the $500 or so level. The announcement of the auction was made on the paid fanclub website The Vault, and tweeted to fans who subscribe to the feed.
Jack White jumped into The Vault chatroom to defend his exciting new business model, and Antiquiet has done a wonderful job of cutting out all the usual chatroom crap and presenting his words in context here.
He begins with the less than cheery greeting "see you in hell", which was also the sign-off to the eBay listings. It's nice to see a pop star who can quote Han Solo. His argument was that placing them on eBay himself takes the wind out of the flippers' sails. (Many Nashville locals go to the opening day of these limited editions, pay $20 and 'flip' them - list them on eBay the same day.)
He muddied things up a little by talking about the eBay price "setting the price" for the ordinary sale of the record - though of course the eBay price of five rare albums is not the actual value of 300 rare albums bought by locals with zero travel and shipping costs to cover. Many people were left with the impression that the eBay price would be the retail price at the store the next day.
Oh well. It doesn't bother me and for the three grand or so Jack makes out of it, I doubt if it's feathering his nest so much. But it did invoke a major shitstorm from fans who felt otherwise - not so much in the chatroom, but on the comments thread on The Vault's listing of the auction. After all, they'd been roused by tweet to go to the (paid access) website and then found nothing but an announcement that five of 'our' (fans') limited edition records were being sold off to collectors - and told "see you in hell" for their troubles. Major angst ensued. After a while, someone joined the comments thread using Jack White's account and posted an amazing rant that one blog described as,
quickly devolv[ing] into the Four Loko-fueled ramblings of the drunk dude outside your bodega.
"You act like we bury [records] in tunnels in Vietnam for Gods sakes!" said Jack White.
"Uh, not really," said fans, putting on their headphones and discreetly crossing the street.
What all of the blogs who reported this seem to have missed is that the rant was from Jack's account but was signed "the staff at Third Man Records". And it doesn't sound like Jack either.
Here is the major part of it, because it's jolly entertaining.
Posted by trucks on 11.29.2010 at 04:22 PM 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. 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. Posted by surfingelectrod on 11.29.2010 at 05:07 PM Fuck you, Third Man. 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. make no mistake, we could make twenty thousand split color whatevers for you, and they'll be worth 20 bucks, and you'll pay 20 bucks for them, and you'll never talk about them, desire them, hunt to find them, etc. why should ebay flippers, who are not real fans, dictate the price, make all the profit (taken from the artist and the label) and take the records out of the hands of real fans. there's 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. doesn't even get out of his car. should he be charged ten bucks or two hundred? don't be spoiled, don't insult people who are trying to give you what you want. last quarter every vault member got a black and blue live record. a record you're only supposed to get if you ACTUALLY GO to a live show at third man. are you pissed about that? we've done giveaways, contests, auctions, etc. a lot of different ways for vault members to get first crack at limited records when we don't have to. we do it because by being a member you're supposedly making a statement that you're a real fan who wants the music, and to be involved in collecting rare and interesting vinyl. from some of these comments i take it that a lot of you would like this to be all digital, available to anyone on amazon dot com, anytime. boring, lifeless, lazy, and redundant. don't get mad at third man for giving you exactly what you've asked for. and seriously stop all of the whining, because what you communicate to us is that all of the trouble we go to isn't worth it because nothing we do will make you happy. we'll try to do back rubs door to door when we get a chance. sincerely the staff at third man records Oh, poor widdle record company! Fans hurt its ickle feelings.
Actually I would like music to be available to anyone on Amazon... and it's never hurt any other pop singers. As for easily available music being "boring, lifeless, lazy and redundant", that's so true. Here's a clip of Jack White playing his favorite record. He's almost in tears as he listens to it, and I bet that's because it's the limited-to-15-copies triple-decker tri-color Japanese pressing with the blue, white and black plastic cover that folds into a clockwork-powered Tesla Coil and the Eskimo scrimshaw for "strength" hand-carved into the run-out groove by the artist himself.
Oh, wait, it's not. It's a black vinyl pressing of the popular release with the regular cover. Is Jack (or is the record - I can't tell whether the Third Man commenter meant to skewer the buyer or the product) boring, lifeless, lazy and redundant in this clip? If not, why not? Might Son House have been onto something here?
I especially liked "don't get mad at third man for giving you exactly what you've asked for" in the next sentence to "nothing we do will make you happy". Clearly logic isn't this person's strong point...if it's exactly what we asked for, we'd be happy, wouldn't we?
The postscript to all of this is even weirder - or it's spin control. According to a poster on one of the (free) fan message boards, as one person was lining up outside the record store the next day, Ben Swank of Third Man Records explained, "it was just an experiment gone wrong. They were hoping that people would not bid them very high and the price would be set low. Then a bunch of douchebags created fake accounts and bid the auctions up." He said that they would "just offer second chance offers to legitimate bidders."
Whatever he said while handing out hot chocolate to freezing fans then, he's unapologetic in the Grauniad this morning. "The industry is constantly changing. I can't believe it's taken 15 years for a label to start selling its own releases on eBay (even in limited numbers). We're going to continue doing it. We're also going to continue all the contests, giveaways, pop-up shops, random mail orders, subscription services and manufacturing of insane new vinyl products and any other ridiculous idea that strikes our fancy. Why? Because we're American. And American's do crazy shit for capitalism. See you in hell."
Getting a bit tired of "see you in hell" now. A little glint of anger from Han Solo was kind of sexy, but three times in three days from a record company is like having your knuckles sandpapered. And it's Americans, FFS. Plural.
 I'm claiming fair use. Swank knows where to find me if he wants it taken down.