Jack White foils eBay flippers, angers fans

December 1st, 2010

Jack White’s Third Man Records produces a large number of standard all-black vinyl records for every album it releases—but those LPs and 45s aren’t the ones that drive fans wild. No, what the fans go crazy for are the limited-edition versions, made in two- and three-colored vinyl.

The trouble is, scalpers or “flippers” have been profiteering off of the fans’ insatiable appetite for these rare multicolored records, snatching them up and selling them on eBay for hundreds of dollars. Recently, according to Antiquiet, White decided to take matters into his own hands when Third Man Records put five copies of an extremely limited double-colored reissue of The White Stripes’ first album on eBay directly. One has already sold for $510, and odds are it will never see a turntable.

Fans, many of whom pay for special access to Third Man Records through The Vault fan club, expressed outrage. White responded: “We sell a Wanda Jackson split record for 10 bucks, the eBay flipper turns around and sells it for $300. If $300 is what it’s worth, then why doesn’t Third Man Records sell it for $300? If we sell them for more, the artist gets more, the flipper gets nothing. We’re not in the business of making flippers a living. We’re in the business of giving fans what they want.”

Jack White performing at the Cisco Ottawa Bluesfest in 2009. Photo by Scott Penner.

Jack White performing at the Cisco Ottawa Bluesfest in 2009. Photo by Scott Penner.

Who can argue with the fabulous Wanda Jackson getting paid (not to mention her hard-working engineers, mixers, and producers), over the opportunist guy lingering outside Third Man Records in his black SUV? Still the move has raised a lot of questions about who’s exploiting the collectors market, and how.

In our interview with Ben Blackwell, the head of vinyl production at the label, he explained, “The idea is to make music accessible. We do a limited run of these tricolor or split-color records to cater to the collectors, the people who crave that stuff. But if you’re a music fan, we’re also the place for you. [The music] will always be available.

“People sometimes complain, saying, ‘I couldn’t get your 8-inch records in Texas or your 13-inch records,’ or  ‘I couldn’t get the glow-in-the-dark records in London.’ Those records were made to celebrate an event. The point is that you had to actually be there.

We also get a little bit of a flack for not making this stuff available online to the worldwide market. To those critics, we just have to respond by saying that they are totally missing the point. One of the ideas behind Third Man is that not everything is just available with the click of a mouse. A lot of what we try to do is meant to be a part of a tangible, real experience.

The White Stripes reissue in question.

The White Stripes reissue in question.

“When we started out pressing the tricolor vinyl, we were pressing 100 copies of tricolor 7-inchers, and they were only available at our storefront. People were pissed—some of them are still pissed about it. Seeing how well it went over, but trying to respond to the complaints, we’ve tweaked it a bit. We still make 100 available in our storefront. People line up and wait overnight outside of our store to get them; some will get proxies in there, and people will flip them on eBay, all that stuff. But we also press 50 copies that we insert randomly into mail orders for that title. So you never know.”

What do you think, collectors? Read our whole interview about what goes on behind the scenes at Third Man Records.

3 comments so far

  1. Will C. Says:

    I don’t think Third Man is wrong to do this, but their argument does sound a lot like the ones used by the big-name acts who charge $400 for concert tickets.

  2. Josh D. Says:

    He’s got his points, but I still think “limited editions” are b.s. The only reason to limit your edition is if you can’t afford to make more, or don’t think it will sell any more than that. Both of which are clearly untrue for anything that comes out of Third Man.

    That said, he’s right, the collector urge feeds on itself. Although my days of spending $66 for a 45 (damn you, eBay! Damn you, Shellac! Damn you, money I didn’t think I needed to save!) are long gone, and my usual “collector pride” runs along the lines of “Look what I got for five bucks!”

    Auctioning them direct on eBay is a pretty smart way to go with it. Then, hopefully, you get the records in the hands of someone that really wants them. And he has indeed done decently for collectors, with the subscriber dealy and all…

  3. Adam Douglas Says:

    Selling their records on eBay is a contradiction with Ben Blackwell’s own statement, “The point is that you had to actually be there.” Blackwell explains pedantically, “One of the ideas behind Third Man is that not everything is just available with the click of a mouse.”

    After sufficient demand is created, Third Man goes on eBay and sells records for hundreds of dollars. Ben Blackwell, you’re such a hypocrite. (Or an evil manipulative genius, I’m not sure which.)

    First, you making it hard for people to get the product by being all exclusive. You berate your fans for not showing up “to celebrate the event” as if they’re loyalty is somehow in question. The icing on the cake is when you admonish people for getting music at the click of a mouse… after you put up an auction yourself!?!? WTF?

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