One of my greatest achievements was the time I spent with Goldmine magazine, a music collector’s biweekly publication. From 1995 to 2007, with a one-time return in 2012, I interviewed and talked with various musicians, singers, artists and legends. My time with Goldmine also allowed me to write two record collecting guides, Warman’s American Records 1950-2000 and Warman’s American Records Volume 2 (the “Warman” was a brand name for a vast array of collecting guides).
When I first wrote for Goldmine magazine, things were great. The magazine was owned by Krause Publications, a small company based in Iola, Wisconsin – you can find Iola between two snowbanks on a map – and everything worked out wonderfully. I would pitch ideas to my publisher, who would then tell me to do what I can to interview that person or band, I would finish the interview, round up photographs and articles and whatnot, and it would get published. Eventually those stories turned into cover stories (the band Boston was my first cover story, followed by covers on Manhattan Transfer, Styx, “Weird Al” Yankovic, James Brown, Alan Parsons, the Association, the Drifters …)
During that time period, Krause Publications was an ESOP company – apparently it was owned by the employees, or something like that – and the big boss, Chet Krause, was considered a kind-hearted legend in the publishing world. Can’t go wrong with that.
But at some point in time, Krause was sold to another company, F+W Publications. And that’s when things started to change. And not for the better.
We now go to 2004. Since my first Warman’s guide sold with better than expected results, I was commissioned to work on my second record collector’s guide in the Warman’s series. But with the new commission came a new book monitor. For all intents and purposes, he is listed here as Aaron.
Aaron was part of the F+W stable that joined and acquired Krause. And his knowledge of music and record collecting was … shall we say … lacking. He wanted the collector’s guide to reflect his interests, rather than what I thought the public wanted in an introductory guide.
“Can you put a Bob Dylan collecting chapter in the book?” he asked me.
“Sure,” I said. I mean, there are still people hunting down copies of The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan that had four additional tracks that were removed after the initial first pressing, those are quite collectible –
“Yeah, make it comprehensive. And get me prices for the bootlegs as well.”
Did I hear correctly? You want to put collectible value prices on the bootleg recordings?
Here’s the thing. In the record collecting world, bootleg pressings are an extremely divisive subject. They were not produced as legal issues by record companies, and oftentimes they contain incomplete recordings, unfinished work, or concert performances of dubious or spurious quality. Putting collector prices on bootleg records is like putting a price tag on counterfeit baseball autographs.
But Aaron wanted it.
So we compromised. I created a separate category on bootleg recordings, and it was the one category in the book that didn’t have or offer collector prices. For example, do you really want a price tag on a bootleg called Stampede!, a pressing from the 1979 Cincinnati Who concert? If you did, you were a certain kind of ghoul, weren’t you?
“And give me a chapter on collecting 45’s,” he said.
On collecting 45’s in general?
Why not a category on collecting 78’s?
“Nobody collects those old things any more,” Aaron said.
All right, you get your category on 45’s. But throughout the book, I sprinkled in prices for collectible 78’s, including those during the early years of the rock and roll era – heck, did you know you could still get a 78 pressing of Danny and the Juniors’ “At the Hop” if you looked hard enough?
Oh it got better. In order to write the book, I had to produce dozens of images that would run throughout the book. Many of these images were of rare pressings – in some cases, the only pressing in existence. You know, like “Stormy Weather” by the Five Sharps, a doo-wop record for which only three copies of that brittle disc still exist today?
Well, after I submitted all my text and artwork – and under deadline, mind you – I received an angry call from Aaron.
“The pictures are too small. You didn’t follow our guidelines.”
“I most certainly did,” I replied. “If there’s a problem, let me know and I will re-submit the picture.”
“It’s all of them, they’re too small. They’re supposed to be 300 dots per inch and six inches square.”
We then discovered that he had imported the pictures in such a way that instead of the photos listed as 300 pixels per square inch (which is correct), he imported therm with a different setting from a previous project, which made the pictures appear to have the wrong dimensions, but were in fact accurate.
The book finally came out, and it did look good. I would at least say that for all the struggles I went through with Aaron and F+W, the book still came out with a nice run.
A few months later, I discovered that my work was being recycled for other F+W publications.
Let me explain.
In addition to the big collector’s guides, F+W would print “field guides” – small books that one could take with them to collector’s shows. One of the field guides was dedicated to collecting Elvis Presley recordings and memorabilia.
And when I received a copy of the field guide …
I discovered that several paragraphs of my original chapter on Elvis Presley – including references to determining the age of an Elvis Presley record by studying the stamper numbers in the record’s runout groove – was lifted, word for word, cut and pasted, from my Warman’s guide to the field guide.
In fact, the text that was inserted in the field guide made reference to information that, when placed back in context from my book, would have explained how to read the stamper numbers on Presley’s RCA Victor recordings. But that information didn’t get added to the field guide. Essentially, someone who bought the field guide would have seen “Here’s some more information,” but never received that information.
That was the final straw.
I contacted Aaron and asked what gives.
He immediately e-mailed me a copy of my book contract – with a section circled about how F+W could take any materials submitted by its writers and repurpose them into anything they chose, without remuneration, compensation or accreditation.
In other words, he pulled a “check the fine print, son.”
So I checked my fine print and left the publication – Goldmine, Warman’s, the works. There was no reason for me to continue writing for the company. What was once a wonderful organization with a lot of heart and fun was now a cold, brutal machine that gobbled up magazines and publications and ran them into the ground.
Which is why, earlier this week, I received some surprising news.
F+W Media – the evolution of F+W Publications – filed for bankruptcy this week, citing massive debt. The company also tried to sell off some of its acquisitions to raise capital, but to no avail. The bankruptcy filing listed F+W’s assets at as muchas $100 million, but their liabilities and creditors demanded up to $500 million.
And in those moments, I remembered the way I was treated in 2004. To the point where my love of working for Goldmine turned into a slough. All because of what Aaron and F+W brought to the table.
That’s enough for me.
If you don’t mind, I’m just going to sit back and enjoy a nice heaping helping of this delicious karma. Yum yum.
And if nothing else … I still have copies of my Warman’s guide, and I still see it available for purchase on Amazon and on eBay. So there’s that.
But hearing that F+W is under bankruptcy protection …
That definitely gives me some good vibrations.
Which … by the way … did you know existed on a 78?