Are records really worth the “Median price” on the world’s biggest record selling platform: Discogs?
Based purely on the stories they tell, most record collectors sit firmly in the world’s five or so leading experts in the field. We all have tales of finding things at half their real value, and most collectors will swear blind most of their collection was acquired in this way, with their paying over the odds in only one or two exceptional, justifiable, occasions.
But what happens when we tell a collector to go out specifically to find bargains in record shops, and sell them online? What would the unfiltered, real life result be?
Are we right to rely on that magic “Discogs Median Price” as a proxy for “the correct price”?
For the uninitiated, Discogs, the world’s most popular platform for selling vinyl records, stores data of the ten most recent sales of every pressing of every record. On the face of it, this is a highly accurate way to assess value.
And it is, except that not all vinyl is the same.
The biggest variable when it comes to the value of second hand vinyl records is their condition – how scratched, dog-eared, water damaged or otherwise they are. And Discogs doesn’t separate the Median price of vinyl in “Good” condition from that in “Near Mint” condition.
That means the “Median Price” will depend heavily on the condition of the last ten items sold on Discogs. If they were all in Mint condition, the Median Price will be higher than if they were all in “Good” or “Fair” condition. (NB in record collecting land, “Fair” is a euphemism for “absolutely dreadful”).
As a rule, the value of a record in VG+ condition is 80% that of a record in Mint condition, and a VG record is worth half that of a VG+ copy.
And what about those where the sleeve is “Good” and the vinyl “Very Good Plus”? Or vice versa?
Helpfully, members of Discogs can look at the last ten transactions to check the condition of each. It does, though, mean the “Median” price needs a careful look.
As one of the aforementioned self-proclaimed experts, I was going to test the prices on eBay. I would also use eBay’s own algorithm, which tells you the starting price that “other users” had set, in order to achieve the best price.
Spoiler alert: eBay’s algorithm is not perfect either.
I spent a few weeks searching around a number of record shops. This was before Covid-19, before you ask. Nothing more unseemly than my being a super spreader in the name of profit.
I set a few rules, the main one being I wouldn’t use my phone to check prices, as it feels a bit rude. I would test my own ability to sniff out a good deal. I found the following records:
David Bowie: The Rise & Fall of Ziggy Stardust… Price paid £4. This was notable because although only in VG condition (ie you could hear a few crackles and pops when played) it had no “Mainman” credit on the rear sleeve, which is how you can tell the earliest pressings. Median price on Discogs: £37. (lowest £11).
Neil Young: On The Beach. Price paid £10. This was a German pressing and had the “garden furniture” pattern in the inside of the sleeve, which denotes an original pressing. This was cheaper than I had ever seen it. Discogs median price £26.
Neil Young – Ragged Glory. Price paid: £10. A nineties release which is quite rare, and with a median Discogs price of £35.
I moved on to a specialist subject of mine – heavy rock.
Motörhead – Overkill, Italian pressing. This was in very nice condition. With Lemmy’s passing a few years back I rather cynically thought this might lead to a spike in interest. Price paid £10. Median price £13.
Slayer – Reign In Blood. Original U.K. pressing. Price paid £10. Again, in very nice condition. Discogs median £40.
Slayer – Hell Awaits. Price paid £10. Discogs median £24.
Ozzy Osbourne – Blizzard of Oz. Price paid £10. Was in absolutely fantastic condition and had a poster inside. Discogs median £27. I bought this because it was in such great (almost mint) condition, and had the poster. It was in a box marked “New In”.
Along with the “Everything Half Price” sign outside Itsu half an hour before they close, there are few signs more magical and alluring than the one that proclaims “New In” when attached to a box of records in a second hand record shop.
U2 – Achtung Baby. Price paid £5. Discogs median £30. U2 aren’t so popular nowadays, but this album remains a classic and most people bought it on cassette or on the new-fangled CD.
Motown Chartbusters – various artists. Price paid £2. Lovely condition. Maybe worth trying very cheap records? Discogs median £3.
Pixies – Surfer Rosa – Original pressing. Price paid £10. One or two marks on it. Discogs median price £25. A bit niche, but it looked rare.
Brian Eno – Here Come The Warm Jets – new pressing. Bought in Rough trade for £9.99. Discogs median price £16. Worth trying new vinyl.
Talk Talk – The Colour of Spring. Price paid £10. Nice condition. Discogs median price £17. Another slightly cynical cash-in after the passing of Mark Hollis. Talk Talk are being re-assessed and having seen the record on sale for £20 and £30 at record fairs, this looked to be a good price.
All in all, I had paid £101, and if the Discogs Median prices were to be believed, I had made an instant paper profit of £163 – the median value on Discogs was £263.
Perhaps it was possible to make money selling records after all?
I invested in some decent record mailers for just over a pound a pop, and charged just enough so postage and packaging would pay for itself.
We’ll find out what happened in the next post….