What’s The Deal With Vinyl Record Prices?

What Goes Into Pricing Vinyl Records?

If you have had the opportunity to go into a vintage vinyl record store recently. one thing you would have surely noticed is the price most shops are charging for records.  New pressings average about $24 a copy.  It is true that you can get a vintage used copy of the same title for significantly less money, depending on the rarity of how many copies are available in the marketplace. 

Many factors go into pricing a vinyl record.  Condition and rarity are factors but even general interest can make a big difference in the price of a vinyl record.  For example, while you may not have been able to give away disco albums a few years ago, they have emerged as a hot ticket at recent vinyl record fairs.

Part of collecting vinyl records is to be a student of music history.  As new collectors explore the last 80 years of music recorded on the surface of vinyl records, they will eventually discover (and enjoy) genres that were dormant for decades.  That’s called emergence and is why birds fly in formation, why most animals have eyes and it’s also why everybody will be rediscovering disco or Lithuanian bagpipe music at pretty much the same time.  So, for example, while disco is “in” this year, you never know when it will be time to dust off that old jazz Art Tatum album and get ready to put that back on the market.

Vinyl Record Serial Numbers and Prices

The vinyl record serial number is your best tool in determining a value of a vinyl record.  This serial number is also called a Matrix and/or Stamper number. The serial number is what differentiates one pressing from another. The image to above shows where you can find the serial number.

Once you have found the serial number, you can enter it on such seller markets as DiscogsMusic Stack and others for a match.  These sites are world-wide open markets for vinyl records and other music mediums. They provide a price based on supply and demand.

Ebay is not a reliable source for determining vinyl record prices. Although, it is certainly an option if you are looking for a vinyl record that is difficult to find.  Your are best off on Discogs or Popsike for researching prices.  It’s important to remember that vinyl records cost a lot to ship. Prices on the net without a shipping price included are slightly misleading.  In short, you can expect to pay more at a local shop but remember that they’ve already covered that shipping cost for you.  Hey, if it is coming or going to Europe or Asia, add a premium for shipping of about $25 USA for the first LP in your order.

Pressings and Vinyl Record Prices

You can think of a pressing as a record-making session or party.  The factory workers all listen to the record and dance around while they make copies until the music stops.  All the records that were made during that record-making dance party get the same serial number.

Depending on how popular the album is, how much money is invested into the artist and/or how many records are ordered, these parties may happen many times over.  The value of a record is determined by rarity. Just like any other collector’s item.  As a matter of good business, it’s a good idea practice to not press/print a million copies before you’ve sold any.

Therefore, the first pressings almost always produce a small number of copies and hence, are most expensive.

It’s worth mentioning that some parties make better sounding records than others and that a later but higher-quality pressing may be worth more than an earlier counterpart. The differences between pressings can be difficult to tell if the serial number is ambiguous.   Be cautious before screaming “Jackpot” in the aisle of your local record store. Two records that look exactly the same, may have been pressed at different times by different people and may be valued at wildly different prices. The difference between $20 and $20,000 could be a single letter or missing number so it’s important to have an attention to detail. Investigation into pressings is a lot of fun.

The story surrounding each pressing offers a glimpse into the seedy details of the music industry – that of labels, contracts and the business of music. You know, what they call “realities.” It is a world that goes mostly unnoticed by the casual music fan.

A Vinyl Record’s Physical Condition

The condition of your vinyl record will affect the resale value of the record.

Generally, the condition for collectors’ items such as vinyl records follows this scale: Mint, Near Mint, Very Good, Good and Poor.  These are the exact definitions used and provided by Goldmine and used by Discogs.

Mint (M)

Absolutely perfect in every way. Certainly never been played, possibly even still sealed. Should be used sparingly as a grade, If at all.

Near Mint (NM or M-)

A nearly perfect record. Many dealers won’t give a grade higher than this implying (perhaps correctly) that no record is ever truly perfect. The record should show no obvious signs of wear. A 45 RPM or EP sleeve should have no more than the most minor defects, such as almost invisible ring wear or other signs of slight handling. An LP cover should have no creases, folds, seam splits or other noticeable similar defects. No cut-out holes, either. And of course, the same should be true of any other inserts, such as posters, lyric sleeves and the like. Basically, an LP in near mint condition looks as if you just got it home from a new record store and removed the shrink wrap. Near Mint is the highest price listed in all Goldmine price guides. Anything that exceeds this grade, in the opinion of both buyer and seller, is worth significantly more than the highest Goldmine book value.

Very Good Plus (VG+)

Generally worth 50 percent of the Near Mint value. A Very Good Plus record will show some signs that it was played and otherwise handled by a previous owner who took good care of it. Record surfaces may show some signs of wear and may have slight scuffs or very light scratches that don’t affect one’s listening experiences. Slight warps that do not affect the sound are “OK”. The label may have some ring wear or discoloration, but it should be barely noticeable. The center hole will not have been misshapen by repeated play. Picture sleeves and LP inner sleeves will have some slight wear, lightly turned up corners, or a slight seam split. An LP cover may have slight signs of wear also and may be marred by a cut-out hole, indentation or corner indicating it was taken out of print and sold at a discount. In general, if not for a couple things wrong with it, this would be Near Mint. All but the most mint-crazy collectors will find a Very Good Plus record highly acceptable.

Very Good (VG)

Generally worth 25 percent of Near Mint value. Many of the defects found in a VG+ record will be more pronounced in a VG disc. Surface noise will be evident upon playing, especially in soft passages and during a song’s intro and fade, but will not overpower the music otherwise. Groove wear will start to be noticeable, as with light scratches (deep enough to feel with a fingernail) that will affect the sound. Labels may be marred by writing, or have tape or stickers (or their residue) attached. The same will be true of picture sleeves or LP covers. However, it will not have all of these problems at the same time, only two or three of them. Goldmine price guides with more than one price will list Very Good as the lowest price. This, not the Near Mint price, should be your guide when determining how much a record is worth, as that is the price a dealer will normally pay you for a Near Mint record.

Good (G), Good Plus (G+)

Generally worth 10-15 percent of the Near Mint value. Good does not mean Bad! A record in Good or Good Plus condition can be put onto a turntable and will play through without skipping. But it will have significant surface noise and scratches and visible groove wear (on a styrene record, the groove will be starting to turn white). A cover or sleeve will have seam splits, especially at the bottom or on the spine. Tape, writing, ring wear or other defects will start to overwhelm the object. If it’s a common item, you’ll probably find another copy in better shape eventually. Pass it up. But, if it’s something you have been seeking for years, and the price is right, get it…but keep looking to upgrade.

Poor (P), Fair (F)

Generally worth 0-5 percent of the Near Mint price. The record is cracked, badly warped, and won’t play through without skipping or repeating. The picture sleeve is water damaged, split on all three seams and heavily marred by wear and writing. The LP cover barely keeps the LP inside it. Inner sleeves are fully seam split, crinkled, and written upon. Except for impossibly rare records otherwise unattainable, records in this condition should be bought or sold for no more than a few cents each.

Vinyl Record Era

The era in which a vinyl record was pressed will affect the resale value of the record.  Generally, the older a record is, the more valuable it is. Vinyl records from the 80’s aren’t worth very much for example. Often $10 and under.  But records from the 70’s have some intrinsic vintage value.  The 60’s, even more so. And so on, and so forth.  There are exceptions to this rule. So many in fact that it really can’t be called a rule. The obscure early years of now popular genres may be difficult to find and so tend to cost a lot.

Heavy metal records from the early 80’s, for example, can be hard to find and are worth more than pop music selections from the same era. Jazz albums suffer from an opposite plight. There are more Benny Goodman albums out there than you can imagine. Don’t be fooled by the sometimes high price of these albums in record stores. They cost that much because they take up valuable real estate for long periods of time. In other words, they aren’t quick to sell.  Again, a vinyl record is only worth what someone is willing to pay for it!

45’s, 78’s etc

The numbers refer to the speed at which the vinyl record is played.  R.P.M. stands for Rotations Per Minute. A 45 will go full circle 45 times per minute. While there is certainly a market for 45s and 78s, it is a niche market. Since they aren’t regularly produced anymore, they don’t get much play. Frankly, many new vinyl record collectors don’t know what to do with them.

It should be noted that Jack White and many other heavy promoters of vinyl recording today are producing strange and wonderful records with speeds so outside the capabilites of an affordable consumer turntable that only the most rich and demented vinyl record fiend will be able to listen to them.

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