The vinyl comeback has not been without some growing pains. For all the good that has come of vinyl becoming mainstream, some problems have come to light. We are not talking about backed up vinyl presses and overpriced re-issues, it’s time we address the one of the biggest hurdles facing the industry, especially independent record stores. The used vinyl market is an over inflated, under supplied chaotic mess.
Used vinyl records are the cornerstone of record collecting. Most collection do not start with new LP’s, rather with records handed down from a sibling, salvaged from a thrift store box, or from a record store. Used wax has been the bread and butter more most independent record stores for decades. The reason is simple, properly cared for records almost always increase in value. There is always a waiting market for high quality titles. The record stores especially have always been the hub for this transfer of ownership. With the widest profit margins, used LP’s were a homerun. Many have speculated without the used market, vinyl may have become extinct. For the 15-plus years that saw the rise and fall of the CD, and near death of physical music, used records kept stores in business. This was especially true during the early 90’s when records were being sold pennies on the dollar, with the buyer pleased with their most recent score and the seller satisfied with the free space in their attics. For collectors over the age of 35, or who began collecting at a young age, it’s easy to remember scoring a box full of premium wax for a few bucks at a yard sale or free from our parents’ basements. The market was saturated and the demand was minimal. Value was perceived as minimal. For those collecting, it was an amazing time.
Those days are gone.
The used market has changed drastically over the last decade in three important ways. Availability, price, and value.
Availability is becoming a bigger issue in the used vinyl market. While there are still millions of LP’s just waiting to be found in attics and basements, the supply for good quality records is growing thin. The reason is simple, record collecting is cool again. These records are not changing hands as fast simply because they are becoming part of collection, and people aren’t dumping their records in favor of the next format. Sure, there are still plenty of online outlets and dealers who move mass quantities of used records to stores, but the cherry picking is in full swing. Although frustrating for retailers, it’s great to see people building collections again. These full shelves of vinyl spark conversation, interest, and make collectors out of friends and family who visit the audiophile. It’s preserving the format, and these records are being saved from the dump and mold infested crawl spaces.
The retail cost of used vinyl has also increased since vinyl began its mainstream success. Of course, this goes with any collectables. When demand is high and supply is low, prices are bound to rise. It’s unfortunate but simple economics. It’s easy to understand why prices are increasing. Luckily, most independent stores continue to keep prices as reasonable as possible. However, there are some who are convinced that the bubble will pop any minute and they are trying to suck every dollar out of their used inventory. It’s not uncommon to see identical records, in the same condition, be in the three-dollar bin at one shop and 18 dollars at another. Unfortunately, stores are competing more and more with online retailers, especially Amazons and Discogs. It’s not uncommon to find customers scanning their phones and haggling with record store clerks to match the online price. It’s fair to use these outlets as a gauge for a fair price, but to ask a brick-and-mortar store to match a price, without including shipping and handling, and overlooking the advantage of seeing and touching the LP is not only shortsighted but rude.
The value of used vinyl has gone through the most radical changes. For many collectors, vinyl has been perceived as an investment, as rare properly cared for records continue to go up in cost. While this remains true, many factors have contributed values being changed.
First off, online auction sites and stores have given collectors a vast marketplace. Years ago, the only credible reference were price guides like Goldmine. However, seller friendly outlets such as eBay and Amazon have created marketplace that shows that rare titles may not be more prevalent than previously thought. With more titles coming to the surface, prices tend to fall as titles become more available.
While actual value has changed, what has become more of a headache for collectors and retailer alike is the perceived value of vinyl. One of the curses that came with eBay was the sellers who knew nothing of the vinyl format. While there were some who were unaware of the treasures they had and sold them for peanuts, usually the opposite is true. To this day there are people trying to move Eagles Hotel California and Frampton Comes Alive for hundreds if not thousands of dollars, simply because they believe there is a waiting collectors market ready to take out a second mortgage and buy up their box of dusty Time Life Music collections. Yes, vinyl is back, but that doesn’t make every record chunk of gold.
This has also made it difficult for stores to buy collections from the public. When dad strolls into the record store, he doesn’t understand why the owner isn’t swapping his box of Glen Campbell records for a briefcase full of cash. On more than one occasion we have witnessed owners having to give a crash course in record collecting, the current vinyl market, and basic retail practices before they even agree to look through a collection. It’s frustrating on all sides. Nobody wants to feel like they are getting ripped off, and most stores don’t. This isn’t the fault of the seller. Most are not collectors themselves. With the media declaring “vinyl has found its groove” and “vinyl is hot again,” it’s easy to understand why they think they might be sitting on a fortune.
So, what’s the solution? Time. In time, as vinyl continues its mainstream staying power, these things will even out. People will either move on from collecting or pass away, and the records will find their way to the used bins. What so many ignore is that the vinyl boom has set the stage for a massive used market that is just waiting to hit the shelves! When this happens, prices will plateau (hopefully). Finally, as people learn more about records and collecting, and are tapping in the thousands of on and offline recourses available to them, they will learn more about the perceived and actual value of their collections.
None of us own our collections, we are just keeping them safe for the next owner, whether that be our children or a curious young person who bought their first turntable. That is the beauty of vinyl.