The Price of Vinyl

(In which the author shamelessly recycles part of his comment on JC’s original post)

Back in 1980 when I was a student with grant money in my pocket (ah, those were the days), a new release LP would cost between £3 and £4 from boutiques such as Phoenix on Edinburgh’s High Street, or the small Virgin shop on Frederick Street. I still treasure my copies of Siouxsie and the BansheesThe Scream and Joy Division’s Closer, snapped up on release day for the same amount of money as a paperback novel or a couple of pints of beer.

Second-hand rummaging in Greyfriars Market on Forrest Road could net you some classic back catalogue for around £2 a pop. Amongst the bargain gems I unearthed there are four early Can LPs on their original United Artists labels and a 1969 US copy of The Stooges’ first. I recall that Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s Pictures at an Exhibition was competitively priced at just £1, or better still, 6 copies for a fiver. My brother took his copy in to flog, and the guy just pulled open a massive drawer full of them and rolled his eyes.

Today, once I’d managed to find ye olde recorde shoppe somewhere, I wouldn’t be able to walk out of it with a new release vinyl LP until I’d left at least £25 on the counter, or probably more. In relative terms, that’s up to twice as much as I should be paying if the price of LPs had gone up by the average amount of most other consumer goods since 1980. Depending on whose calculator you choose, you should need about £4 to £4.50 today to buy what £1 would have got you 40 years ago.

Those days are gone now, and in the past they must remain (That’s enough of The Corries – Ed), for nowadays, vinyl is a niche product whose pricing dynamics are very different from the good old days. In 1980 vinyl was effectively the only way anyone could buy music, except for cassettes, which everyone knew were shit and strictly for home-taping. Even though sales of vinyl recently exceeded CDs for the first time since 1986, the actual numbers underline how nobody really buys music in physical formats anymore, and that the economies of scale in the record manufacturing business in 1980 most certainly do not apply today. Globally, some 19 million vinyl LPs were sold in the first half of 2021, pipping the 18 million CDs sold, but in 1981 consumers bought more than 1 billion vinyl LPs as well as half a billion singles.

In strict cost and profit margin terms, that still shouldn’t account for the hyper-inflation of vinyl prices today, but the niche product effect means that customers are prepared to pay a premium for the retro cachet of the plastic disc. A large part of the niche is also driven by a collector mentality. Much new vinyl is of ‘special editions’ and colour pressings. Some store owners report that if there are both black and colour versions of the same LP, the colour versions will sell out long before the black ones. Some also blame Record Store Day for fuelling this tendency, as they witness people paying stupid money for some frankly shit music purely because of the limited nature of the release.

These pumped-up prices for new discs have an inflationary effect on second-hand vinyl. Many of the buyers are the same collector/hipster buyers of new vinyl, and at the same time the supply of good used vinyl has shrunk in proportion to the decline of physical music media in general. Edinburgh has very few used vinyl shops any more. Here in New Zealand where I live now it’s the same, and the supply of genuinely worthwhile purchases is limited to say the least. That’s not to say bargains can’t be found – not so long ago I found a factory-sealed original pressing of Simple MindsEmpires and Dance to replace my discarded scratched copy for a mere $20 (£10). You cannot, however, walk into a used record shop these days and find yourself wishing you had more cash.

Record fairs are a different matter, and this is where I think the best shopping can be done. Although the sellers are often wise to the value of their merchandise, they are rarely too greedy and value for money can be had. The selections on offer are also more appealing to the ‘Serious Music Enthusiast’, bypassing the sort of badly mauled pop crud that is largely banished to charity shops. At Wellington’s last record fair I scored the expanded version of Stereolab‘s Margerine Eclipse (three discs) for $30, two Style Council LPs for a combined $35, and a mint copy of Nino Rota‘s Concerto per archi (bear with me, I’m a Serious Music Enthusiast) for just $10. For the first time in years, I am in need of larger record shelving.

I foresee the day when, in my old age, I will liquidate a large part of my collection to fund new hearing aids, or at least when we have to downsize to a small unit in a retirement village that definitely doesn’t have room for a thousand LPs as well as all my books and a commode. I see that some people are currently asking over $500 for that Stooges LP, and Can’s Tago Mago in the daft envelope sleeve might net me $300. PiL’s Metal Box, which I hardly ever play because it’s such a pain to get out of that bloody film can, is good for another $200. Even at a modest estimate, I could easily generate $10,000 from my collection and still keep a sentimental hold on some of my most precious darlings, those records of my youth that I saved lunch money to buy because I just had to make them part of my life. Even though I can listen to it all on Spotify, there’s a tactile and talismanic magic to some of those 12-inch plastic discs that will never be lost to music lovers of my generation.

mp3: The Stooges – 1969
mp3: Can – Paperhouse
mp3: PiL – Albatross

Those of us old enough to have fallen in love with records before the digital era have to acknowledge our own part in creating the collectability of vinyl, but it’s still an irritation that prices have been driven skywards by beardy hipsters in pursuit of the same bogus ‘authenticity’ that they seek in vinegary ‘natural’ wines or fermenting the fuck out of everything they eat. But one day, ONE DAY, by God I’ll make the bastards pay.


8 thoughts on “THE INSANE COST OF SECOND HAND VINYL? (Issue #4)

  1. Fantastic! I thoroughly enjoyed that. A recent conversation – with two that walk these halls – echo the sentiment.

    The bubble of vinyl collecting will burst and it’s likely that all of that ‘must have’ limited edition (same as you already own but with versions you have no interest in) will grace online platforms and record fares etc. at much reduced prices.

    So far I have largely avoided the vinyl collecting phenomenon, although I have bought some choice pieces – which will amount to 8 purchases for myself .

    I disagree with pricing. I detest Record Store Day for the cash-in con it has become and more importantly where would I put it? Even more importantly than that adding to what I have makes me think of the buggery-fuck nightmare of transporting vinyl when moving house.

    Collecting? Investing? I’m in a fortunate enough position that I could afford to do both but… I’ll do neither. Music for me is first and foremost about enjoyment and as a ‘kid’ from a similar era the rip-off nature of vinyl (including new) is a world I don’t wish to be part of. I’d much rather buy digital (shrieks all round) from the band and hopefully put some funds into their coffers for a future release.

  2. Great post
    I was thinking of buying something the other day until the postage took it over £30.
    Time to draw a line in the sand.

  3. Lovely piece. My vinyl collection was always limited by my relative poverty in the 80s, with various items going missing in flat shares in Edinburgh and some unloved LPs flogged when funds hit rock bottom. I’m not a collector or vinyl fetishist, happily, and even my rarer records have probably been played and worn far too much to fetch the hefty Discog prices if I was minded to sell. It is both amusing and baffling these days to see Fopp selling new press classic albums for £25 to hipster teenagers, but I suppose the estates of Curtis, Strummer, Cobain and assorted Ramones are seeing some profits at least.

  4. Boom! Yummy! This hits the nail on the head regarding my angst at the current vinyl bubble. I could overlook stores being packed with new $50 pressings of “Rumours” [rolls eyes] if there were still decent used records there to buy at the normal <$10/disc prices I have been accustomed to over the last 40+ years. But 40 year old material [the only think I really want] is priced scandalously high, and more to the point, singles [12"/7"] – which have formed the bulk of what I've wanted to buy for the last 30 years, are nowhere to be seen!

    They have been removed [along with the CDs which are still my primary listening pleasure format] to make room for the rip-off 180g [thickness makes no qualitative difference in playback] colored vinyl monstrosities that often sound like 40 year old records right from the sleeve! Because most of the people making records now have no idea what they are doing, but the profit is so lucrative that they do it anyway!

    After I started buying CDs in 1985, I still bought vinyl, starting by 1990, but only records that had B-sides/mixes which were not on CD and couldn't be had any other way. THAT has been my music buying focus for half of my life and now it's gone. Where singles have gone to is a mystery, but I've seen it happen in the last decade.

    And that's just availability. The pricing of what they are willing sell you has moved music buying in physical format into luxury status. Driven by the scourge of false scarcity! Records are now an indulgence for the elite, with streaming intended for the plebes. Give us your money. Rent your music, and have nothing in your possession. All entirely symptomatic of the horrors of Late Capitalism as what was once a mass market pleasure , affordable to all, has become the playtoy signifier of the wealthy.

  5. Great post – an enjoyable read, thanks.
    Quick reply specifically on this, quote: “PiL’s Metal Box, which I hardly ever play because it’s such a pain to get out of that bloody film can”.
    Haha 🙂 well yes! I experienced the same, and with the deterioration of the metal case (there seems to be no easy way of restoring it to its former glory) I decided to sell it. This was about 5 years ago – and my only sale of 12″ vinyl in the last few years. It went via eBay for about £80 to a guy in the USA who was very pleased with it. Do I miss it? No – as it became more of a ‘curio’ and if I try, I can still tap into the memories and feelings when I first bought it and played it without the need for the tactile dimension of the aluminium can.

  6. you know… I have a slightly different perspective on all this. At least for me, growing up in the 80s in California, the price of new vinyl has kept pace with inflation remarkably well. Back in 1985 when I first started getting into it, LPs were $10 and 12″ singles were $5. Put that into the inflation calculator and you get $28 and $14 respectively. Your run of the mill release (no a pointless $$ grab reissue (I’m looking at you Rhino)) or a crazy limited edition (a la 3rd Man Vault) but a just normals stuff… goes for about that today. With all the crazy ups and downs it’s remarkably stable. In fact, when I think about the quality, craftsmanship, and bells and whistles it’s pretty remarkable that my new Beyonce album (2 discs, massive gorgeous book, fantastic overall package, not to mention the album is brilliant) was *only* $30.

    Don’t get me wrong, I too can be enraged at the prices I see on the 2nd hand market. I also pine for the days when no one cared about records and the hunt was more about simply finding rather than finding, looking up the edition, checking am I getting screwed here blah blah blah. That’s a whole nother topic. But when it comes to actual new releases of new music.. I find the prices… not bad really.

  7. Great comments folks, thank you! Loved “the buggery-fuck nightmare of transporting vinyl when moving house”. When we moved to NZ I think my wife was secretly appalled that I was taking all my vinyl and that I even bought a new hi-fi to play it with before we left. We only filled a small container with stuff, but at least HALF of it was books and records. Luckily you have to pay people to do the moving so I didn’t have to carry it, but by the time they were done the removal guys were all sweating like a bastard.
    As for singles, they must all have emigrated to NZ with me – Slow Boat Records in Wellington has a whole bank of 7 inch shelves and a few blocks of 12 inchers, particularly soul and funk.
    And finally, Metal Box – arf! I have a whole other piece up my sleeve about daft packaging of LPs through the ages. Watch this space!

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