A couple months ago, you might have seen me writing about Ben Folds releasing an audiophile version of his recent album, Way To Normal, to fanclub members, and if you joined before this week, you too could get a copy. Well, I fell for that wording too and joined – read my piece and you’ll see that I wrote that it was for fanclub members. WRONG. It’s in stores, today, right now . . . if they’re carrying it, of course, but the fact remains that you, anyone, can buy it, meaning it’s not exclusive to fanclub members, but that’s sure how the missive on Folds’ myspace page felt. I’m not interested in fanclubs, t-shirts, or exclusive access to tickets. I just want the damned music.
And, you know, you can choose to go “Ah, well, woe is me, I didn’t think this one through,” because, well, technically, nowhere on the page did they say “exclusive.” But, then again, nowhere on the page did they say “available in stores February 10,” either. It’s deceptive, and it’s intentional, and that’s gross. So I chose the other route. I bitched. I wrote an email, a strongly worded email, and said I wanted my money back (leaving out the “you bitch” part from Ben Folds Five’s “Song For The Dumped.”) I really didn’t expect much – I figured I’d get an infuriatingly nicey-nice email stating how great the fanclub was, and that it was too late to refund my money because the membership packets, with the CDs inside, had just been sent out, or an infuriatingly snide response – such as when I complained about Andy Partridge of XTC releasing a box with all 8 of the Fuzzy Warbles at a far lower price than they were separately, but because I bought them separately, I bought a “partial box” with the last parts of it, which was technically cheaper, but still brought the total price for all discs and box to house them to a ridiculously high price (the box should have been free to those who bought the whole set, and it wasn’t.)
I got a response fairly quickly – they’d refund my money. Nice. Good. (But they did want to remind me that Ben would be signing each and every copy sent to fanclub members. That’s okay – I’m not an autograph collector. Refund please.) Is this a sign of the times? Are artists doing dishonest things to their fans because of the economy? Die-hard fans are notoriously forgiving, but duping others into excessive purchases can backfire in a big way – this could very well have put me off of Ben Folds all together. I’m not saying that I’m a fair-weather fan. I’m saying that I’m not a huge fan, but if I listen, I want to hear the best version of an album that I can, and that is what I opted in to the fanclub for. But because I’m not a die-hard fan, and this music doesn’t mean the world to me, a situation like this could very well simply turn me away all together. Is that worth it to Folds and his fanclub? Maybe not for me, one simple fan, but how many others are feeling duped, too? How many others will approach his music with a bad taste in their mouths because of this, and slowly drift away, not purchasing anything more of his? And what about the impact it has on other “exclusive” releases by other artists? Does it make buyers wary to believe they truly are exclusive? These are things that artists, especially smaller acts, need to think about today, when they absolutely need to build a strong, loyal fanbase. Because ticking off a few fans here and there may seem like a small thing right now, but it may just destroy the ability to build me into a big fan later on.