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Selling your classical LP's

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   International Classical Record Collector Winter 1998
   Selling your classical LPs
   A dealer's-eye view of the market by Leslie Gerber

I am sorry to do this, but I have to start off with bad news. If you have a large collection of classical LP records, it is probably worth less money than it was five years ago ­ perhaps a great deal less. And its value will probably continue to decline. This does not mean you should throw your old LPs out ­ as so many people tell me they have, usually "just last year". But most sellers have such unrealistic expectations of what their old records are worth that, when I encounter uninformed vendors, I have to begin my approach to them by explaining the record market in some detail. In the future I hope I can save time by handing them this article.

Anyone who knew the history of records must have been aware that the value of LPs would change simply by observing what happened to 78rpm discs. Within half a decade of the introduction of the LP, the 78 became virtually obsolete in classical music. The new medium was so obviously superior in its convenience and continuity that relatively few music-lovers resisted converting. By 1955, hardly anyone was producing classical music on 78s. The market for older 78s began to diverge quickly. Records that people had been buying ­ new or used ­ just to hear a piece of music became almost worthless, but the minority of 78s that had already been collectors' items when the medium became obsolete began to accelerate in value. That process, in general, has continued to the present day. While more marginal 'collectors' items' have fallen by the wayside, truly rare and valuable items have continued to appreciate in value.

The CD is now a decade and a half old. Ignoring the opinions of some critics and writers about the relative sound quality of CD vs LP ­ an issue I do not intend to engage ­ the great majority of the music-buying public in all fields has embraced the new medium with enthusiasm. Despite the small number of new LP issues and the cries of 'audiophiles', the LP is now thoroughly obsolete.

As recently as ten years ago, with the CD already well established, many people were still buying LPs for a variety of reasons: they were cheaper; the buyers had not yet bought CD players; and they preferred LPs because they liked the sound, or even the cover art. What this meant to my business was that, when I bought an LP collection, I could count on selling nearly everything in the collection for at least something. Alas, this is no longer true and, as a result, the price I can offer for LP collections has steadily decreased.

One of the reasons why I have been forced to offer less is that when records fail to sell through my mail order catalogues at my minimum price ($6.00 per single LP, $5.00 per LP in multi-record sets) I have to 'take them to the store'. I have a record concession at a large local second-hand book store, where I keep about 5,000 LPs on display, selling at two LPs for $2.25 or $2.25 per boxed set of any size (recently we sold someone an 18-LP set of Wagner's Ring cycle, with hardbound libretto, for $2.25). The owner of the store gets $1.00 out of every $2.25, which means that I realize 62 1/2 cents per single LP sold and even less for sets. I cannot leave the same records on display for ever, since we always have new ones to bring in and a lack of turnover would discourage the customers, so I remove records that do not sell after four or five months. We sell anything from half to two-thirds of the records we offer but the rest have to be given away. I should mention that all the records I take to the store are in good condition; damaged items are given away. You may wonder if my 90 per cent price cut on LPs sold through the store makes economic sense, but I have long since discovered that selling records through my catalogues for less than my minimum price makes no sense at all. It simply is not worth the trouble.


   A flea in the ear

Several months ago I was speaking to the owner of a large used record store. I mentioned to him my backlog of unsold 'store' records and how I was having trouble finding places to give them away without making great efforts. He invited me to bring a load of them to his shop, where he said I would get 35 cents per record in trade credit. Since he always has interesting records in stock, I agreed to make the 300-mile round trip. After I arrived at his store, however, he turned me over to his classical LP buyer, who began sorting through the material. When he was done, he had weeded the 1,500 LPs I had brought down to 600, for which he offered me $100. When I asked what I was supposed to do with the remaining records, he said the store gave records like that to someone who called every week for giveaways and sold them at flea markets. Rather than repack all those LPs, I left them. These worthless records are not what I would consider bad records. Most of them are not off-brand LPs by obscure orchestras. They are perfectly respectable recordings of fine music. But for a variety of reasons, they are not collectable.

 


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