- Are vinyl records worth anything?
- How supply and demand affect vinyl records’ value
- How the pressing/edition determines a vinyl record’s value
- How a record’s condition determines its value
- Finding and grading your records using Discogs
- Selling your record collection to a dealer
- How much are vinyl records worth – conclusion
Is the spray from the clear blue sea landing in the cocktail you’re sipping on the deck of your new yacht, as the Monaco coastline whizzes by?
And all because you sold your old record collection that had been gathering dust in your loft for years and years?
I suppose this is at least theoretically possible, much in the same way that people appear on TV antiques programmes with an old old vase which turns out to be worth thousands. However, this is an unlikely outcome.
So how much are vinyl records worth?
Are vinyl records worth anything?
People often wonder if their old record collection is worth any money. If you’re reading this, you’re probably one of them.
If record dealers received £1 for every time somebody tells them they’ve got a load of old rare records in the loft, it would be the record dealers circling Monaco, sipping cocktails on their yacht.
“There are old Beatles records from the 1960s, and everything!”
It’s a common preconception that ‘old’ records must be valuable on account of simply being old. But age doesn’t really play a role. It’s usually some other factor which makes a record rare and collectible, and therefore valuable – or not. Some ‘old records’ are virtually worthless.
To be blunt, if you’re asking yourself what your old record collection in your loft is worth, the chances are that isn’t worth much at all. People whose record collections are worth something are generally aware of the fact. They also store their records properly, rather than sticking them in a dusty loft or musty garage.
And especially if you’ve inherited a deceased relative’s collection, amassed decades ago, it’s quite likely to comprise commonly available mass-market titles. It’s also quite likely they were not properly cared for.
How supply and demand affect vinyl records’ value
How much vinyl records are worth depends on supply and demand.
The greater the demand, the higher the price. And conversely, the greater the supply, the lower the price.
Ever wondered why you’re always pretty much guaranteed to find certain records in secondhand shops or at record fairs, and at pocket money prices at that?
Vinyl’s heyday was the 1970s and 1980s. Vinyl records were the predominant means of listening to pre-recorded music in the home, and virtually all households had a record player. Some of the big-selling titles from that era sold millions of copies. As a result, there are more used copies hanging about, including plenty in totally acceptable, even if not absolutely perfect, condition.
But as vinyl started falling out of favour in the 1980s and into the 1990s, many people offloaded their record collections and replaced them with CDs. (Why?! – did they also sell their children when they got bored of them?!) Suddenly, the nation’s secondhand record shops filled up with the titles that people with record collections commonly owned. Think Dark Side of the Moon, Rumours, stuff by Led Zeppelin, and among more mainstream listeners Phil Collins albums etc.
Now that CDs have in turn passed their peak popularity, these same titles are now filling charity shops on CD, and people are buying them on vinyl again. (OK, maybe not so much Phil Collins.)
When vinyl presumably peaks and declines again, the top-selling releases by today’s contemporary artists will in turn be the ones cluttering up the racks of every secondhand shop in the country.
So we can see that the relationship between supply and demand is symbiotic. One affects the other. Accordingly, just because you’ve got a load of records doesn’t mean to say that anyone would want to buy them. (Would you want to buy them if you didn’t already have them?)
Rock, metal, punk and indie/alternative are genres where there’s a lot of demand. There are enough people into these types of music who want to fill the gaps in their collections and/or buy rare or unusual items by their favourite artists.
Although not quite as numerous, there are also plenty of classical music buffs and aficionados of reggae, soul or jazz who are on the lookout for hard-to-find items.
For some other genres, notably easy listening, there is as good as no demand. So your late grandma’s collection of Daniel O’Donnell records is unlikely to yield much money. That’s if you can sell them at all.
Ditto many ‘disposable’ pop acts who were once briefly flavour of the month.
So don’t send off for that yacht catalogue just yet.
Demand for recordings by a certain artist, or of a certain type of music, also changes over time.
There are cases of bands like the Velvet Underground, who didn’t enjoy massive sales when they were active, but who later inspired thousands of other artists.
But a typical trajectory looks more like this:
- An underground band starts to build up a following, and presses their first release, for sale online or at gigs
- The band becomes more and more popular
- Then signs to a record label
- And then maybe a bigger one
- The earlier records become more sought after – demand for them increases
- So the secondhand price accordingly increases – not enough supply to meet this increased demand
- Our fictitious example record is now worth a lot more than it was upon release
- As the band is now much more popular, it is now possible to sell more records than up to now
- Which of course the record company knows, so subsequent releases are pressed in ever-increasing numbers
- But artists’ popularity rises and falls. This is sometimes related to their own direct actions (Gary Glitter!). Or it could be the result of a disappointing release, or at least a release that was just too different to previous ones for the fans to handle. And sometimes, the popularity of artists and genres increases or decreases due to external factors, as musical tastes change. Think how guitar-based music or dance music have both waxed and waned over the years.
- When this happens, lots of the people who bought one of the many thousands (or millions!) of copies of a record no longer listen to it or want it, so offload it to record dealers – supply increases
- The market for it is saturated – not enough demand to meet the increased supply
- Our fictitious example record becomes a ‘shelf warmer’, omnipresent in secondhand shops everywhere
Reissues affect demand
Something else which also has a bearing on demand: reissues.
Many people – including collectors – want to hear the music an artist made before they became better known, or indeed famous. This used to involve tracking down, or accidentally stumbling upon, obscure records and often paying lots of money for them.
But unlike in the early days of the music industry, record companies are aware of their catalogue’s value. They therefore reissue music they think there’s a demand for, often at a lower price than that for current new releases. When a reissue of a title comes out, the price of originals on the secondhand market therefore drops, as not everyone wants to own a copy of the original release. A lot of people just want to be able to finally hear the music. Only a hardcore minority ever wants to own the original artefact, and is prepared to pay potentially big money for it.
How the pressing/edition determines a vinyl record’s value
But supply and demand isn’t the only factor determining how much vinyl records are worth.
Another really important factor is the pressing, or edition, of the record.
Articles regularly appear in the popular media stating that release X by artist Y is rare and collectable. People reading that then think: “Ah, I’ve got that! Wow! It’s worth a fortune!”
But what is usually meant is that a certain pressing, or some other edition, of a particular record is rare.
Two titles which regularly crop up in the media, and which this misconception commonly applies to:
The Beatles’ Yesterday and Today, a US compilation album. Its original, controversial cover, depicting the band with bits of raw meat and broken dolls, was recalled and repackaged, meaning you’re unlikely to get much change from a grand, if you manage to find a copy.
Or the original, unreleased A&M Records pressing of the Sex Pistols’ God Save the Queen 7″. A&M had second thoughts about their controversial new signings, dropped them and destroyed most of the records that had been pressed. At the time of writing this, a copy is for sale online for €24,000! That doesn’t mean to say the seller will actually achieve that, but copies have sold for lower five-figure sums in the past.
Not all copies are identical
Out of maybe tens/hundreds of thousands – or even millions – of copies of a particular record, these are extremely unlikely to all be absolutely identical in every respect. Whether by accident or design, there will be differences between them. Some instantly noticeable, and some so tiny that only the most eagle-eyed record collectors are aware of them.
In particular in the case of records that were released many years/decades ago, multiple batches will have been made over the years. Major labels in particular always seemed to be changing the standard label designs on their records. For titles that were available for a longer period of time, it’s likely that the label design changed several times. Perhaps the colour of the print on the cover has also subtly changed over the years, as production methods have changed or different types of cardboard and paper have been used.
Sometimes the differences between pressings of a record are really obvious: coloured vinyl editions, picture discs, gatefold sleeves, or copies which included a poster or booklet or some other type of insert.
The rare, sought after, valuable pressing of a title is therefore precisely that – rare. An example of something that only a few hundred/thousand copies of were made, out of the much greater number made over the years.
First editions are usually worth more…
Collectors generally prefer the original version of a record – the one that was available at the time it was released. Using the example above of record companies changing their standard label design over the years, collectors would often rather pay more for the very first edition than pay less for a more commonly available edition.
…Except when they’re not
On the other hand, later pressings or editions of a release can be more collectible than the original pressing if fewer copies of the edition were made.
A good example of this is the transition from mono to stereo recordings that took place in the 1960s. When stereo records were introduced, albums were often released in two versions – mono and stereo. At the start of that decade, mono was still the standard, meaning more mono copies of a record were pressed than stereo copies. A stereo copy of one of these titles (such as an early Beatles album) is therefore generally more sought after, as there were fewer of them.
As the decade progressed, stereo increased in popularity and the ratio of mono to stereo releases began to even out.
By the end of that decade, stereo had become more or less fully established, meaning that mono editions of later Beatles releases, for instance, were pressed in smaller quantities than the stereo editions. In other words, they are rarer.
How a record’s condition determines its value
As if supply and demand and the specific edition or pressing of a record weren’t enough, there’s yet another very important factor that governs the value of vinyl records – their condition.
Further up in this article I mentioned the regular media reports which state that release X by artist Y is rare and valuable.
People reading these articles in newspapers or on general interest websites often think: “Ah, I’ve got that record in the attic – I’ll get down to the luxury car showroom straight away!” But if the record is dirty, scratched, warped or cracked and the sleeve is creased, split, torn, has been written on or is generally dog-eared, the price stated in the article will be a pipe dream.
Mint condition – record collectors’ holy grail
The prices quoted in these articles on the value of records always mean the price of a copy in mint condition. This means the record, its sleeve and any other inserts, such as booklets or posters, must be in absolutely perfect condition in every respect. The record should literally be as good as new – if not better!
Record collectors want to own records that are in the best possible condition. “It’s still just about playable!” isn’t acceptable.
As a result, the greater the signs of wear, the more a record’s value decreases.
Back to supply and demand: if hundreds of thousands, or millions, of copies of a record were pressed, that makes it theoretically easier to find a copy in perfectly acceptable condition.
But the rarer the record, the more difficult it could be to find a copy in near-perfect condition. In these cases, many collectors will be prepared to buy a copy in a condition they wouldn’t ordinarily consider – provided the (lower) price is right.
To illustrate this, a really worn, damaged copy of a record that is extraordinarily rare and accordingly valuable in (near) mint condition may still be worth a few pounds/euros/dollars in its sorry, neglected state. But a similarly worn, damaged copy of something there were millions of is worth… next to nothing, if not actual nothing.
Grading systems for determining vinyl records’ value
How do we determine a record’s condition? Are there any official, or at least widely used, rules or guidelines governing grading records?
Yes, in fact there is more than one set.
- Dealers and collectors in the UK have historically used the grading system devised by Record Collector magazine. (This is the system I ‘grew up’ with.)
- Collectors and dealers in the US, on the other hand, use the system created by Goldmine magazine
- And of course, other countries probably have their own systems
The essential online platform for finding out the value of recorded music – as well as for buying and selling it! – is Discogs. As this is an American company, it uses the US Goldmine system. And as a result of the platform’s dominance in the field, this system has percolated through to other countries.
If you study the two grading systems linked above, you will notice that the US Goldmine system is more detailed. In turn, this means it is therefore more unforgiving of imperfections such as creased sleeves and the extent of audio crackles.
When buying secondhand records, ensure you know which system the seller is using. And if you decide to sell your record collection, or bits of it, on Discogs or elsewhere, ensure you stick to your chosen platform’s grading guidelines. Also make sure that potential buyers also know which system you are using.
Is true mint condition ever achievable?
Some dealers make it a point of principle to never grade a record above excellent or NM (near mint – virtually perfect), on the basis that nothing can ever be truly perfect.
Because even brand new records, still sealed, which you’ve just brought home from the shop, aren’t always in mint condition. Sometimes the paper inner sleeves have already created light surface scratches on the records. Sometimes the corner of the sleeve is slightly bent or folded. Or sometimes a sleeve is split, or is about to, as a result of poor packaging in transit.
It’s also important to remember that records from decades ago still have to meet the same rigorous grading standards as brand new, contemporary ones. Unlike with people, no allowances are made for old age! The vast, vast majority of old records cannot therefore be described as being in M or NM condition. Even if they have been properly handled and looked after, they are still almost certainly likely to display some imperfection or other, even if the record itself has never been played. For example, light sleeve discolouration, perhaps due to the inks or cardboard used, or creasing or some other minor defect.
Even with these detailed guidelines, grading a record’s condition still has a subjective element. One person’s slight surface scratch or sleeve crease is another’s dealbreaker.
How we used to find the value of rare records
Of course, you kids today don’t know you’re born! In the distant mists of time before a world of information about rare and collectable records was available at everybody’s fingertips via the phone in their pocket, there were publications like these.
Imagine having to carry one of these about in your pocket, in case there was a chance you may end up record shopping!
The 1995 edition has more than 1200 pages and is 50mm thick.
It’s hard to imagine how much effort the team from Record Collector magazine must have put in to create and maintain such a massive undertaking.
Finding and grading your records using Discogs
If you’re interesting in finding out what you records are worth, the most common way is to look them up on Discogs. Depending how many you have, this is likely to be a time-consuming and laborious process. Not only do you have to find the release (artist/title), but also the specific edition. You then have to carefully grade each one’s condition.
As mentioned already, many titles have undergone numerous editions over the course of the years/decades. You will be spending a lot of time looking at catalogue numbers, copyright text, label designs and other differentiating factors, some of which are tiny and remain unnoticed to the vast majority of people. Just which edition of Dark Side of the Moon are you trying to value?! There are loads of them!
When you’ve successfully identified the correct edition of one of your records, the next step is to identify the condition of your particular edition of that record, by consulting the grading systems linked above. Remember that Discogs uses the US Goldmine system.
Look at the record carefully, close up under good lighting conditions. What do you see? Deep scratches? Surface scratches? Fingerprints? Marks around the centre hole, where the record has been roughly pushed or forced onto the spindle? Is the centre hole misshapen from the record having being played lots of times?
Armed with this information, you can use the grading guidelines and the price information on Discogs to determine the theoretical value of your particular copy.
So for example, if your edition of this record is worth £20 in mint condition, and yours can only truthfully be described as being in VG condition using the Goldmine/Discogs grading system, it will theoretically only be worth £5 at most.
Look beyond offer prices
Bear in mind that the price someone is offering a record for sale at isn’t necessary a realistic price that they will achieve. Some records are ‘optimistically’ priced, shall we say. As a much more reliable guide, see the prices this particular record has previously sold for on the platform. You will see the lowest and highest previous sale prices, along with the median (average).
A Herculean task
Now repeat the process for each and every one of the records you’re considering selling.
Or is there an easier way?
Selling your record collection to a dealer
Selling your records to a dealer – if they’re prepared to buy them: supply and demand again – is much, much easier than tracking down hundreds or thousands of records and grading them all yourself.
The catch is that you won’t get as much money for them as you would if selling them directly yourself.
But think of all the work and effort you’d save. Selling your records online means not only finding and grading them all, but listing them for sale, packing and posting them and dealing with enquires from potential buyers. This will include complaints about records missing in transit and maybe disputes about your grading etc. Dealers deal with all this day in, day out.
How much are vinyl records worth – conclusion
3000+ words later, I hope this article on the value of vinyl records has helped you, and that you now have a better understanding of which types of vinyl records are worth anything, and which not so much.
Even if the sale value of those records in your loft means the cocktails on your yacht will have to wait…
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