From time to time I like to revisit the topic of vinyl record prices. I talked about them not too long ago and, while returns are still early, it looks like the bottom might not be falling out of the market after all. There’s also a huge piece of news for a highly-coveted album from the 90’s being reissued.
While the US is apparently in an unsaid recession, inflation has been falling a bit and so far most collectibles markets seem to be holding steady. I keep an eye on the price of a few different LPs just to see how the price is moving, and so far nothing is off. No falloffs big or small, everything is holding steady. Maybe the number of sales are declining some, but that’s not information I have real access to.
I said last time that a vinyl crash wouldn’t be a good thing for buyers, even if prices fell. It looks like maybe, must maybe, we won’t see the worst case scenario of an all-out crash. I would expect some attrition in a down economy, but as of now we don’t know just how down this economy will truly be. At least at this point, things appear to be holding steady enough.
There are two ways to lower the price of secondary market titles that have huge price tags -crash the vinyl market to the point of oblivion, or reissue the old material. The second option is much preferred. And there is a heavy hitter coming to the reissue market soon.
In September, the market will see a new pressing of Dirt, the 1992 masterpiece from Alice In Chains. I can’t say for sure how many copies of the new pressing there will be – I thought somewhere said it was 2,000, but I can’t say for sure. Hopefully there will be enough to go around, again I don’t know the details.
It is a fantastic time for a repress of Dirt, because prices were getting out of control. All year it has sold at or near $100 US for a 2009 reissue (the one I happen to have). Not much movement since the reissue news, though a copy did sell for $60. Listing still abound at over $100, but I don’t see many copies moving until the new reissue’s stock makes its way through the market.
And I wonder what happens at the end of it all – will the 2009 press crash in price, or will it hold if the new reissue is limited in scope? I know the Facelift reissue awhile back was somewhat limited in nature, but I also know there are still stray copies out there at retail prices. Will Dirt get snatched up before anyone knows what happened or will it linger on shelves for a little while?
So Dirt is getting bailed out, at least for a bit. But what about the other coveted Alice In Chains records? The self-titled has never seen a reissue and costs an arm and a leg right now. If we are to use 30th anniversaries as a planned reissue guide, we have three years to go before a reissue. That’s a long time.
And what about Alice In Chains MTV Unplugged? The record was at retail prices not all that long ago, in fact I picked one up for roughly $30 late 2020 or whenever. Now? That thing can’t be had for under $200. And there isn’t a reissue in ready sight for it. I’ve said it before and haven’t done it yet, but I’m tempted to cash out on that one and get me some damn money.
That’s the one I’m really gonna watch over the next few months. I’m curious how Dirt does, but with no reissue in sight, how far does Unplugged go? A potential buyer apparently can’t rely on a shit economy to depress prices, so should a seller lean into the good times and cash out? I ask to myself to decide what I should do with a coveted record I could turn into several other records, and I ask in a general sense in our weird, shaky economy when we try to decide what to do with the relative value of stuff.
The Alice In Chains record prices are something I’ll keep an eye on in the next few months. In terms of blogging, I want to see how Dirt does after the reissue. I would think the older reissue, like mine, would tank, but early indications don’t show that. And we’ll see how the economy holds up, and if there are people out there still willing to throw down $300 plus on Unplugged, or if things start going south and demand softens.
There’s the general vinyl economy, and apparently there’s also the Alice In Chains vinyl sub-economy. Let’s see if I should ride it to the moon or get out while it’s hot out.
I’ve written about this a few times now but it’s time again to look at the price of vinyl. It’s a massive topic in the world of music collecting (obviously) and it’s been a thorn in the side of many a collector for the past while. I know I feel the pinch and have tightened up my buying, and several others have relayed that they too are either limiting or cutting out buying altogether.
But – there is a mitigating factor to consider here. It’s a big one too. The economy? It’s a pile of trash right now. Inflation is out the yazoo (though prices are apparently creeping their way back down). Wealth disparity is at some kind of all-time high and everything just seems like a burning wreck right now. Even if things get better, it will be incremental and will likely take time to get to some kind of plateau.
So – what’s the rule about what happens to the prices of collectibles in a crap economy? Collectibles take a nose dive in price when the economy sucks. It makes sense – spending money on collectible stuff is a luxury, and in tough times many people have to pare down and focus on the essentials. It might be a lovely thought to have a collection of every Air Supply single released in all major countries, but who can afford that when rent is quadrupling in price?
There is a bit of caveat here – this possible drop in price likely only applies to the secondary market. New vinyl releases will most likely retain their current price points. New vinyl has been going up, a symptom of supply constraints and the rising costs of everything. Vinyl costs more to make so it will cost more to buy. Maybe there will be some budget-minded reissues or something once the supply issues are fully worked out, but I would imagine the new vinyl market will remain mostly where it is now.
But old records? Those have been priced to the moon in the past few years. Before the great vinyl boom of the 2010’s, a person could hit up a yard sale or flea market and walk away with a nice copy of an old standard for a quarter or a buck at best. Even a copy of a hallowed release like Air Supply’s Greatest Hits could be tripped over at the entrance to a flea market.
Since the vinyl boom, though, prices of even pedestrian old releases can bust $20. Budget record shopping is almost non-existent. Anything with a hint of collectible value is through the roof, and scarce releases like a lot of 1990’s vinyl have insane prices. That is the market that is likely to suffer in an economic downturn.
I haven’t noticed much action on prices yet, or much of anything from the vinyl market. But the signs are out there in other collectible categories. The collectible card games market (Magic The Gathering, etc) is seeing soft demand and lower prices on old product. The warning bells are already ringing in that sector, and it only stands to reason that other markets will follow.
Of course any real kind of downturn doesn’t happen overnight. There will still be tons of listings on Discogs for prices well above the listed median. But those records will just sit there. Stores that want to move inventory will begin marking down. And private collectors faced with troubling times will list their stuff in fire sale mode, driving prices down.
This scenario isn’t necessarily a boon for the budget-minded collector. The vinyl boom brought about a host of new record stores, owned and operated as small business ventures. Those stores will suffer during a vinyl downturn. This whole thing won’t just be a price correction because of the economy – it will lower demand and stunt the ability of sellers to find buyers. The ability to get vinyl at lower prices would come after a massive culling and our collecting landscape would not be the same.
Now I don’t know what will truly happen – it could be total doomsday, or it could be some lesser version of events that knocks stuff down a bit but doesn’t have earth-shattering effects on the scene as a whole. But the formula for a vinyl downturn is there – simply put, it’s in the economic downturn as a whole. How it all plays out remains to be seen.
On the note of vinyl and prices – I know myself and many others have been limiting purchases, or given up totally. I’ve only bought a few things this year and I have few plans for future buying – it’s expensive and I need my money for other things.
Here is a video done recently by my buddy David on his YouTube channel Hard Rock Reverie. He talks about this issue and his own suspension of purchases. There are a lot of collecting dominoes falling right now and that’s probably not a good sign for the state of the market.
I’ve done a few posts about money and prices of a few different things recently. I thought I’d do a few quick updates and also discuss the insane prices of a few records. But first, I’ll provide two quick recaps of prices I covered awhile back.
As I wrote in the original post, I was a foolhardy individual and dropped $10 on Megadeth’s crypto launch awhile back. That was in December when $MEGA was first on offer. The price was tanking when I posted about it, my $10 had whittled down to $7.
Here we are a month and a half later. My $7 in 21 Megacoins is now a bit under $5. It appears that economic forces have further stifled any fortune I might have made off Megadeth and cryptocurrency. I really don’t know what to do with these Megacoins so I will probably just ride this rocket straight into the ground. I could have done any number of things with that ten spot but oh well, the meme was worth it.
Tool’s last album on vinyl
I did a post just after we all found out that Tool were selling “tour editions” of Fear Inoculum on record for $800 at their shows. The price point was insane, even for an autographed edition of an unwieldy, super deluxe 5 LP edition in ornate packaging.
As updates to my original post indicate, the band opened up the “normal” edition of the album for pre-orders to ship in the beginning of April. Those not-tour editions came with a much more reasonable price tag of $170. Though I probably have better things to spend money on I went ahead and pulled the trigger on a pre-order. It’s excessive and not at all necessary, but under $200 is a justifiable price point for the ultra deluxe package. A more budget-friendly 3 LP edition could be manufactured, but as I noted in the original post, Tool are in no rush to get their albums on vinyl so I didn’t want to be left out. These will be flipped very hard when they hit in April, no doubt about it.
Vinyl prices are nuts
I’ve been over it a few times, including just the other day – vinyl prices are crazy. The supply is constrained by outsized demand and undersized manufacturing. Things do not appear poised to get better any time soon, it seems people are hoping that capacity magically increases itself or something.
One thing I’ve noticed is that the secondary market is really getting out of hand. I don’t know enough about it to know if it’s coordinated flipper/gouging activity or if it’s simply supply and demand. Maybe it’s both, I don’t know.
Over the past 18 months or so I picked up most of the Alice In Chains discography on vinyl. Facelift got a new reissue in 2020 and I got it from the local record store on release. I bought Dirt, Unplugged and Jar Of Flies/Sap as well, all were older reissues that I paid normal retail prices for. I don’t have the self-titled release as it hasn’t been reissued and goes for big money, I also don’t have 2000’s albums as they spiked quite a bit right after release.
But going back to the Layne Stayley-era albums I did get – I bought these about a year ago, maybe late 2020. Again, I paid $30 or less for each of them, they were all on the store shelves and priced in the normal $25-30 range. Here are the present Discogs median values for each of these releases.
Dirt – $111
Facelift – $37 (nothing listed for sale under $50 though)
Jar Of Flies/Sap – $109
Unplugged – $189
Those prices are crazy. Facelift is still holding serve as a newer reissue but the intent of sellers to mark it up is clear. The others have flown up in value and are approaching crazy territory. And, as usual, the copies listed for sale are well over the median prices.
Alice In Chains is a very popular act and their vinyl will remain in high demand. Everything could be reissued again to keep prices at retail for buyers who don’t want to sell a kidney for the records, but of course the supply constraints of vinyl manufacturing come into play. How long would it take to press new runs of these albums? Would the major label take priority at a record plant and shut out smaller labels already far behind on album releases, or will the label just let the high secondary market continue and do a reissue later on? It isn’t like record labels really care about secondary prices, other than to gauge perceived demand for a back catalog repress.
I’ve had thoughts about selling off my AIC records with these insane prices going on. I don’t want to mess with the online marketplace though and I don’t know what I’d get from a record store for them, so I probably won’t. But these prices are tempting to sell into.
One topic I want to cover more aspects of on here is music collecting. Not everyone does it these days but several of us still have collections of various physical formats. I’ve done one post so far on my own collection, as well as this post specifically about my Iron Maiden collection. And there are numerous issues within the realm of collecting that I plan to discuss going forward.
Today I want to get into vinyl collecting specifically and one huge elephant in the room that comes with modern-day record buying. Overall it’s the price of records today that has become an issue of huge concern among collectors. Back ten or so years ago old records were in flea markets for a few bucks apiece, while new records that were coming out could be had for maybe $20.
The music industry flipped on its head a few times in the past decade though, and now we live in a world where new releases push $30 or more and many old records are sought-after relics that command big prices depending on the shape they’re in. Flea market rummaging these days is reserved for the old polka classics that never had much of a market in the first place.
This isn’t a simple examination that ends with “damn, records are expensive.” There are a number of factors that play into the vinyl price inflation and why the market is the way it is today. Of course the prices of everything go up over time. If that was the only issue here I wouldn’t have a topic to write about. I know people love to lament how much cheaper things were way back when, but it’s a baseline business education fact that prices go up every year. This affects manufacturers, distributors and obviously, consumers. There’s nothing else to see here in regards to increasing prices.
What we have is a resurgence in vinyl interest. The record was a dead format, having been killed off in the early ’90’s in favor of the smaller CD. Then the digital revolution came and threatened the very existence of physical collections. I myself was still buying CDs and even a few records into the 2010’s but by and large people kept their music on their phones. This then gave way to streaming, where all you have to do is pay someone $10 a month to listen to more music than most people could ever bother with.
But then the vinyl boom came around and totally turned the physical market on its head. Records had never totally gone away – they were issued in limited pressings for diehard fans and collectors. Some of those 2000’s releases are now small goldmines. I’d love to have a vinyl copy of Neil Young’s 2007 Chrome Dreams II, but the price of admission is at least $100. And in the same year Nine Inch Nails released Year Zero, one of my favorite albums from them. If I want that record? We’re talking $250, at least.
Now both Neil Young and Trent Reznor have been pretty good about doing album reissues. I don’t have the income or desire to have original presses of everything ever released so I’d be more than happy with a new pressing of either album. Reissues do come around for a lot of albums, some that were scare in the first place or perhaps not even done on vinyl, as with much of the 1990’s. It is the saving grace for the middle-class or modest-income music collector.
But even reissues can be tough to come by, much like new releases. I don’t have a huge problem getting what I want but I have learned one valuable lesson – if I know a record is coming out, I better pre-order it and make sure I get a copy. Some new releases might be available at retail price until the pre-order sells out and will be two or three times higher ever after. And while some labels do their best to make sure reissues of even recent material are out there, the record manufacturing sector is in such short supply that lead times on new pressings are months out. It especially hits independent labels hard when the majors are filling orders in every available plant for Record Store Day reissues of the same ten albums.
I will say this about Record Store Day – I think it’s fantastic for the stores. Retail music stores were nearly extinct before this vinyl resurgence. I don’t at all mind seeing lines of people outside shops I frequent, I want these businesses to succeed and more customers is always going to be a good thing.
But RSD has a bad side, too. Multiple, in fact. It clogs up record plants, which again are in very short supply. But it also feeds into the modern market we have going on in music, gaming, shoes and even toilet paper at times – the secondary “flipper” market. In less savory terms, vinyl has fallen prey to the scalpers and price gougers.
The play is this – a record label offers a reissue or new release in limited scope, between 1,000 and 2,500 copies. Flippers buy up as many as possible and immediately post them on eBay and Discogs for insane mark-ups. Regular fans who really wanted the record but had no shot at the one copy in their local store with 35 people ahead of them in line on RSD are left out in the cold. It’s either suck it up and pay the scalpers’ prices or go without.
This issue plays out in consumer goods everywhere today. Scalpers using bots have turned current-gen gaming consoles into a total fiasco. PC stuff like GPUs are unobtainium these days. But it has redefined music collecting and not for the better.
I honestly have not gone to a Record Store Day. I’m not fond of huge lines for small buildings and also I often don’t see anything I absolutely have to have on the release lists. There’s always a record or two I wouldn’t mind having but nothing that gets me out of the house.
I did miss out on one record I would have like to have, though. In 2020 a reissue of Skid Row’s excellent Slave To The Grind was released for RSD in a limited format with bonus tracks, which is a creative way to get the clean and explicit versions of the album on one release. I was very stoked for a chance to get the record, but that chance never came. None of the local shops were able to get a single copy for their RSD allotments and the record instantly sold for $75 or more the day of release. The current price has gone over $100 on Discogs. It’s truly cheaper to get an original 1991 copy on record which was only released in a few countries and is pretty scarce.
I’m not willing to pay that much for the record even though I’d love to have it. It’s something I’ll just have to live without unless a local store gets a copy in someday and I can trade a bit into it. I’m fine with the CD copy of the explicit version I have that cost me $4.
Even without the dark aspect of flippers and scalpers, sticker shock is getting to be a thing with vinyl these days. Prices had moved to a rough average of $30 for a new copy of either a new release or reissue. But now that needle is moving upward. I’ve noticed a fair bit of new releases going for $40 or more. Hell, I paid $60 for the triple-vinyl copy of Iron Maiden’s new album Senjutsu. Yes, it’s Iron Maiden and yes I’m going to pay it, but I sure as hell noticed.
I do think this combination of factors like scalpers, supply shortages and rising prices might lead to the end of this vinyl boom. Let’s be real – this was never going to last forever. Collectibles as a whole are a weird market with unpredictable rises and falls, and in some cases those markets have now been entered into by investors. Just look at the collectible card game market for a prime example of that.
I’m not trying to be doom and gloom here, if I had my way a healthy vinyl market would continue on for the end of time. My town is lucky to have a handful of local stores that offer great selection and a much better shopping experience than ordering crap from Amazon or Discogs. But there are some alarming signs that, when put together, could lead to reduced interest in vinyl and an eventual crash in the market.
First off, labels are having issues getting records pressed. Smaller labels especially face months-long delays in getting their new albums to press. This causes smaller runs of vinyl, which feeds the scalper market by creating scarce supply to feed greater demand. The prices rise, both because of flippers and the natural or otherwise rise in prices.
What does this do? Seriously – Spotify is $10 a month. The other streaming services are roughly the same price. This is what the vast majority of music listeners use anyway so the economy of that is going to sway yet more people to it versus hunting down overpriced vinyl.
And for the diehard physical collector that refuses to give all the way in to streaming? As luck would have it, there is a much cheaper and more convenient format to consume music with. The CD is still around, though it was a battle for life there for awhile. I’ve noticed more collectors and music fans going back to the CD. Hell, any back catalog release is $5 or less these days and CD’s are literally all over the place. It’s a quiet undercurrent of people returning to that format but it’s noticeable and it’s getting a bit louder.
Should more people be turned off by the array of factors leading to higher record prices, I fear the market will suffer as a result. Many of the stores today are small businesses – they can’t survive a huge drop in demand. The vinyl boom needs to continue or at least plateau to something sustainable for them to continue on. If people keep running from the format or limit their purchases to their absolute favorite artists who often sell directly, it could spell trouble for what has been a fantastic renaissance for record stores.
Again, I hope this doomsday scenario doesn’t play out. In this crazy world that changes and mutates more often than most people change their underwear, I’d like to have something last for longer than a few years. I have X amount of life left and I’d like to spend it as a music fan and collector. Hopefully circumstances change a bit and the market can push through the rising prices, supply issues and scalper problems.
In the end, the price of records is an issue that needs to be dressed for the long-term health of the market. I can’t fix flipping nor do I have any practical ideas on how to, even though it’s a much-despised part of the modern process. But it’s not the only issue the vinyl industry faces today.
As a footnote – let’s give credit where credit is truly due to the vinyl resurgence. The independent and underground scenes in every genre kept vinyl going in a time where no one else cared. But it’s that oft-derided subculture from a decade or so ago that truly brought vinyl back. Give a round of applause to your local hipsters for kick-starting the vinyl revolution. I’ll talk more about them (uhhh, them…) another time but I wanted to throw a mention in while I was talking about this.