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
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.
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.