A Modern Vinyl Record Buying/Selling Guide
Less than 10 min. Read
There are hundreds of articles and blog posts out there that provide insight and wisdom on how to buy vinyl records as well as a few on how to sell them, but I wanted to write my own "how to" based on my experiences owning and operating a record store. I also wanted to give the reader a fresh perspective that would reflect the fact that it's the 2020s.
I also thought that as we all are forced to change the way we shop due to SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19 it might be time to give readers some new tools to help them get the best possible vinyl records into their collections, or for when they want to sell their vinyl records.
Let's start with selling vintage vinyl records.
Selling vinyl records is just like selling any commodity in that:
1) Prices fluctuate
The price of vinyl records changes based on many factors. For example, when artists pass away sometimes their records become more collectible and the price goes up. Sometimes an artist will take to Twitter and rant causing their popularity to decrease and the value of their work also decreases.
2) Old does not mean valuable
Let me say that again - old does not equal value. There are some vinyl records out there that were so mass produced or never really made the charts. Even in mint condition, they just aren't worth anything. Now I'm not saying that these records aren't worth spinning or having in your collection. I'm just saying that most record stores like mine have thousands of certain titles because they are so common. They MIGHT sell for a dollar or two each.
Here are some examples:
3) Unless you sell to a collector, you will not get full value
Most people understand that businesses have to make a profit but sometimes forget this fact when it comes to selling items back to a store. Every store has it's own way of calculating how much they pay for records but know this, if a record that you are selling is worth twenty dollars, the store has to sell it for that amount and cannot stay in business unless they buy it for considerably less.
4) The value drastically reduces based on condition
For example, Michael Jackson's Thriller sells for $6 if it's scratched up and skips - and it sells for $60 if it's in "Near Mint" or almost perfect condition. See #2 in the "Buying" section.
5) Find a good source for pricing
This is a tip for both buying and selling records. Just like Kelley Blue Book for automobiles, an authority for attaching value to something is a must. We have found that Discogs.com is a great source to find the value of almost every vinyl record ever made. You can see a sales history of the record as well as what is currently available from sellers around the world.
Now that I've covered selling vintage vinyl, let's take a look at buying vinyl records.
Buying vinyl records is one of the most exciting hobbies I've ever spent time and money on. "Crate digging" (as it's known) is absolutely thrilling when you come across a record (or eight) that you've been wanting forever.
Here are some tips that will help you make the most of your buying experience.
1) Always look at the record to determine if it's scratched
If you're in the store, and unless it's sealed, carefully slide the album out of the dust jacket, hold the edges only and tilt it into the light to look for scratches.
If you are buying online, check the rating of the seller and ask for pictures - no pictures, no sale.
Are scratches a big deal? They can be. For me personally the cartridge (you may have heard it called the needle) on my turntable is a Ortofon 2M Red and I baby it! I clean it every time I play a record (I also clean my records each time I play them - which I'll go into in number 3). I want to get the maximum life out of my cartridge and I want it to deliver the highest quality sound possible, so I don't waste my money or time on a record with a thousand scratches.
*Shameless self promotion
We make sure and inspect every record before we sell them at #AmarillosFunkyLittleRecordStore - we wont sell records that aren't in excellent condition because we want our customers to have the best possible experience when they get their (new to them) vintage vinyl record back home.
2) Learn the grading system
The more you know...Am I right? The grading system set up for vinyl records is designed not only so a collector can determine the value but so they can determine if the record is worthy of being in the collection. Sound snooty? You're damn right! Throughout a persons collecting lifetime, they will spend thousands on records, places to store the records, and equipment to play them on. Being picky about the quality of your collection is a good thing and will only increase the value of your collection over the years.
Here's the grading system:
Mint: Still in the original shrink wrap and obviously un-played
Near Mint: Opened but in the same shape as if it was still sealed
Very Good Plus (VG+): Some signs of play but the previous owner took great care of it
Very Good (VG): Noticeable groove wear and light scratches but the background noise doesn't overpower the music
Good Plus (G+): Can play without skipping but significant noise when playing due to scratches
Good (G): Most likely will skip and hella background noise
Fair: Just don't unless you want to hang it on the wall because the cover is cool
3) Make sure the vinyl record(s) you buy are clean
Why is clean vinyl important? Of course you're going to clean it (them) when you get home - - you are going to clean them,right? - - but clean vinyl in the store means several things.
First, it's easier to identify scratches that can cause pops and skips but also, it indicates that the seller is taking good care of their inventory prior to your purchase. If the record is more dust than vinyl I would recommend passing on it unless it's an absolute must buy after years of searching.
4) Find a good source for pricing
See #5 above in the "Selling" section
I could write (and may later) an entire blog just on the different pressings for each album. I'll try to keep this short however.
Vinyl records (especially vintage vinyl) were pressed at different times as well as in different pressing plants. One release could have hundreds of different pressings throughout the years. First pressings are sought after by collectors not only because they came first but because they often sound better (or at least they sound the way the collector likes to hear the artist). But just because it's the first pressing, doesn't mean it's always the most valuable. Some records are more valuable as a reissue (they might have been remastered or pressed using heavier vinyl). Some records have different collectible attributes like cover art variations for example.
The best way to determine if the vinyl record you are looking at is a first pressing or a reissue is to look up the catalog number on a site such as Discogs.com. It is often located on the cover spine as well as printed on the inner circle label on the record. There is also a Matrix / Runout number etched into the vinyl itself located in the space between the grooves and the label.
For example, here is one of my Led Zeppelin records.
From this slightly blurry photo, you can see that my Zeppelin album has a Matrix number of ST-A-712285-SP printed on the label and etched into the record. A quick search on Discogs.com reveals that it's a reissue from 1977 and since its in Near Mint condition, sells for around $30.
6) Where's the best place to buy?
It's so easy to buy online but I want to make the case for your local record store if you will allow me to.
Your local record store is not just a store, it's a destination. It's a place where you can hang out, has a great vibe and you can meet other collectors. But more than that, your local record store is feeding a family. It's not providing some CEO with a second vacation home, it's taking care of the essentials for a family somewhere (or at the very least it's taking care of an old hippie dude).
We live in uncertain times and things are changing rapidly as far as shopping at "brick and mortar" stores.
Might I suggest the following:
1) Find a record store that is following the current guidelines, keeps things clean and is setup for social distancing. I don't want to get political here but I think "better safe than sorry" is absolutely a best practice.
2) Work with that local record store and find out if they offer ways that you can shop with them online.
*Shameless self promotion
We are currently doing monthly Facebook Live sales over on our page and we have a blast with our customers.
So where should you buy? You should Google "Record store near me", grab your mask, and head over to your local record store for some crate digging fun.
Amazon has enough money.
Thanks for reading.