Imagine this : you’re the proprietor of a busy secondhand record store, business is good, there’s a constant flow of new stock coming in and going out. You’re buying in new records all the time and you need to get them out into the racks and sold as soon as possible to make space for more stock. In fact, there’s so much stock coming in that you just don’t have time to adequately research how much you should charge for every single record. So what do you do? Enter : the Discogs median.
It’s become common practice for record shop owners to head straight to Discogs.com and look up the median, nestled neatly between the lowest and highest price records have sold for in the past on their site. Contrary to expectation, this is not the average sale price but the middle sale price. For example, let’s imagine that there have only ever been 3 copies sold of a Durutti Column 7″ on Discogs. The lowest sold for £3. Another for £50. The highest for £3000. So, the median price would be the £50. Note : a median can be dramatically different from an average. Ie – 5 sales of £1, £1, £1, £1 & £1000 have an average of about £200 but a median of only £1.
I’ve noticed recently that this median hasn’t only been employed by record shops and record fair stall holders. Even charity shops are wising up to the possibility that, among the battered boxes of £1 Harry Secombe and Mrs Mills albums, there might actually be some diamonds. They’re even beginning to advertise for Discogs-savvy volunteers to help with pricing. It’s not uncommon to see records selling for £30 – £50 or more in some British charity shops. And why not? It’s obviously a charity’s duty to raise as much money as possible for just causes. It also separates the wheat from the chaff – the records you’d normally classify as “charity shop junk” – mainly scratched and battered classical, chart compilations or crooner stuff from the 70’s; even the odd 78.
As shop owners now refer to Discogs, in the late 80s and early 90s, most would pull out an issue of Record Collector magazine and thumb through the average sales prices in the back. Record Collector’s trusty Rare Record Price Guide book is still going strong in 2021, though invariably used by more traditional stores. Not everything is listed on Discogs because obviously, not everything has been sold on Discogs.
So, is utilising the Discogs median fair? How does one settle on a decent price for a record? Several factors come into play here, the main one being condition but rarity is its equal. What price to put on a cassette, released in a limited edition of 50 copies in 1981? Without the likes of Discogs and eBay, in 2021, your chances of finding one would be next to none but ultimately, as a tangible object, it likely cost less than £1 to manufacture in 1981. Do you add a pound for every year that’s passed since it was released? £40 in all? Of course, then there’s the popularity of the artist themselves. What if that tape, limited to 50 copies only, was by, say, Depeche Mode? £4000? £40,000?
Fairness, of course, often doesn’t come into it. A record shop is a business like any other and profit is the name of the game. Most record shops know not only their customers tastes but also their financial limits. A Durutti Column 7″ at £50 might be snapped up immediately in one shop, whilst in another it could stay on the wall for 3 years.
We also need to remember that the Discogs median refers to the prices that records have sold for in the past. Times change. A once collectible artist may not be so collectible now; the value of their work may actually become less over time. Equally, if a record hasn’t been on the market for quite some time, it may, by its lengthy absence, become more worthy of a higher price.
There’s a sweet spot, of course – the price which seems reasonable for a rare record in good condition. It’s a shame plenty of record stores opt for greed. I’ve recently seen several cases of that Discogs median being ignored in favour of the highest price. I know of a couple, very reputable record stores that have no issue acquiring interesting new used stock but their pricing is so prohibitive that much of that stock is just gathering dust, month on month. There are only so many people happy to pay £100 for an obscure Wire off-shoot album in VG condition.
As a record shop-owning friend told me today, “The internet has done for cheap deals.” Those charity shop racks have already been rinsed for the good stuff by the staff. They’ve saved you the time and effort.