I’ve read quite a few times about the dramatic revival of vinyl sales within the music industry. Hailed by the media as a kind of Luddite revolution (led by 20-something hipsters already tired of their digital existence) the bare numbers alone are certainly impressive. According to Forbes, while other format like CDs are down, the sale of modern vinyl has actually increased by over 260% since 2009. To put it in perspective, this sets current record sales higher than it was in 1988 when vinyl was just on the brink of decline. Today, spurred on by such a cult following, artists as mainstream as Taylor Swift, the Arctic Monkeys, Mumford and Sons and even Justin Bieber can all claim to have released on vinyl and the trend looks set to continue.
When fields don’t overlap:
Against such a heart-warming tale, I was intrigued to know if the revival had also positively impacted the second-hand and collectable record market as well? Sadly it seems not to have changed things as dramatically as hoped. Perhaps my initial assumption wanted to join dots that actually had little in common with each other. Just as you can’t expect that a person who walks into a car showroom looking for a new Mini or VW Beetle is also considering a vintage original, so too with records. “We personally have not seen much change in prices or interest” remarked Dave Brealey, shop Manager at the Sweet Memories Vinyl Records shop in Portsmouth. “And alot of those younger people buying the new LP albums are not even playing them, it is just for the sake of owning a copy of it.”
Sweet Memories have been trading since 1993 and their clients are now typically in their 30s or 40s. “We do get younger people coming in but all they are interested in really is Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, and the Beatles” says Dave. “Our stock list ranges in genre from the 1950s all the way up to the 1980s but overall our biggest sellers are 1960s and 70s rock.” The trend seems to be a common one within the industry, and to those looking to invest in vinyl its the iconic pop, psychedelic, rock and punk bands where the prices have remained the most secure. Today an original unsigned Beatles LP such as ‘Revolver’ in excellent condition will fetch over £100 with exceptional examples making three to 6 times that. The same prices can also be seen for Led Zeppelin 1 for example. When it comes to later re-releases, dog-eared examples and lesser known artists (all just for listening pleasure rather than investment), then a few pounds is a more realistic expectation.
The record experience:
That vinyl remains the preferred format for these classic albums is not so surprising. As a collector who once had enough 78s to test even the strongest of floor boards, I know that the real enjoyment exists somewhere between the physical participation and auditory rawness. Short of donning your flares and tie-dye, vinyl remains one of the few (legal) ways to get an authentic glimpse into the era at a very minimal cost. Furthermore, listening to a digitally re-mastered download version of ‘God Save the Queen’ by the Sex Pistols, no matter how loud you turn it up, just isn’t very Punk!
Unless you have deep pockets then a good suggestion for new collector investors is actually to think obscure. When you are talking about items made in their hundreds of thousands, the albums that are often worth good money are the ones nobody originally bought. This strategy allows you to explore into other genres such as folk and country and when I looked up past auction results I came across plenty of examples of albums making good money from artists I’d frankly never heard of. Finding baseline values is very easy via the internet or Record Collectors price guide but do check condition carefully. In record terminology ‘VG’ may stand for ‘Very Good’ but actually isn’t very good. Another area to watch for currently is the 1980s and at the Sweet Memories shop they have sold alot more such records in the last two years as children of the 80s hit mid-life and start to buy back the tracks of their youth. When certain artists die there is naturally a public response and the biggest recently was with David Bowie’s death which saw his vintage albums shoot up in price 10 fold. Yet in comparison, when Michael Jackson died the prices remained steady. An untimely death therefore isn’t a sound indicator for value.
Thank you for the music:
Talking to Dave and others I got a sense that the true thrill of record collecting is not always in the records themselves but the musical chase. Its the experience of thumbing through hundreds of records in search of your holy grail or the freedom of being thrown off course by a completely random record sleeve that merely catches your eye. These are experiences that sadly can’t be reproduced online, and it is why the dwindling independent record shops remain so important. The music sold there may offer a glimpse into bygone halcyon days, but the shops and those who run and frequent them are the living and vibrant community that keeps the music industry so alive…… I think I’m off to explore my local record shop now.
Sweet Memories Vinyl can be found online at: http://www.vinylrecords.co.uk