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Best Buy and iTunes exclusives of Watch the Throne prompts indie stores to craft open letter

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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.

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:

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


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2 comments
Foxx_dc
Foxx_dc

Well obviously its not leaked yet, they're trying ti prevent it from leaking early, they don't care if it leaks after. Besides if Beyonces album went platinum so quickly, then jay and kanye will probably go "multi-platinum"

Daniel Lawson
Daniel Lawson

that's not the point... iTunes is the next thing to maleware and Best Buy isn't exactly walmart... nearest Best Buy is 35 mins away for me... it's bull crap at least give it to all the big digital distribution sites

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