I am 31, I’ve been collecting records for roughly 20 years at this point. I started because, at the time, vinyl had just become an obsolete technology, CD’s and Cassettes were dominant, and people were unloading their records like mad at yard sales and flea markets. You could score solid gold for 50 cents. It was the cheapest and most efficient way to hear the most music. I remember getting a copy of the Clash’s London Calling from a flea market in Valdosta, GA for a quarter. Until I was in college, I don’t think I ever paid anything close to retail for an album and even then it we’re still talking 5 or 6 bucks, not 20 or 40 like some jerks like to charge today. When Good Morning America aired their first “Treasure in your Attic” piece, the prices went up. When hipsters jumped from high tech to low tech, the prices skyrocketed. Did I make some dough from that skyrocketing? Hell yes I did. Has it curbed my collecting? definitely.
Let’s talk about value of records. There is a “real value” and a “perceived value”. Real value applies to something that is scarce that has become expensive. Perceived value applies to something that people think is valuable even though there are enough copies in circulation to shingle a subdivision’s worth of houses. Misfits albums have real value- the press runs on the originals were very very small and mostly the copies wound up in the hands of younger people who didn’t take great care of them or discarded them when they no longer cared about the music. The idea of paying $200 plus for the “Halloween” 7 inch makes me cringe, but that’s actually a pretty fair price considering the low press run on the original copies. Beatles albums have perceived value. Nothing the Beatles ever did was done in a low run (except the “Butcher cover”, the quantities in existence vary by source) and almost everyone had them. What make the Beatles albums’ value high is a combination of a) the popularity and importance of the band and b) the fact that every retail store on Earth KNOWS they can get the premium for a decent copy of any thing they did.
Perceived value’s greatest achievement and red letter day came after Michael Jackson died. Ebay was FLOODED with copies of Thriller for over 100 bucks. There have been 42 million certified copies sold. That means that almost 1/5 of the United States owns or has owned a copy of Thriller. If $200 is fair for a Misfits single that only 1500 of were made, how is $100 fair for a Michael Jackson album that 42 million (minimum) were made? It’s not. Thriller, in best possible condition- sealed, probably has a real value of about 15-20 bucks (about retail for the time), considering that most copies won’t be in best possible sealed condition, we’re probably looking at a max of 3-5 bucks on that sucker. This is perception skewing reality. We’ve been conditioned through a million collector’s fads from Baseball Cards to Comic Books to Autographs to Lunchboxes to believe that when someone dies, the value of their work multiplies 20 fold. It does sometimes, it doesn’t always. Thriller isn’t a Van Gogh, it’s the most common record on Earth to put your hands on, no matter where you live- there are that many copies floating around. If you got caught in the Michael Jackson boom, I hope you didn’t think those scratched copies of Off the Wall and Thriller were going to be a retirement fund.
“Mint” is a cute word that means perfect. Very little is “Mint”, Very little is “Near Mint” for that matter as well. Some one in Goldmine magazine once estimated that only 5 percent of records before 1970 were in “Near Mint” condition. After 10 years in retail and 20 as a collector, I can say I believe that figure. Vinyl is victim to more variables than CDs are. If it’s too hot, they warp or the shrink wrap tightens down too much and screws the corners up, they’re packaged in paper so they can get dented and creased very easily, in shipping the record can move inside its jacket and leave scuffs before it’s even opened and they can break easily and have that not discovered until it’s opened completely.I am of the perspective that Mint doesn’t exist at all. Near Mint DOES exist because the record itself has been opened at some point and condition can be verified. However, the majority will be in the Fine/Very Good/Good category. Some people (total ass hats) scoff at Very Good like it’s beat to death. That’s fine, when one of these jerks does that and puts the disc back,you can generally rest assured- VG/VG+ is in great shape. Probably 7/8 of everything I own falls in this category, that’s likely the same with other collectors as well.
Price Gouging is bullshit. It’s always been and always will be. Every store has been guilty of it at some point to some degree. Unfortunately, even Habitat for Humanity and Goodwill have jumped in on the price gouging free for all. Jacking prices up above book value (I use Goldmine’s guide personally, for punk and metal stuff- most of which is valued NOWHERE- I just use intuition and experience) by more than 20 percent is gouging. The value listed in the guide is for Near Mint. 20% below is VG, by my reckoning. I see 40 and 50% above all the time. Occasionally, I will see 400 to 500% over book. This is a symptom of the Good Morning America specials. This is a symptom of Antiques Roadshow. This is a symptom of younger folks being willing to pay those inflated prices because it’s a “classic” or “vintage” or some other such crap adjective. Gouging is most often created by exaggerating real value and exploiting perceived value. About 10 years ago, I was in Richmond, VA at Plan 9 Records and they had The Dicks “Dicks Hate the Police” for 120 bucks. Perfectly fair price, all things considered. I negotiated carefully and got it for 80. I go to another store in Atlanta, GA 3 years ago and it was priced at 800 bucks. Every detail the same as mine. What happened? The popularity of vinyl jumped through the ceiling and this “classic” punk 7 inch got gouged up to 800 bucks in hopes that some hipster, ironically with a “Rich Daddy”(it’s a song by the Dicks. That’s why it’s ironic, see…aw, never mind), will throw down 8 bills to get a copy to impress his mustachioed, flannel flying, Pabst nursing, emotionally detached/traumatized faux hippie heathen scum buddies. 500 copies didn’t magically disappear from the face of the Earth in 7 years. Not even 100 disappeared. It was all fabricated based on the popularity of the format and the perception that old punk records are extremely rare and even more extremely valuable. It also didn’t hurt that the 7 inch in question is amazingly good.
Vinyl today, new vinyl especially, is a boutique item. The press runs are medium sized- usually 2000-5000 and the prices can ratchet up to 2nd mortgage level within a few months of release. This is, to me, a bizarre phenomenon. I don’t get it. What I do understand is that it’s probably not permanent. Folks who grew up in the 90s will remember the “Death of Superman” comics that were all 50 bucks the day after they came out…yep, not so valuable now. I think that the inflation will die down over time, and get at least to a normal or standardized level. Record Store Day stuff fetches absolutely stupid money on Ebay ON Record Store Day, I mean 5-10 times retail in some cases. The inflation calms down a week or two later in most cases.
I’m going to close this up by telling you this piece of advice- Don’t collect for value. Collect the music you love. Buy yourself a Goldmine guide. Read the front 30 pages, not just the listings in the rest of the book. Don’t pay the inflated prices unless you have to. Remember most of all, this is supposed to be a hobby that’s fun, not a pissing contest to see who’s cooler.
About Billy Metts - Billy Metts is a six-foot tall ape descendant, and someone is trying to drive a bypass through his home.