"The Month I Hated Sub Pop"
Thoughts On Limited Edition Vinyl
About a month ago I went over to the Sub Pop website and clicked on the information page for the new Beach House album, Bloom. Like most record labels, Sub Pop was offering a few extras for fans that order early. Among them were a signed poster for the first hundred and fifty pre-orders and a limited white vinyl on a “first come, first served basis”. I kicked myself for not finding this link earlier because the offer for the signed poster was crossed off. Damn those first hundred and fifty people who got there quicker than I did. Luckily, the limited (or “Loser Version” as Sub Pop calls it) white vinyl option was still available, so I ordered Bloom and went about my life.
A week before the actual release for Bloom, I was hanging out with my brother (another vinyl obsessed person) and I mentioned that he should order the limited version of Bloom. We headed over to Sub Pop and saw that the Loser Version was no longer available as the test had been crossed off like the poster. A heated argument ensued where I should have sent him the pre-order link the day I ordered it…it’s vinyl code…and I failed. I felt bad about this, and offered him my version by default of not alerting my vinyl brethren to a limited piece of wax we both wanted.
Cut to release week. Usually pre-orders show up a few days before the release date as a special treat, but no packages came to the door. As we do most Tuesdays, my brother and I hit all the local record stores and to our surprise, a single store had FIVE copies of Bloom…the LOSER VERSION! I was saved from breaking the vinyl code and my brother had his copy. I purchased another for a friend who had asked me to pick up a copy for him (little did he know he would get a Loser Version) and left the other three limited wax, knowing that Beach House fans who failed to pre-order would be giddy to find these waiting for them.
A week goes by. Nothing. Finally, two weeks after the release date, that wonderful feeling hit – a vinyl package was waiting outside my door. I took out my knife and carefully opened the parcel, excited to finally put Bloom (an album I love by the way) on the turntable. As the tabs open, I pull out the record and my heart drops. It’s the standard version. After a brief period of pacing around the house and cursing my luck that the label had messed up the order, I calmly e-mailed the Sub Pop ordering support team and outlined my problem. The next day I received a less than satisfactory reply, outlining that they had more multiple pre-orders than expected (meaning a single order could do Bloom – Loser Version x10) and they got priority on their stated “first come first serve” policy. No refund was offered, even though what I ordered is not what I received and all that I received was a promise that my future order (Beachwood Sparks) would be the correct version I pre-ordered. That’s it. My response to Sub Pop has already been taken, so here it is in video form:
So…we should all boycott Sub Pop, right?!
No. That’s not what I’m asking, and even though there is a lot of text to the story above, that’s not even what this post is about. This post is a message to all the indie music labels that sell limited edition versions of their albums. It should be a simple process, but it isn’t, and I would like to offer a few changes that I think would help ensure things like this don’t happen to any other collector. While this may seem like a small issue, consider the following. Vinyl is on the rise. Young music fans are making the switch to buying physical music every day. Imagine you’re one of these young potential converts, and that you’re testing the waters with your first vinyl. Something like this happens. Are you going to stick with the vinyl scene, or are you going to head straight back to the torrent sites?
The biggest problem with limited-edition vinyl is flipping. We see this magnified every Record Store Day, where people who couldn’t care less about vinyl buy sought after limited releases and then resell them on eBay for four to ten times as much as the listed price. This is legal and going after them isn’t the answer. The answer is to stop fueling the fire. Sub Pop and other sites that sell limited edition vinyl should implement a single purchase per account/credit card for all of their limited releases. This was the major problem with my story as people had ordered multiple pre-order copies. If you don’t think this is a problem, click this link.
Make an individual button for each version you offer. This is an extremely simple thing that many record labels, such as Polyvinyl, are already doing to ensure everyone receives exactly what they order. Sub Pop and other sites that use a text-based announcement that the first X amount of orders get a limited edition record are only doing it to drive up sales and manipulate the customer. If they don’t cross out this text after the supply has been purchased, they are basically banking on people hoping they ordered in time. It makes purchasing a sought-after record a crapshoot, and it’s unfair.
Sub Pop said the Loser Version was based on a “first come first served basis” and this held true as the people who pre-ordered before me received the limited version, while I was stuck with the standard wax. But…what about the stores? I was before them on the pecking order and in a small record store in Louisville they had five of the presumed 1,000 copies. Think about that. If we multiply that out knowing that bigger stores in Los Angeles/New York had bigger orders, a low guess would put two hundred copies or so that went out to stores.
Why is this important? Record labels should list, along with any other exceptions, when copies of the limited wax will be available in short order at your local record stores. I hate buying records online, and anytime I can, I’ll buy from local record stores because they are hurting and need the support from loyal vinyl fans. But there are times where vinyl labels force my hand because they offer limited edition versions that can’t be found at the local record store. In my story above, I intentionally failed to buy the Loser edition locally when I had the chance, and still didn’t receive the limited wax. I lost out, and so did my local record store.
1.) Make a button that is no longer active when the purchases reach the number of limited vinyl pressed.
2.) Limit the purchases of special edition wax to one per customer.
3.) Outline everything and be honest. Tell us if the limited wax will be at the local record store, or if you will repress more of the same limited color, or if there are any other pressing plans currently, etc. We’re your loyal customers, and you need us, so be straight with us. Don’t hide anything from us. When you do, it feels like you’re trying to cheat the customer (because that’s often exactly what you’re doing).
It’s so simple, it shouldn’t even take this amount of writing to correct. The story above should have never happened. Limited edition releases are fun ways for labels to give vinyl-obsessed fans a little extra treat if they happen to invest early. Some labels have taken that fun and manipulated the customer into playing a guessing game, all so they can make a little more money. The Sub Pop story above hurt the local record store, could have potentially soured me from buying physical music (will never happen, but with other, newer listeners, I’m sure it could), and made the “independent” label look like a corporate fat cat that went out of their way to over-complicate an easy ordering system so that people would order direct even after the incentive for doing so was gone.
I own thirty-seven pieces of wax from Sub Pop and will continue to buy from them and other great labels. However, I will never pick up my standard version of Bloom without being reminded of this ugly experience. Maybe if they address the three points listed above, that will change. Maybe I’ll be able to pick up Bloom and see it as the piece of wax that lead Sub Pop and other vinyl labels to stop manipulating their customers and to start treating them with the full respect they deserve. I hope that’s what happens, because limited releases are some of the special joys of collecting music, and are worth getting right. But based off of my experience with Bloom, I’m worried that the vinyl lovers of the future will be forced to temper their expectations.