Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Pumpkin Squashes Indie Retailers

I like Greg Kot.

I like his work in your Chicago Tribune. I like his public radio show, Sound Opinions. I liked his book about Wilco.

And I loved the way that Kot took on the issue of media consolidation when few others in the corporate press had the brains to understand it and fewer still had the guts to write about it.

But I don't like his examination of Billy Corgan's latest marketing stunt:
The great Pumpkin took some more credibility hits when it was announced two weeks ago that "Zeitgeist" would be released in no fewer than four configurations. Best Buy, Target and iTunes each would stock a version of the album with an exclusive bonus track.

This prompted an outcry from the ubiquitous purity police; Internet bloggers and e-zines accused the band of disrespect for independent music stores and, in the words of pitchforkmedia.com, "bleeding their fans dry" by "making" them buy four versions of the album. ***

The issue isn't about greed (fans who want the bonus tracks won't have any trouble getting them for free on the Internet), but about marketing. At a time when shelf space is shrinking for CDs at many big stores, "Zeitgeist" will be prominently positioned at three of the top five music retailers in the U.S. That's a smart business move, if not a particularly popular one with the hipsters.
Kot's analysis of the controversy seems woefully misguided. The issue isn't that Billy Pumpkin is doing a favor for two Big Box retailers and Apple Inc. by giving them exclusive tracks. It's that he's screwing independent music retailers by shutting them out of the whole"bonus track" game and giving them a substandard product to sell.

If Billy wants to make twenty versions of his album with twenty different track lists, I couldn't care less. But what he's done is made the version of his album for sale at mom and pop stores less valuable -- one less track = objectively less valuable -- than the albums sold by the corporate retailers.

But Kot seems to believe that Corgan's hosing of independent retailers can be dismissed because it is only a concern for the "ubiquitous purity police; Internet bloggers and e-zines". Although we are clearly supposed to dismiss the worries of such cranks, let's not do so until we consider four quick questions about Kot's list of gripers:
  1. If the "purity police" are ubiquitous, why haven't we heard of them before?
  2. If disapproving bloggers must be modified with the word "Internet" does that mean that quill-and-velum bloggers approve of Corgan's stunt?
  3. Since word of the "exclusive track" stunt only reached the masses at the end of June, aren't e-zines the only zines that had time to address this? And finally,
  4. Isn't Kot's list a nearly comprehensive roll-call of 21st century rock music fandom?
Seriously, who else could be expected to even have an opinion on this matter?

Professional critics and professional musicians, I guess. And if Greg Kot is any indication, professional rock critics feel that undermining local mom and pop record stores is just okee dokee as a rock 'n' roll marketing tool.

But what do musicians think?

I imagine a multi-millionaire jackass o'lantern like Billy Corgan thinks hosing independent music retailers is a perfectly fine way to get his album noticed by Big Box stores -- but what do musicians actually worthy of respect think about local record stores?

An interview with the Waco Brothers' Dean Schlabowske -- in your Naperville Sun -- gives us a hint:
Like so many independent bands, the Wacos struggle to remain financially viable in today's music market.

"It's hard to ignore the stranglehold the major media corporations have on distribution of records at this point," Schlabowske said. "It's hard for little Mom and Pop record stores to stay in business. Those are the kind of outlets that people looked for interesting music like ours."
Sorry Greg -- when it comes to choosing up sides, I'll aways side with purity policemen like Dean Schlabowske and the Waco Brothers.

1 comment:

ranapoona said...

I would add that I personnaly can verify that Billy Corrigan has always disliked most of his fans. He prophetically yelled to the crowd at the 1994 lollapolooza chicago show: "FUCK the proletariat!!"

So 13yrs later I'm not suprised he doesn't care about the little stores or people.

{or he may just be dumb}


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