When Maria Ellicott finally got her hands on a copy of The Artist Formerly
Known As Prince's multi-CD Crystal Ball album, she was standing in
line at a retail counter rather than at her doorstep opening a mail-order
package as she had expected.
Having waited more than six months for the arrival of a Federal Express
package containing the set and a T-shirt, Ellicott decided that she'd be better off
looking for The Artist's latest offering at a local record store -- where
she found the set immediately for $10 less.
"A lot of fans feel alienated by The Artist's actions," Ellicott, 25, said
Tuesday by phone from Washington, D.C. "And I can understand where they're
The Artist first announced that he would be releasing a three-CD set of
previously bootlegged material entitled Crystal Ball in late 1996.
He began taking orders for it through his 1-800-NEW-FUNK mail-order
organization last May, and later sold the set through his "Love 4 One
While many fans at first viewed the idea favorably as a way to get music
directly to supporters, many became upset when the release date was
repeatedly delayed. Others have since reported unsatisfactory service from
1-800-NEW-FUNK, including lost or doubled orders, incorrect information and
rude operators. Still more expressed dissatisfaction when the album --
originally billed as a mail-order exclusive -- began turning up in retail stores last
month, long before some mail-order customers received their copies.
Compounding the frustration among ardent fans was a recent cease-and-desist
letter sent from The Artist's attorney to a number of unofficial websites,
demanding that the webmasters remove copyrighted material (including
sounds, lyrics and photos) from their pages.
"Since the Crystal Ball fiasco and this [cease-and-desist letter]
was sent, this has left me reluctant to support his enterprises in any
way," said Russell McBee, 34, of Knoxville, Tenn., who was charged for
Crystal Ball even after he canceled his order. "At this point, I'm
finding it difficult to listen to any of his music at all. I feel personally slapped by
Operators at 1-800-NEW-FUNK said the organization's spokeswoman was out
of the country and unavailable to answer questions until next week. Londell
McMillan, The Artist's attorney, did not respond by press time to an
inquiry about service and distribution for Crystal Ball.
Meanwhile, 22-year-old Erika Groff, who encountered difficulties
when she tried to order more than one Crystal Ball set recently
drafted an Internet petition to express her concerns to The Artist.
The appeal -- which raises questions about the unreliability
of 1-800-NEW-FUNK, among other issues -- has garnered more than 400
"I really hope that [The Artist] sees that so many of his real, die-hard
fans have signed this and they really want things changed," said Groff, who
lives in Northville, Mich. "I hope he'll decide to look into how his business is
One person not holding out hope, however, is McBee. "I can't see defending
[The Artist's] weirdness anymore," he said. "He almost makes Michael Jackson
Some fans, apparently frustrated by The Artist's mail-order operation, are
taking their business away from the former Prince's direct services and back to
traditional music stores. Don Ford, an assistant manager at San Francisco's
Blockbuster Music, said he has sold more copies of Crystal Ball than he
expected, in part because some people are canceling their Internet orders.
"One person said he was buying it here because the price was lower than he
could get it on the Internet," Ford said. "And I heard one other guy talking about
how he didn't want to print out the liner notes," which only come with the retail
version of the album.
Still, other fans said they hope that the controversy surrounding Crystal
Ball and The Artist's cease-and-desist order will be resolved. "We've had
plenty of controversies with Prince," said Charles Battle, 35, of Las
Vegas, who received a copy of the cease-and-desist letter and who helped
Groff draft the petition. Battle still has not received the Crystal Ball set
that he ordered last May, although he said his previous experiences with 1-800-
NEW-FUNK have been positive. "I think this'll blow over and [fans] will be back
into getting his music for the most part."