Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Selling old things new for a killing? Or, tapes are popular now, too, so I guess it's back to CD's...

The following rumination brought to you by the good people at VLV and also the reason why I didn't buy pretty much any of SFJ's collection.

Increased vinyl production is not the new phenomenon most mainstream media wants it to be, but it's finally worth thinking about for two reasons: 1) It's getting noticed like it's new and 2) It's getting priced like it's new. Not only are major labels throwing their hats back in the ring, but so are major retailers. Is there really such a demand? Observational wisdom says yes; just check out the cost to maintain a collection now, it's incredible. Economic downturn, inflation, and all other reasoning aside, record prices are sharply increasing. Why? Let's discuss.

"Audiophilia." The number one front for the average impressionable new collector. "It just sounds better, man. You can really hear it." I'm not going to argue against the science behind this, but I will argue with the science being the actual impetus for audiophilic purchasing. Digital music is not far off in regards to quality, really. But it's the promise of purity, even if its imperceptible, that gets collectors opening up their wallets. 180 gram multiple LP gatefold mega releases are these hulking mammoths of "quality." Nevermind that most of this is either incomprehensible or irrelevant to the average buyer. If it's top notch, it's a gotta-have, so what's a couple extra bucks for the prestige that such a gem imparts? It's not like you can grab all these re-releases in every dollar bin across America.

Oh wait...well, actually, maybe not. That's not nearly as sharp a dig as it used to be, because while mainstream retailers are taking advantage of huge mark-ups on these deluxe new re-releases, used retailers are scaring up prices on classics due to increased demand. Routine dollar bin records I saw everywhere just a few months ago are now pulling in eight or ten bucks. That may not seem like a lot, especially compared to their deluxe companions' exorbitant tags, but it's still a 1,000% increase. And for what? Dusty classics that were produced by the boatloads thirty or forty years ago? Give me a break. Seriously.

I still don't own a lot of my favorite records because of an imperfect premonition/scientific calculation I make to figure out the best time to buy. I refuse to buy most major label albums (Dylan, Springsteen, Bowie, etc.) because I know that they're everywhere; it's just a matter of getting the deal. The same even goes for indie albums. Songs: Ohia's "Didn't It Rain?" is top five material for me, and I still don't own it, because I know it can easily be gotten, and I need that fifteen dollars, and maybe I'll find for only three. What ends up happening is my collection of obscure /500 records, some of which I don't even like that much, keeps growing, because the eBay mark-up is more terrifying than the initial cost.

I'm getting closer and closer to saying collecting as a trend is turning into collecting as a racket, as it becomes more and more of a quantifiably lucrative and trackable field. Music as art object is also music as commercial object. How ironic that the vinyl uprising, instigated largely by punks for economic reasons (can you believe records used to be a fraction of the cost of CD's?), is undermining its own initial foundation. Seeing common Dischord releases carrying double-digit price tags over covers reading "Never pay more than $8ppd" is a pretty huge bummer.

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