C O L U M N S
Tales from the Jugular
GO, DOWNLOAD, and BURN!
Why is that you might ask? What has shifted the tides and created such a change of heart for this loyal leatherneck? Well the answer is rather simple really. Where else can I get my heavy metal fix?? Trust me when I say this. I would most certainly BUY instead of DOWNLOAD. But realistically our chances of buying new heavy metal has simply spiraled down to nothing.
This metal journalist would easily shell out up to $35 for an imported Loudness or Impellitteri release without a second thought. For years and years I would call in orders to metal mail order stores the world over. It was easy then. You called and TALKED to someone, they played a tune or sample over the phone, you said "Hell Yeah" and proceeded to read off your card digits and location. Simple enough. Now, in the year 2007, that idea is rather preposterous. A fantasy. A dream. It just doesn't happen like that anymore. Instead what I have realized is this:
It would be much easier for me to run a kick-off return for a touchdown without being touched against the New England Patriots than to simply order and receive a CD online in a timely manner without complications.
In the last five years I have found that when ordering a CD online there is a 70% chance that the following will occur:
A) The CD store site will falsely claim that they have an item in stock.
B) You will receive the wrong CD for the right price.
C) You will receive the right CD for the wrong price.
D) Your CD will become lost in the mail.
E) Your credit or debit card will be charged weeks before an actual shipping date.
F) Your order will simply disappear.
G) Your credit card information will be seized by Russian terrorists.
I have had all of the above happen at one point or another. I think the only reliable way to obtain new heavy metal records is by downloading them. Let me break it down for you:
You can obtain even the most obscure albums that are only available in Russia, Sweden, Japan, Finland, South America, etc. by downloading. Let's face it, when you see an item on a metal store site you immediately think it is in stock and ready to ship. WRONG! Plenty of times I've discovered that most sites list everything that there distributor carries and not just what they currently have in stock. So the average consumer simply clicks ADD TO CART and moves on. A few days later the consumer receives an email stating that said item is out of stock and will return in a few weeks. Worse yet, on a multiple item order where one or two items are out of stock, the entire order gets held up until all items are finally in stock, and then and only then is the order shipped to the customer. As bizarre and ridiculous as this sounds, it is most definitely the truth.
On a recent downloading venture I stumbled upon a band called Stoner Kings. I have never heard anything from the band prior to taking a chance and downloading the album. Sure, I could have stumbled on the band's site through trial an error and maybe, just maybe, found a sample to download. However one particular "sharing" person had a few albums that were simply unavailable to purchase anywhere. That person also had Stoner Kings listed in a specific share folder. I thought the name sounded great so I downloaded it. Love the band, love their albums! Being the supporter of good quality metal, I searched for the album to purchase. I was unable to locate the album at The End Records, Impulse Music, Sentinel Steel, Metal Merchant, Nuclear Hell, CD Inzane, or any other bargain bin, CD clearance, innovative metal mail order retail shop on the planet. EBay? At that specific time there were no sellers listing a Stoner Kings release. I finally found the item at a rather popular metal store online and proceeded to put the item in a shopping cart and hit CHECKOUT. One week later I checked my order status to find nothing had been ordered. My card had not been charged, nothing had been shipped, and I had 0 items in my shopping cart. Apparently on a secure server with my financial info disclosed on a final webpage that stated ORDER PROCESSED the actual order never made it to the location of "the checkout clerk". Where did the order go? Russian terrorists? Mars? Your guess is as good as mine. By the time I was finally able to decipher the errors on that site's ordering system, I found a copy on Ebay for $3.75. I waited five days for my bid to become the winner and presto, I apparently have the CD on the way by mail. During that whole spectacle of insanity I was still able to listen to my downloaded copy just fine. Beyond this initial example there are hordes of new metal sitting in share folders across the digital domains. I have found not only Stoner Kings but other great bands like Twinball, Star Ratz, and Machine Men to name a few. Again, I may have stumbled on those bands through trial and error on other metal sites similar to Maximum Metal, but in just a few hours I was able to download the full albums and really rally behind the band and the release. Of course I can't purchase the albums anywhere right now. The first Star Ratz album isn't available on any website I've seen. Twinball? Not a chance. Machine Men's new album? I can pay Impulse Music $10.99 for a four song teaser of the new album, or I can just continue to play my free copy of the entire record until it becomes readily available for purchase.
This is really the bread and butter of the whole exchange between heavy metal loving paying customer and heavy metal selling proprietor. Why can't two parties work together to deliver one item from one location to another? As easy as this sounds it really isn't. Again, we have the issue of availability. Then selection. So what happens if a site actually has what you are looking for? This is where the proverbial sh@# hits the fan. You could order your CD and have it arrive in mere days. Fat chance but it could happen. Here is what I have had happen. Let's say you order from Metal Merchant in Germany. They have nice selection and decent prices. You are an American. You load up your shopping cart, finalize your order, and receive a confirmation that your order has been shipped. Now comes the tricky part. Metal Merchant must box up your CDs and send them across the German border in route to the US. Germany (and other Euro countries) has a customs department that must open and inspect a vast majority of packages leaving the country. This is where the infamous DELAY happens. Metal Merchant may say shipping is 7-10 days in there eyes. Customs could have your package 60 days before taking the time to inspect it, leaving you with a 70 day wait period for the items you ordered. Metal Mayhem here in the US has taken up to three weeks to send me one CD. After repeated calls and emails I was finally able to have my CD shipped to me. In the meantime the owner of Metal Mayhem banned me from his site and asked me to never order from him again. Pretty nice guy huh? CD Inzane placed an order for me a couple of years ago. They told me they had two brand new releases in stock and ready to ship. A month later CD Inzane was still waiting for those brand new releases to be shipped from their distributor to them. Molten Metal USA and Restless And Wild were decent mail order stores here in the US, but unfortunately they have went out of business.
This isn't necessarily a direct attack on music retail sites online. Troy Cole, a former manager of retail giant FYE for eight years can explain to you the horrors of the retail side of things:
"After several years of trying to pry my way into controlling the inventory for a metal section in my particular store, Corporate always found a way to squash such things. They always have a "vision" of what should sell and that is why they employ buyers. These buyers are responsible to stock stores with product that will sell based on demographics and such and remove product that doesn't sell, not based on being in the stores to supply what people are actually asking for. This is common place for all retail stores with the exception of your local Mom and Pop store that usually will take the time to order stuff that their customers actually want. Even expanding on what a basic retail store carries, I was unable to sufficiently stock or even order titles that were "wanted". If I was able to get one copy of a cd from Locomotive Records I was lucky (our max order limit was 2 if you ordered after the release date) and if we sold that title it took months to get back. Retail chains have this thing called recall in which product that doesnt sell is sent back but thats not always the case. If corporate can get most of its money back on something that doesn't sell (or hasn't sold out yet) no matter how long it has sit on the shelf they will take the opportunity to recover their money. For example, how can I order 6 copies of the Hypocrisy "Virus" CD and have to send the last copy back that didn't sell in a three week period? If anything they should be sending me more. Now on the other hand since there is no return value for the 1993 Infectious Grooves "Sarsippius' Ark" it can sit on the self and rot for 4 years since the last time we sold a copy. That is just retail ethics in a nutshell."
"Now that was basically dealing with new releases when it comes to special orders and re-stocking most of that nightmare is encountered again and more. What also happens are things like EC has pointed out: You order a CD but the store receives the regular version instead of the import version or vice versa. The wrong CD is shipped and you are not aware until you come to pick it up. The CD you ordered was available at the time you placed the order but since so many retailers order from the same distributor the product is actually out of stock when they go to ship it and your order is now on a convenient backorder for up to 6 weeks. Granted you don't encounter these issues all the time but they do happen frequently."
"Retail may not have what you want all the time but you know what is there and what you can actually take home with you instead of having to wait for an invoice to generate what they are shipping or getting an email saying that a particular item was listed online but is currently out of stock. Selection though is usually slim for metal unless it's mainstream stuff, which usually pushes people to the online market."
"Retail is where service should be the best, after all you have a person to actually communicate with. Right? Wrong. Sometimes you might as well be asking my 8 year old son where to find the new Mob Rules CD. Usually the answer is the same "uh, what is that?". 90% of your employees at Best Buy, Wal-mart, Target, Circuit City have no clue or desire to know anything about anything. Don't believe me, I guarantee if you go ask someone at each of these stores if they have "Chinese Democracy" from Guns N Roses one of them will tell you "Yes, we had that but we sold out and are expecting more". That just boils down to people not caring about anything except for what time they leave work and when the next check arrives."
"So you can see how retail also compares to the points EC brings out about availability, selection, and service. The only choice is downloading, it's the only way to get what you want when you want it and most of the time before it even ships out to be sold. So why give yourself a bad case of irritable bowel syndrome dealing with all these possible misfortunes of buying first? If you like it, buy it later when you find it on the shelf or maybe even save yourself some cash finding it second hand."
Obviously downloading isn't helping out the bands or the smaller labels. But until something better is put in place on the retail side of the market, downloading just makes sense to me. Sure a lot of bands have stepped up and decided to just sell the CDs themselves. But is that just as bad as the above examples? I downloaded the new Riot album "Army Of One" a few weeks ago. At that time I could have bought the CD from CD Universe for $35 or CD Japan for $24. That is a rather hefty bill for a Riot album. Now Riot has disclosed (months after the initial Jap release) that they are now selling the new record on their official band site. Being the loyal metal fan that I am I said to myself, "Great. I can buy directly from the band and help out all parties involved". I proceeded to checkout where a disclaimer reads PLEASE ALLOW 4-6 WEEKS FOR DELIVERY. 4-6 weeks!!! Riot is in New York. I am in Virginia. This is a 12 hour drive. I am supposed to pay them through Paypal and wait 4-6 weeks for my CD to arrive? That is simply unacceptable.
In closing, I want to challenge everyone involved in the metal scene to step up and brainstorm for some type of better solution to this problem. How can we help the bands and smaller labels by giving them our money in a justified manner, yet still be treated as an important customer? I ask the online metal mail order stores to get involved, change their customer service methods, and make a change! Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any suggestions, solutions, or plain 'ole gripes about this column.
-Eric Compton& Troy Cole 2.28.07
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