In a rather immediate act of self-justification on Monday afternoon, Jack White responded directly to fans’ backlash against an eBay auction hosted by his own Third Man Records for one of five coveted copies of The White Stripes‘ first album reissue, on the double-colored vinyl edition set for extremely limited release in select stores and TMR’s Nashville store on Tuesday.
For nearly every TMR release, there’s an accompanying rare special edition. White’s voracious international fanbase spends batshit crazy amounts of money for these gems as soon as they hit eBay, fueling a black market ruled by “flippers,” record scalpers snatching up every triple-colored vinyl for quick, fat profits.
Yesterday, Mr. White decided to turn the situation to his advantage (if not the fans’), altering the dynamic of music profiteering in the process. Rather than challenge the futility of attempting to blockade the rampant inflation, he shifted the goods himself and stiffed the middleman.
Paid subscribers of TMR’s The Vault were directed to an eBay page with open auctions for copies of the limited edition vinyl version of the self-titled White Stripes reissue. Within an hour, all 5 auctions were above $100 each, and a small shitstorm of comments began to erupt on The Vault, when, suddenly, Jack White joined the site’s chatroom with a handbasket-gripping introduction of “See you in hell?” and explained, quite simply, why the hell there were people paying 500 bucks for a record you have to crack open to listen to: “Supply & demand.”
The simple nature behind all the profiteering on eBay is that people pay as much as they can for a record they want. As Jack said, “nobody told them to buy it with a gun to their head.” The records are expensive because the fans make them expensive. When a fan tried to argue that people with “more money than sense” were to blame, Jack retorted: “Or are they just paying what the going rate is?” White explained: “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.”
Arguably sound logic. When Jack was pushed about the integrity of this move, he responded: “Integrity? What are we doing that doesn’t have integrity? You’re the ones telling us what they are worth.” Though it might not seem fair to make the colored vinyls so difficult to attain, as he put it, if everyone could get their hands on a limited vinyl, it wouldn’t be limited. For the people who aren’t able to, they have “the black vinyl UNlimited version.”
Closing the conversation, Jack reassured fans that “[Third Man] is on your side don’t forget,” and a promising “see you soon.” The money will roll right in, of course, and in today’s shifting music paradigm, it’s a fascinating thing to see such a highly renowned artist beating the devils at their own game. At least those with the pockets and arguable insanity to pay so much for the music will be directly funding the artist, and not the peripheral parasites feeding on fandom. But we’re not holding any illusions that the vinyl will ever see a record player.
Read the full context of Jack’s comments at The Little Room.
UPDATE: Jack later returned to the site and responded further, directly to reader comments, in a fiery exchange which you can read below, in all his unedited lowercase glory. Further below, read his closing comments on the matter.
Fan: Alright? Is this a big FU or something to vault members?! I ran home all excited to see what was going to be posted and this is it?! Seriously this is a bunch of crap. I pay my membership and have really got nothing extrodinary for it in return really?
Jack: you’ve gotten NOTHING extraordinary in return? i’d have to disagree with you, as the records you’ve received you can ONLY get with a vault membership. i won’t bore you with online content and free giveaways, and first admission privileges, etc. but are you saying you aren’t getting rare records at a price that’s at least a third of what they go for on, oh i don’t know ….ebay?
Fan: Well I think it’s official this is my last Vault experience. Really nothing on here worth paying for anymore. Think you get something special with a message, but it’s really just a link to fan exploitation.
Jack: fan exploitation? really? if you don’t want it, DONT BUY IT. and if you do want it, don’t act like you DON’T want it. get in line like anyone else, hunt for it like anyone else. you act like we bury them in tunnels in vietnam for god sakes, you can get one randomly in the mail if your lucky, in line at a store if you’re lucky, in your hometown if you’re lucky, etc. who is guaranteed a rare hard to find record? only vault members and their quarterly subscriptions. there’s luck in every other version.
Fan: Fuck you, Third Man.
Jack: really? you think we deserve that? would you like us to just stop making limited edition records? you would go so far as to say fuck you to us? for what? we didn’t do anything to you but give you what you want. you’re a vault member obviously, for what reason? limited records you can’t get elsewhere? would you kindly send us those records back so we can sell them to some other fan who didn’t get to have them? don’t want a split colored limited edition record? then guess what? don’t buy one. don’t want them to be expensive? then guess what? don’t WANT them. it’s you and others wanting them that dictates the price and the entire nature of the idea.
make no mistake, we could make twenty thousand split color whatevers for you, and they’ll be worth 20 bucks, and you’ll pay 20 bucks for them, and you’ll never talk about them, desire them, hunt to find them, etc. why should ebay flippers, who are not real fans, dictate the price, make all the profit (taken from the artist and the label) and take the records out of the hands of real fans. there’s a guy who waits in a black suv down the block from third man who hires homeless people to go buy him tri colors when they are on sale. doesn’t even get out of his car. should he be charged ten bucks or two hundred? don’t be spoiled, don’t insult people who are trying to give you what you want. last quarter every vault member got a black and blue live record. a record you’re only supposed to get if you ACTUALLY GO to a live show at third man. are you pissed about that?
we’ve done giveaways, contests, auctions, etc. a lot of different ways for vault members to get first crack at limited records when we don’t have to. we do it because by being a member you’re supposedly making a statement that you’re a real fan who wants the music, and to be involved in collecting rare and interesting vinyl. from some of these comments i take it that a lot of you would like this to be all digital, available to anyone on amazon dot com, anytime. boring, lifeless, lazy, and redundant. don’t get mad at third man for giving you exactly what you’ve asked for. and seriously stop all of the whining, because what you communicate to us is that all of the trouble we go to isn’t worth it because nothing we do will make you happy. we’ll try to do back rubs door to door when we get a chance. sincerely the staff at third man records.
Update: Jack posted the following message on the Vault board Thursday afternoon:
hey y’all, jack here. just wanted to touch base with the thousands of fans who’ve come through third man or emailed or called in the last few days. everything’s been going sweliigently. i want to stress to everyone that i am not mad or stressed at any fans in our world, i’m not even stressed at flippers. it’s no fun to see rolling stone saying jack white is pissed at his fans. that’s pretty unfair. i have to say the only thing i don’t like is that i’m supposedly given the message that i’m not allowed to have a dialogue with my fans or with vault members privately for that matter. i should be able to talk to you guys and explain what we’re up to without you thinking the whole staff here is pissed. we want you to know where we’re coming from and we want your opinions on what goes on.
there’s been a lot of positivity lately about our special releases and what all goes on at third man. glad you are digging what’s happening, hope you all get the records you want, and remember all these releases are on black vinyl, and most of the time digital as well, and if enough of you want it on 8 track, we’ll look into that too, matter of fact if an 6 year old walks in to the store today and asks for an 8 track of consolers of the lonely, i’m going to get him one dammit, and i’ll see him in hell too! (that’s a joke people, let’s all take it easy) working with wanda jackson today, i’m going to take my picture with her too if she’ll let me. take it easy, literally. jack III