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Spotify, YouTube partner Merchbar accused of stiffing artists and fans

San Francisco-based online music merchandise marketplace Merchbar has been accused of failing to pay for or ship hundreds of thousands of dollars in merchandise.

Both Spotify and YouTube have deals with Merchbar that allow some artists and merch companies to sell goods on their platforms. Last year, Spotify added sales via Shopify, but Merchbar remained an official partner.

The bad news first came from Australia, where two merch companies, Sound Merch and Love Police ATM, a division of global media powerhouse Mushroom Group, claim to be collectively owed more than $250,000 from Merchbar for more than six months, according to local trade publication The Music Network.

Hypebot has confirmed that others are allegedly having similar problems with Merchbar.

“Soundmerch is a small Australian business of twenty-five employees,” said Sound Merch director Tim Everist. “This is a massive loss to our business – most don’t recover after a hit like this. We have covered the merch losses incurred by our bands and paid them accordingly. Now Soundmerch shoulders the debt owed to us from Merchbar.”

Fans are victims too

Merchbar is supposed to handle fulfillment for most orders, but hundreds of negative reviews point to partial shipments, no shipments, and unresponsive customer service.

3376 consumers give Merchbar an average 1.5 rating out of 5 stars on TrustPilot, and 254 on also rate it at 1.5 out of 5.

One disgruntled fan wrote to Better Business Bureau: “I ordered 2 vinyl records from this business, one last year, and I still have not received the product or a refund after many attempts to reach them by email and phone. I currently have a third order that *** asked to cancel. All three payments from me went through using PayPal, but again I never got vinyl records.”

Merchbar Counder & CEO on indefinite leave of absence

Merchbar has not responded to a Hypebot’s direct requests for comment and told TMM in a statement only that “…due to the strict and mutual confidentiality provisions within our partnership agreements and the lack of specificity in your claims, Merchbar is unable to comment on the status of our relationship with any parties as well as the below allegations other than to say that they are not accurate.”

Adding to the confusion, Merchbar Founder and CEO Ed Afton is now on an indefinite leave of absence. One of Hypebot’s emails to the company was answered with this auto-reply from Afton: “I am currently taking a leave of absence from Merchbar and do not have an estimated date of return.”

Hypebot will continue to follow this story and its effect on artists and fans.

Bruce Houghton is the Founder and Editor of Hypebot, a Senior Advisor at Bandsintown, President of the Skyline Artists Agency, and a Berklee College Of Music professor.

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