4 things I’ve learned as a newbie vinyl collector

Everyone loves this album - everyone except your local record store.
Everyone loves this album – everyone except your local record store when you try to sell it to them.

Diving head first into the vinyl collector’s rabbit hole has been a lot of fun.

My first records were vinyl, so when I started my new collection, I though I knew everything I needed to know about it all.

But there’s a lot I’ve learned. Here’s a few points I’ll share.

(1) THAT PATCH AT THE END OF THE RECORD MEANS SOMETHING: I always thought that the end of a record was, well, just the end of the groove. A signal, if you will, communicating with the record player’s arm and needle.

But it’s called a runout, and among other things, it has information about the record you’ve bought. Some records can have dozens of different pressings, original issues and reissues, and the information in the runout can help identify which one you have.

I learned this when I started to catalog my collection on Discogs, and saw how some popular records had many versions listed. This Wikipedia article explains it in more depth (and in some technical terms).

There are other similar collector-specific pieces that tell something about an album. Japanese LPs and CDs have something called an OBI – it’s the wrapping around the product itself, an informational piece of paper, and most collectors want their purchases to come with the OBI.

(2) SUPPLY AND DEMAND ECONOMICS ARE A BIG DEAL: I kinda figured that buying albums would be a lot like it was in the 80s, and most records would be about the same price.

But supply and demand, as well as condition, play a big role in secondhand markets.

I’ve probably witnessed at least a half dozen interactions in various record stores, where someone who brought their albums in to sell to the store is wondering why the store won’t buy them, or why they are only paying a quarter or fifty cents for the album.

Yes, you might have a reasonably well-cared-for copy of, say, Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours. You and EVERYONE ELSE IN NORTH AMERICA bought that record. Don’t get me wrong – I love the Mac, I love that album, but it’s one where the store probably already has ten copies on hand.

The less plentiful a record is, the more valuable it will be on the resale market. That’s why old jazz and soul records, as well as more recent new wave and indie records made in the late 80s and 90s, when cassettes and CDs were taking over the market, fetch high prices these days.

(Though I’m not really into the 78 market, the same concepts apply. Most collectors want limited editions and regional records, especially soul and jazz. They don’t want the same Kay Kyser 78 that everyone’s great gramma also has in a book with other 78s in their attic.)

I have some pretty quirky, esoteric music tastes, and I’ve experienced both ends of the spectrum here. I’ve been lucky to pay as little as fifty cents or a dollar for LPs of artists I’ve really loved, either because they were super-popular OR because almost no one had heard of them.

But I’ve also seen some of my 90s indie favorites and Britpop bands command over $200 for an album on the resale market. A used album, mind you (though at that price, they’re always in excellent condition). The sword cuts both ways, kiddo.

It’s an important thing to keep in mind to set realistic expectations if you’re buying records or trying to sell them.

And yo, this concept also applies if you’re trying to pawn off that box of albums in your basement to your vinyl-collecting friend. Don’t be offended if they sort through what you have and only pick out a few. Especially if you were one of those assholes people who never took care of your records! We’re not playing anything on our systems if it looks like you let your cat breakdance on your copy of Louder Than Bombs.

(3) THERE’S A LOT OF PLACES TO LOOK FOR VINYL. In addition to places like Discogs and eBay, and brick-and-mortar record stores, there’s a fair number of places to check out.

Thrift stores often have them in stock, though they may not always be in great condition if they’re found there. Antique stores and antique malls often have them, too.

Garage sales can also be a great place to score records, though if you’re looking for the more rare, collectible ones, you’d probably have better luck at an estate sale.

Some of these places are really for the serious collector only. I don’t have the kind of competitive spirit for estate sales, so I’m not falling into that particular rabbit hole.

I’ve paid a pretty penny for things I really wanted, but some of my most treasured finds are the cheapo finds. That’s part of the fun – how little can I spend for this thing on my Want List?

(4) RECORD STORES ARE FUN AND QUIRKY: For me, they’re a lot of fun. Searching through stacks of records is relaxing for me.

Most of them are also, quite frankly, a bit messy. If I had OCD, almost all of them would trigger me into cleaning and reorganizing them.

I’m almost positive I have to buy a surgical scrub mask soon to keep shopping through the winter season. The mold from albums that have sat in a basement for 30 years? That ish is triggering my allergies like you wouldn’t believe.

And, well, the people who run the stores are always an interesting bunch. Many of them are collectors themselves, and I’ve learned something from almost every one of them.

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