Limited Edition

Indulge me for the long post. There's a story I need to share.

Once upon a time, in an second hand vinyl store I came upon a 10'' in an would-be-exquisite but was-badly-pressed folder. I have one worn-out copy of this somewhere in my place. We recorded this with a band I was then part of it in the early 90s.
It was what now is called a 'Limited Edition'. By that I mean that neither the label nor we had the money to print more than 550 copies, so we made do with these at first and gave away some promos and finally covered the expenses. Then we printed an extra 450, as far as we were told. That adds to a 1000 copies. It was also red colored vinyl and a 10" cut, totally unusual at this time for my country.
With no money for publicity and due to crappy distribution, not all of them were sold. Overall, as a band we got paid the equivalent of 250 to 300 euros (we had drunk and smoked more than that to record it, of course). Some years later the (really small) label shut down and sold all stock to the distributor. We got nothing. I saw then a few copies in the low-price section of some stores sold for about 3 euros. I had no interest then in buying my own records, yet I felt bad about them selling out so cheap. This was more or less the story of the indie scene in Europe those days, CDs were coming forth. Then the distributor went off too, and that was it.

Year 2007, in front of me, this average early '90s indie EP was priced 170 euros.

Qui bono, comrades?

For whom does this used-vinyl market exist? Who profits? The artist? No. The label? Not really, unless they're very clever and they set things up for 15 years ahead. The industry as a whole? I doubt it. Money spent on old records are not spent on new ones. The "I've GOT to have it" collector? Only if he intends to sell it at a higher price. Some merchants and E-bay? Ahh, yes, I think we're here.
I'm a vinyl junkie. For me a record is always a vinyl record. I go at used-vinyl stores and sit through rows of dirty boxes for hours, literally. I'm always looking for something good but overlooked, or badly appraised. And I like old stuff, which is often highly priced. But I've promised to myself I will never pay a big amount for anything 'rare'. I think the most expensive record I ever bought was X-102's 'Atlantis' second-hand for 25 euros. Because I know where the money goes. How come that when the vinyl market is supposedly going down, some vinyl stores get richer? It's only enough that vinyl stores sell on a 80-100% profit on new records, throw in the 'Vintage', 'LtdEd' and 'Rare' commerce and if you don't get mad, you never will. A collectible vinyl record is the same thing as a collectible stamp, a persian carpet or a silver plate. It's merchandise.
If I share this record through the internet, am I stealing from someone? Actually, not even the stores' owners give a shit cause what they really sell is records, not the music in them. It might even work out good for them, cause if the record becomes famous through the net in 'specific circles' then more people will be willing to pay 170 euros for it. Everything is promotion.

And I really disagree with this whole attitude of 'Limited Edition' releases, which certain labels and artists keep pushing, especially in the avant-garde scene. And I can't understand how music fans who may have really deep knowledge in this field and truly positive intentions, always fall for this crap and support it. A cool folder and 20 minutes of uninspired "Improvisations" (aka rehearsals) or "Experiments" (half an hour with a laptop and an afternoon of writing a page of text to explain why this release is different than last week's) is NOT important by default. But if it's released in only 300 copies and it's a part of a series of 20 similar projects, it will get an article and an ad in the Wire and most or all of it will pre-sale. It's ridiculous. Most of these records would never sell more copies than the ones printed, so it's good they don't print more. But calling them 'Ltd.Ed.' it's only for raising their price.

Don't be fooled. It's more of a cultural thing than it seems. Limited supply raises the prices but also creates an Elite for the richer, the more informed, the inside people, the Savants. Simple people should do the Animal stuff, like dance, shout, smoke, take drugs and fuck at the disco/club/bar remaining ignorant of the Deeper Meaning, while they alone have access to the Higher Forms of Contemporary Art (installations, video art, experimental music, performances, you know) in museums, galleries, art-cafes and similar establishments.

Mass distribution of art brings it closer to everyone so everyone can be inspired by it. That's what 'publishing' is about. If you don't publish you're not an artist. If you publish for the few you're an Elitist. If a label wants to publish a special but expensive edition, they may do it for a number of copies and then present a simpler one for the 'people', us poor bastards who can't afford a 200 euros box set. Or they wait a little for the first one to sell, and then print again or distribute it through the net.

Dance labels are somewhat different. Excluding promos and bootlegs, of course, who play a different role (big discussion). Due to the small average amount of copies printed (from 500 to 2000) virtually all 12''s are LtdEd, so mostly they play with picture or colored vinyl. Hardwax based labels traditionally print an small amount of colored vinyls for the collectors and feed this market anyway, yet they're not too expensive and they always print some pure old good black vinyls for the others. They constantly repress older releases (thus making the older ones more valuable for the collectors...) so they 're always available. The 7x7" pack by Rhythm & Sound's "See Mi Yah" was limited, but was sold at half the normal price and then got re-printed at LP form. On the other hand, I'm not able to find the Deepchord/Echospace 12''s and it's a real shame cause I love their music and I cannot buy anything by them to listen to and play it. Cause it's Limited Edition.

Recently, I heard Jay Haze talking about the Contexterrior project and the rejection of the need for physical existence of the music medium. His ego aside, it's a valid point expressed very well and supported many years by a lot of people. Maybe they're right and surely that's the future. Yet I'm a little old and set in my ways. I am a vinyl junkie. Call me a consumer, if you like. I like to believe I have a right to feed my 'sickness' as long as I want to, without anyone taking advantage of me. I won't store my records in a shit plastic bag and treat them like 'investment'. I wanna be able to enjoy them and play them in front of other people. It seems that soon I'll have to fight for that too.

No comments: