For some bizarre reason, Jay-Z and Kanye West have decided to make their upcoming Watch the Throne collaboration available to two of the biggest retailers in the country, Best Buy and iTunes, for a pair of exclusive promotions. Starting August 8, the album will be available in iTunes, followed by an exclusive two-week release of the deluxe edition, which features additional tracks, at Best Buy. In response to the exclusivity announcement, independent record stores across the nation teamed up to write an open letter to the duo.
The indies' contention is that the exclusivity agreement is a short-sighted strategy that only hurts independent record stores. Jay-Z, however, claims that this is the only way to prevent the album from leaking online, which makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, no matter how you slice it. "We're totally protective of our inventory and street dates," says Twist & Shout owner Paul Epstein. "We hate downloading." The chances of someone walking out of an indie store with an early release and leaking it online are less likely than an employee at Best Buy doing the same.
Retail exclusives like these have been around for a while, but rarely have they proven to be successful. The deluxe edition of Beyoncé's 4, for instance, was offered exclusively for a time at Target, and the sales were underwhelming. Guns N' Roses, AC/DC and the Rolling Stones have also tried this approach, but the releases have almost always sold poorly until the wider release.
"It's a complicated issue," says Epstein. "On one hand, I have a hard time telling artists what to do, but these are wealthy, high-profile artists and people are going to watch what they do." There is also no date or information about a vinyl release of the album, which, as Epstein points out, would have made the deal less crass if they'd at least given the indies some type of stock the big box stores wouldn't have.
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Amazon Music's director, Craig Pape, is getting in on the action, saying in an interview with Billboard: "We believe fans should have the option to buy the same music at their preferred retailer, on the same date, and unfortunately that is not always the case."
Ultimately, for Epstein and many that signed the open letter, it's about consumer protection. "These different versions of the same album at different stores just confuses people. It makes it so you have to be highly educated about an album or you feel like you're getting ripped off."
Here's the letter the independent stores sent:
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Dear Jay-Z and Kanye West,
Independent record stores serve our communities. Our passion is music, and we convey this to the millions of customers who come to our stores. That's what we do.
Four years ago independent music stores across the country banded together to create Record Store Day. Our goal was to counter the negative media coverage about the supposed demise of record stores brought on by the closing of the Tower stores and to respond to the music business practices that fans deemed to be manipulative and onerous.
We reached out to the artist community to see if they would join us, and the response was overwhelming with words of support coming in from Paul McCartney, Erykah Badu, Tom Waits, Chuck D, the Foo Fighters and countless others. Working with their label partners, many of these musicians created limited edition works of art, including vinyl and CDs made especially for music specialty retail. Hundreds of these artists took the opportunity to perform, DJ, and interact with their fans in our record stores. Here in the US, Record Store Day lifted the entire music business by 8% and contributed to the growth in music sales. Record Store Day is now one of the biggest music events in history with millions of people participating worldwide. We also continue to work throughout the year with labels, artists and managers and run regular promotions via physical independent retail and recordstoreday.com.
We are responding to the bad news that your new album will not be available to independent record stores until after iTunes gets a window of exclusivity. We also learned that the deluxe version (which is what the true music fans who shop our stores will want by an overwhelming majority) will only be available at Best Buy exclusively for a period of time. We believe this is a short-sighted strategy, and that your decisions will be doing great damage to over 1,700 independent record stores -- stores that have supported you and your music for years.
We know that you are busy, and that you put most of your energies into creating great music, but we are writing to you in the hope that you will hear us and take the time to rectify this matter. As representatives of the independent record store music community, we are asking you to allow record stores and music fans equal access to your new album.
With the utmost respect,
Dedry Jones, The Music Experience Mike Dreese, Newbury Comics Judy Negley, Independent Records Mike Batt, Silver Platters Tobago Benito, DBS Sounds Brian Faber, Zia Records Karen Pearson, Amoeba Music Bryan Burkert, The Sound Garden Mike Wise, Monster Rob Roth, Vintage Vinyl Joe Nardone, Jr., Gallery of Sound Jonathan Fernandez, Rasputin Music Dilyn Radakovitz, Dimple Records Dustin Hansen, Graywhale Entertainment Bill Kennedy, BK Music Jim Bland, Plan Nine Steve Wilson, Kiefs Tom King, Central Square Records Alayna Hill Alderman, Richard Storms, Record Archive Karl Groeger, Looney Tunes Paul Epstein, Twist and Shout Nancy Salzer, Salzer's Records Rick Ziegler, Indy CD Laura, Finders Records Deon Borchard, Nic Fritze, The Long Ear Chuck Oken, Rhino /Mad Platter Allan Miller, John Bevis, Disc Exchange Charlotte Kubat, Magnolia Thunderpussy John Kunz, Waterloo Records Chris Avino, Rainbow Records Mike Fratt, Homers Rich Koch, Off the Record Skip Hermans, Skip's Record and CD World Jason Patton, Oz Music Quinn Bishop, Cactus Records John Timmons, ear X tacy Lou Russell, Lou's Records Roger Weiss, Streetlight Records Terry Currier, Music Millenium Andrew Chinnici, Lakeshore Record Exchange Michael Bunnell, The Record Exchange Mike White, Boo Boo Records Steve Baron, CD Central Eric Levin, Criminal Records Pat O'connor, Culture Clash Dan Plunkett, End Of An Ear Paula Kret, Exile On Main St Chris Penn, Good Records Doyle Davis, Grimey's Travis Searle, Guestroom Records Jim Mcguinn, Hot Poop Isaac Slusarenko, Jackpot Records Jason Nickey & Heath Byers, Landlocked Music Todd Robinson, Luna Music Darren & Jim Blase, Shake It Anna & Chris Brozek, Slowtrain Kimber Lanning, Stinkweeds Tom "Papa" Ray, Vintage Vinyl