In previous years, Sunrise Records (a record store chain in Canada with 11 locations) ran full-page advertisements implying they had exclusives on Record Store Day items.
I heard about these ads when Vortex customers came in on Record Store Day and were surprised and upset to see that we were carrying the items they’d just bought at Sunrise. Surprised because they’d been duped by the ads and upset because our prices were drastically cheaper.
At first I was incredulous that Sunrise could have run such ads — then one customer showed me a photo he’d taken with his phone. I emailed Sunrise and I asked them about it on their Facebook wall. The company didn’t bother answering my emails and they deleted my comments from their Facebook wall.
When they ran similar ads for a subsequent RSD, I emailed Record Store Day Canada and Record Store Day USA complaining and suggesting that the chain be either restricted from participating in future years or barred from using the term “Record Store Day” or the RSD logo in advertisements. In addition to the implication that they had exclusives on the advertised items, Sunrise also advertised that they’d be selling at least one item (a Rush 10”) that they didn’t actually have to offer. This was an item that Vortex and other shops did have available.
RSD Canada wrote me back, saying they agreed that the ads were unacceptable. They told me they reprimanded Sunrise and said it would not happen again.
Though this wasn’t as harsh a reaction as I had hoped for (after all, Sunrise were repeat offenders and, in my opinion, were only conceding because they’d been slapped on the wrist by the RSD “head office”), I thanked RSD Canada for at least responding.
Later, a man named Michael Kurtz emailed me. Kurtz is one of the co-founders of Record Store Day. He said he thought the ads “could be misread” but that he thought the deception was not intentional. He characterized it as a simple mistake.
Here’s the ad. What do you think? Intentional deception or just a mistake?
I wrote Kurtz back and told him I disagreed and that I was going to go public with the situation. I asked if he wanted to comment officially. He wrote back that not only would he not comment officially, but that he’d consider it a personal favor if I kept my mouth shut about it. He didn't want RSD getting any bad press.
Interestingly, in his email, Michael revealed that the RSD Canada employee who’d written me conceding the ads were unacceptable was actually an employee of Sunrise Records. He said that RSD was run by volunteers and in Canada those volunteers are also Sunrise Records employees.
So the person telling me they’d reprimanded Sunrise was actually an employee of the organization? I was stunned by this. To me, this is a blatant conflict of interest.
Regardless, I met Michael half-way. I wrote a small entry on the Vortex web site FAQ explaining that the Sunrise ads were bullshit and that “the only thing Sunrise has an exclusive on on RSD is price-gouging,” explaining that items we had sold for $20, Sunrise sold for $30. Items we had for $30, they had for $45, etc.
Months went by and when I was updating the FAQ, I reread what I’d written, and, though all of it was true, I thought it came across as a bit angry or petty. I voluntarily deleted it.
In late January, 2014, circumstance conspired that would allow me to open up my own record shop on March 1. I jumped at the opportunity and, at the head of February, I paid for the new space. The very next day, I went to the RSD Canada web site and used their form to add my new shop, Good Music, to the “list of Participating Stores”.
Understand that this is a master list controlled by Record Store Day (the organization). This list is what suppliers (labels and distributors) refer to before shipping RSD product to participating stores. Not on the list? They’re not supposed to send you product.
This is also the list that shoppers check before planning their Record Store Day adventures, mapping out their shopping route for the day, and what the press refers to when writing up articles on the event. Not on the list but still manage to get RSD product? Customers won’t know you have it and therefore won’t come to shop.
I started ordering RSD product from my suppliers, fully expecting my new shop — at just over 300 sf with just one owner — would definitely qualify as an independent record shop and therefore be added to the list.
A couple weeks went by and I rechecked the site. Good Music hadn’t been added. I submitted the form again. We’re now at mid-February, which is technically the cut-off for submitting new stores for the April event.
I continued ordering product.
I opened Good Music on March 1. Opening weekend was a huge success. People repeatedly asked me if I was participating in Record Store Day. Though still no word had come from RSD Canada, I said, “Of course.” I submitted the shop again.
On March 8, I thought it would be prudent to go to the RSD USA site and submit the new shop there as they also had a list of participating Canadian shops. I used their form to send them the details on Good Music.
With the quantity of titles being offered this year (over 500), I spoke with Bert, the owner of Vortex Records, a store for which I’m the manager and buyer, and told him that I thought it would be a bit overwhelming ordering RSD product for both shops and we agreed that Vortex would not participate.
On March 17, I used the “contact” link on the RSD USA web site to send them an email asking them to remove Vortex from the participating stores list. (There is no form to achieve this on their site — presumably stores don’t pull out too often.) Covering my bases I also mentioned my new shop in this email, providing them with all the contact information needed to add it to the list and mentioning I’d submitted previously with the form.
Days pass. No response. Still not on the list.
Remembering that RSD Canada employees are also Sunrise employees, I suspected something was up and that I wasn’t going to be put on the list due to politics. However, checking back to the RSD site, I noticed Vortex was still on the participating stores list. If the intention was to keep RSD customers out of my stores, they’d have removed it, wouldn’t they? Perhaps I was just paranoid and they were just busy.
I decided to give them the benefit of the doubt and wait.
On March 27th, a man from Record Store Day Canada called Vortex. Monday is the one day I work at neither store. Bert answered the phone. The man told Bert that if I didn’t speak to him, he would “make sure you don’t get any RSD product”.
Bert asked the man to call me directly. The man refused and when Bert asked why, he replied, “He’s not one of my favorite people.” The man didn’t leave his name or any contact information.
I called a bunch of my suppliers and explained the situation and its absurdity — that I wasn’t on the list and may not be by shipping time; the phone call and lack of contact info; etc. I asked how I should proceed: should I order product from them regardless? Did they care about whether I was on the list or not? Would they ship to me — a customer who had been buying from them for years — or were they restricted from doing so?
Most of them said they didn’t care and would ship to me anyway. One flat-out refused.
These different answers aside, there were two things that all of my suppliers had in common:
1. They all thought it was bullshit, and
2. Every single one of them said the person I was looking for was “Tim Baker of Sunrise Canada”. They all named him. Many called him names. One said, “It’s definitely him. He likes to stir shit up.”
I was provided with his direct email address.
I emailed him: “I hear you’re trying to get in touch with me. Let’s talk.” I provided my contact info.
Another week passed and my reps needed an answer; ordering deadlines were right around the bend. Would I be placing any more orders?
I could have continued to order from the ones who said they’d ship to me, but, again, without being on the list, the shop would not be on customer radar or mentioned in the press.
I decided I was tired of waiting and that I believed RSD Canada (via Sunrise) were deliberately delaying in order to fuck up my ability to properly handle RSD.
I emailed Tim again:
Hi Tim, I emailed you previously about being added to the participating stores list. I'm writing you now to say never mind. The two shops I'm responsible for, Good Music and Vortex Records, will not be participating this year or any other. I've already notified my reps of my decision and will be writing a lengthy blog post with reasons so that my customers don't show up expecting product. I'll send you a link when it's up. Regards,
I sent that email at 11:22am on Friday, March 28th. Four hours later Tim wrote back, implied I was impatient, and said he was planning on adding me to the participating stores list on the next business day. Of course, he disregarded the fact that he could have added Good Music to the list and been done with the whole affair in the time it took to call and threaten Vortex.
He CC’d two people on his email: Michael Kurtz and Carrie Colliton. Nine minutes later Colliton emailed me and introduced herself as another RSD co-founder, saying “I would consider it a favor if you would outline for me why your stores have decided not to participate, before you make it public on your blog.”
I explained (at length) that it was the conflict of interest created by having a participating store (Sunrise Canada) representing RSD Canada. She didn’t bother to thank me for doing her that favor. I never heard from her again.
The next email I received was from Michael Kurtz. Citing Tim’s implication that I was simply impatient, he told me that RSD was all-volunteer and perhaps in the future they’d be able to move a little faster. He said, though they were planning on adding me to the list, I’d applied for inclusion too late. He wrote, “My understanding is that you attempted to sign up a store on March 21st”.
Of course this drastic misrepresentation of the facts was annoying but I hadn’t CC’d Kurtz on the email to Carrie so perhaps his lack of facts was my fault. I emailed him and said speed wasn’t really the issue. The issue was the conflict of interest and the threat from Sunrise/RSD Canada. I told him about the email to Carrie and he got her to send him a copy.
He then wrote me a lengthy “recap” email where he laid out RSD’s perspective on the situation:
Among other things, he reiterated that the lying adverts were a simple human error. He said Sunrise had apologized to me for the ads (they hadn’t) and suggested that I hadn’t bothered to tell him they’d ran deceptive ads for prior RSDs (I had done so in an email on November 30, 2013 — an email he’d responded to). He also said Sunrise not receiving the Rush 10” that they’d implied they had an exclusive on was “a tragedy.” He insisted the chain were instrumental in the creation of that item and suggested stores should be thanking Sunrise that they were able to get it. All along it was sympathy that was required, not incredulity!
He then accused me of “running down RSD” on my blog. I hadn’t. I’d run down Sunrise for their behavior and had done him the favor of not mentioning how he’d asked me to sweep it under the rug — my entry neither mentioned him or my contact with RSD USA.
His email went on to completely misunderstand the issue at hand — the lack of communication from RSD Canada, the conflict of interest of having Sunrise control the list of participating stores, the threatening call from a Sunrise/RSD employee, etc.
My response to him, which was my final correspondence regarding this issue, pointed out my side of the story as simply as I could, quoting emails and citing dates. I closed it with this paragraph:
“I’d love to hear Tim's answer to the phone question [whether it’d been him or one of his employees who’d made the call], but otherwise, I'm out. You handle it whatever way you want. Check into it or don't check into it. I don't care. But I will tell my side of the story as my customers will want to know. I did you a favor last year by not mentioning RSD's response to Sunrise's clearly deceptive ad and behavior. I regret doing so as I think you have handled the situation deplorably. I think the conflict of interest is blatant and I think that Sunrise's business practices are the antitheses of the stated claims of RSD. But it's your star, Michael. Hitch it to whatever you want.”
As of this writing, Tim Baker hasn’t responded.
To be clear, I think Record Store Day is a terrific idea. It's good for the industry, it's good for the stores, it's good for the customers. I recognize the lack of a sufficient operating budget. I know it's hard to do something with all volunteers. But having those volunteers serve two masters is not the solution.
I have no doubt that if Record Store Day USA reached out on their site, mailing list, or Facebook, they could find vinyl aficionados who'd gladly volunteer their time to run things so that all shops are treated fairly. (No doubt they could build a better web site in an afternoon.)
I also recognize that Sunrise was important in bringing RSD to Canada — something that Kurtz has mentioned in every communication he's ever had with me. But he and I disagree on the motive. He seems to think it was altruistic; obviously, I do not. My experience with Sunrise as a life-long Torontonian, a music buyer, and a store manager is vastly different from Kurtz's as a foreigner who only came into contact with the organization a few years ago.
As I believe I have shown, having Sunrise Records so tightly intertwined with the Record Store Day organization is a mistake. My experience leads me to believe the company is just not trustworthy. Hell, if you check the About section of Sunrise's web site, you'll see them claim: "we are the only Canadian-owned, independently operated record store chain left in all of Canada." Calling this statement disingenuous would be very generous. The truth is that it's a flat-out lie. In Toronto and surrounding areas alone, Sonic Boom, Kops, The Beat Goes On, and Deja Vu Discs all have multiple locations. That's not even taking the rest of Ontario or the country into consideration! (Yes, Sonic Boom is owned by an American, but he's an American who's lived in the city for 10+ years.)
But I digress...
I wish Kurtz and Colliton the best with their baby, but until the conflict of interest is addressed, Good Music, or any stores I buy for will not be officially involved. Given Kurtz's disbelief of pretty much everything I've ever told him, I imagine this means I'm out for good. Though we're talking about thousands of dollars in lost revenue, it's still not worth fighting about any longer, especially when dealing with an overseeing organization that insists on wearing blinders.
I wish my customers the best of luck in sourcing the RSD items they desire. I implore them to look everywhere but Sunrise. At the very least, they'll find them cheaper, even if they have one of the chain's discount cards.