It’s now difficult even to imagine, but before the world locked down and self-isolated and you could still meet up with other people (ah, remember those halcyon days?), priorities went beyond ensuring we had enough toilet roll and pasta. We would talk about buying luxury items such as chocolate and toothpaste, would think about whether the own-brand pasta would be a suitable replacement for De Cecco’s more expensive, but undoubtedly better tasting, brand and, of course, we would also talk of buying and (gasp!) selling records.
Just a few weeks ago the conversation turned, as it often does, to war stories of purchases of records from second hand record shops. My friend Chris is inordinately proud of finding a copy of Keane’s “Under the Iron Sea” for a mere £10 in a charity shop.
“And you are pleased despite it being a Keane album?” I asked, when he first told me.
A bit mean, I know. I wasn’t being serious.
He’d found, the way he tells it, several hens teeth and the odd unicorn in his travels, but never before a copy of this particular slab of vinyl, which regularly fetches upwards of £100 on Discogs.
In return I was fascinating (and I use the word incorrectly) him with how I found an impossibly rare copy of Cher’s 3614 Jackson Highway (just 24 copies registered on Discogs) for just £8. We were entertaining ourselves for a good couple of hours with such talk.
I know, we’re irresistible.
Chris was gaining in confidence. “I’m getting really good at sniffing out bargains” he ventured. “I reckon if either of us lost our jobs we could probably make ends meet by trawling through record shops”.
I looked at him askance, if that’s the right word.
“I’m not entirely sure the world’s record shops contain enough mis-priced vinyl to keep us in the manner to which we have become accustomed..” I countered “…I mean, you eat a lot of those Choco Leibniz biscuits, and I know they don’t come cheap”.
Perhaps a bit rude, but you have to kick the tyres of some of the stuff he comes out with.
Ah, Choco Leibniz. Delicious, but so expensive. When people started panic buying there were still boxes of the things left on the shelf. Supermarkets were filling other shelves with Choco Leibniz just to make it look like they still had food on the shelves and still no-one was buying them at full price. You could probably never get into such a panic that you would buy those biscuits if they weren’t on special offer. Even zombies, mid apocalypse, would leave them on the shelf, and select a less expensive brand.
It’s an odd thing, though, getting back to the records conversation for a moment. If you were to believe every word of this, and I suspect, thousands of similar conversations like it, in which record collectors brag about how cheaply they obtained each of their apparently priceless artefacts, you would assume the world’s record shops are littered with underpriced vinyl, and run by naive, careless owners either with little inclination to check their prices, or without so much as a dial up internet connection.
The most immediate thought an untrained observer might have, aside from a feeling of severe tedium, is that buying records is child’s play. We should all give up our day jobs and use our expertise wandering around record shops, buying records and selling them online to mug punters.
Which is odd, because the experience of actually digging around record fairs and shops seems quite different in practice. I routinely see records in worse shape than members of The Libertines, all marked up at double the price anyone except the most out of touch member of the House of Lords might reasonably expect. Pricing is all over the shop. Just a couple of weeks ago I saw identical copies of a Jeff Buckley record priced at £40 at one shop and £200 at another. Perhaps people only ever sell/buy records when they are cheap?
I looked at Chris sceptically. “I’m not sure anyone is getting wealthy from selling vinyl”.
“I still think we’d do okay” he countered.
“Better than if you just splashed out at the bookies?” Chris’ other passion / obsession is horse-racing.
We thought about this for a while.
“There’s less downside with records – it would be hard to lose a lot of money selling records if you know what you’re doing.” he considered.
“The thing is, I have a friend who invests in stock markets and, because it used to be his job, he Is an expert and can actually make a living from it. But going around record shops?” I felt sceptical. “You need to buy whole collections directly to make money. And who wants to do that unless you have a shop to gradually shift all the stuff you can’t sell quickly?”
I was picturing my family’s look of horror as I filled our house with Paul Young and Saturday Night Fever albums. Any reasonable and impartial magistrate would surely view the dumping of a job lot of vinyl in the front room as extreme provocation, if not actual grounds for divorce. And timing is everything. If I had filled the house with boxes of vinyl just as we had three months of lock-down, I can only imagine the passive-aggressive hostility the whole family would throw my way.
And there was the nub. Can anyone really make decent money buying records in such a well-informed, transparent market?
There was only one way to find out.
“I reckon you’d make more money at the Cheltenham festival than selling records. But let’s put it to the test. I’ll spend a few weeks buying up records that might be worth selling online. You go to the Cheltenham festival and “invest” a similar amount of money. And we’ll ask Henry (my friend who invests in the stock market) to use his expertise to put his money to work”
Chris looked intrigued, and possibly excited about having an excuse to put money on some horses.
“We’ll set a deadline for the end of the Cheltenham festival and see how we all did. Keep it to £100 each, and come back with our earnings”.
And we did exactly that.
And then Coronavirus happened.
The world changed very quickly, and this is now a time when we are less able to travel to record shops. However, for those who may want to sell one or two items to either make room in the house to prevent family members tripping over one another, or even, God forbid, to bring in some money, you might learn a thing or two from what I did wrong, (and right).
In the next article, we’ll see how we all did, and whether selling records online is all it is cracked up to be…