An Introduction

I first became interested in 4AD, a UK independent record label founded in 1980, towards the end of the '80's. I was falling in love with the music of Dead Can Dance, Clan of Xymox, Pixies, Bauhaus and The Birthday Party and was surprised when the 4AD label sampler "Lonely Is An Eyesore" came out in 1987 that all these bands were from the same label.

After visiting a Pre-Raphaelite exhibition of some American's collection of art, I came to thinking of all this musical art that 4AD have released that may one day drift into obscurity unless someone shows it as art. So now I'm on a crusade, to collect the first ten years of 4AD's releases and exhibit the collection on 4AD's 50th anniversary in 2030. This is a big task which will have some interesting twists and turns along the way.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Selling my soul to pop music

Oh well, going through another phase of writer’s block, so please forgive me. Not much has happened in the last few weeks. There has been a realisation that selling music is a small source of income for buying 4AD items. There is a lot of work involved though in selling and it has opened my eyes up to what the trader does go through.

A trader is unlikely to be a specialist in everything, but is very likely to be collector themselves. I can see sometimes how it might be difficult to let something go that has come the traders way, if it excites them enough to be in their own collection. I have heard of traders wincing at selling an item they would have loved to have kept for themselves, but after all they run a business and they have to sell stock.

This may induce a price hike unconsciously because they see the item worth more from their own prospective rather than objectively.

I have learned though, that most of the time, the trader is selling music they know little about. I know my 4AD to a reasonable extent. I also know my early goth punk stuff and a little prog from the seventies, but outside of this small scope, I am blind. The stock I am selling at the moment is nearly all chart pop stuff. While I feel dirty and sullied by just handling much of this stuff, I am also very aware I know little to nothing about the market. In my eyes, the majority of pop music is short lived and disposable, so the price of music in the second hand market for this stuff is of no surprise when it is worth practically nothing.

Sometimes though, some music looks to be worth more than you think. I was shocked at how much some releases by Dannii Minogue fetches. It would seem to me that a greater audience exposure means the greater likelihood of collectors, mixed in with that any releases that were less available than others and you have a mix which constitutes a higher price on the market. Record collecting magazines always go on about rarity, but it’s not rarity that is the prime factor in seeing a high price for a release, is the combination of rarity with demand. There are plenty of releases out there that are rare but don’t demand a high price.

A single by Cocteau Twins released with a limited number will always fetch a higher price than say a limited Ultra Vivid Scene release limited to the same amount. This is because the audience for Cocteau Twins was always and still is much larger than the audience fan base for Ultra Vivid Scene.

Of course a market trader generally doesn't know specifics such as this when deciding on a price to sell a release. Some traders will base a price for an item based solely on its rarity and will not know if the target audience is large or small. It’s a fumble really. I don’t know the market very well, so all I can base a pricing structure on is what other traders have managed to sell for in the past and what other traders are currently asking for each release.

Then, of course, the trader has to cover postage and overheads. I always think that postage is just the cost for popping the item in the post to the buyer. But of course other costs have to be covered. Instead of re-using packaging sent to me, I buy new envelopes. This is because it takes ages to rip off old tape, stickers and cover over handwriting from an envelope sent to me. If a have a few of them, I don’t want to be spending an hour, trying to re-use scrappy envelopes, I need to get the items sent to the customer with a minimum of fuss and the customer doesn't really want to see a battered old envelope when they get their package. Buying envelopes, printing address labels, taping and gluing the package securely takes a cost hit. Then of course there’s standard taxes, such as Paypal fees and, in my case, Discogs fees.

If these costs were added to the item price, the item price would then be too high to attract any custom. The only place these costs can be absorbed is within the postage costs.

Another element to pricing when selling is market value. What price a trader sells a release for will have an effect on the releases worth. For instance, if a release is generally sold for £10 and a few traders manage to sell the release for £1, then the market value for that release has dropped significantly. Buyers will not buy the release anymore at £10 if they have seen it sold before for significantly less. A trader has to think about this to some extent so as not to undermine the whole market. The same can be said for asking a high price. If the same item gets sold a few times at a higher price than £10, then it’s in the markets best interest to keep that price up if demand allows it.

Then I suspect that some traders want to hold on to some more precious items. I think this is done to show a customer what kind of trader they are by the stock they are holding. My stock, on the majority, is cheap pop stuff that is worth little. To a buyer perusing my stock, I imagine that as a trader I don’t look incredibly professional because of the stock I keep. If I had a variety of rare collectables in stock, I would probably look more serious to a potential customer. To be able to hold stock, the easiest method would be to hike the price of certain items up. This would help keep some of the serious stock and as an added bonus, if some of it sold it would be at a greater price, which is a plus for the trader and also helps the market go up in value.

So now I can see another side to traders. If a trader is selling an item at a ridiculous price, they either have made a bad judgement and don’t know the market for the particular item, or they are trying to retain stock while trading at the same time. Or it could just be that they are greedy, which is also a distinct possibility. What does this mean for you dear reader? As a trader, I would say, if an item looks overpriced, talk to the trader, give them examples of why you think the item is overpriced and make them an offer. As a buyer I know this works.

The vinyl compilation box set The History of the House Sound of Chicago, which I needed to purchase because M/A/R/R/S Pump up the Volume was on it, came up for sale on ebay. This was a trader and not a private seller and was selling it for about £130 on buy it now. I sent the trader an email showing the prices it had sold for on Discogs for around £50 and £60 and offered £45. The trader accepted, which was great. Always give it a try.

Of course, there are still greedy and know-it-all traders out there, so my previous opinion of some traders is still valid, damn it. I am right to moan, and carry on moaning I shall, for I am all knowing and wise and I want bargains. Hmph!