How can common rock records be worth as much as you are charging?

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We freely admit that we paid south of twenty bucks each at local stores for most of the records on our site. We pay what the stores charge, and most rock records are priced from five to twenty bucks.

Unfortunately the cost of the records you see on the site is only a part of the cost of that finished “product.” The reality of our business is that it costs almost as much to find a Carly Simon or Gino Vannelli Hot Stamper that sells for a hundred dollars as it does to find a Neil Young or Yes Hot Stamper that sells for five times that.

With six people on staff, keeping the records playing, the listings going up on the site and the mailers going out to our customers runs about a thousand dollars a day. The cost of the records — the “raw material” of our business — is rarely more than 20% of that.

Someone has to drive to a record store, dig through the bins for hour upon hour, have them all cleaned, file them and then wait anywhere from six months to two years for the pile of copies on the shelf to get big enough to do a proper shootout.

Shootouts are a two man job: one person plays the record and someone else (who rarely has any idea what pressing is on the table) listens for as long as it takes to accurately and fairly critique the first side of every copy. Then we start the whole process over again for side two.

This is a huge commitment of labor, with the amount of time and effort going into a shootout obviously the same for every title regardless of its popularity or eventual value. Naturally we would like to be able to streamline the process and cut costs in order to lower our prices and sell more records. We just don’t think it’s possible. Every record must be carefully evaluated and that process is time-consuming.

No matter how skilled or efficient the musicians may be, from now until the end of time it will take at least an hour to perform Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Shootouts are like that, they simply can’t be rushed. It’s rare to get one done in under an hour, and some can even take two, which limits the number of titles that we can do on any given day.

The math is simple: $1000 in labor and materials divided by the number of saleable records we end up with (those with Hot Stamper sound and reasonably quiet surfaces). I don’t know if we actually lose money on records that sell for under a hundred dollars, but we sure as hell don’t make much, not with costs like these. If you know of a better way to do it please drop us a line.

We encourage the audiophile public to do their own shootouts; they’re the best way to learn about records and their reproduction. Doing one will also help you see how much work it entails. (If you do them right they entail plenty of work. If you have just a few pressings on hand and don’t bother to clean them rigorously we don’t consider that a real shootout. You probably won’t learn much and you are unlikely to find a top copy that way, although you may be tempted to pretend otherwise.)

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