This commentary was written about fifteen years ago, about the time that we first started selling Hot Stamper pressings in limited numbers. (The numbers were limited because shootouts were so hard to do back then.)
It starts with the following paragraph:
We freely admit that we paid south of thirty bucks each at local stores for many of the records on our site. We pay what the stores charge, and most good rock records are priced from ten to thirty bucks these days.
About five years ago we added this text to the listing:
This is no longer true, but it was true when this commentary was written. Most rock records cost us double and triple what we used to pay, if they can be found at all.
As of 2022, we would like to point out that very few good records can be found in local Los Angeles stores these days. Young people have started collecting records again, so the supply of records in the stores is a small fraction of what it was even five years ago, and the prices have doubled and tripled for the better titles. Foreigner and Carly Simon we can still find locally, but Fleetwood Mac and Led Zeppelin? Forget it.
These developments means that we have been forced into buying mostly from dealers on the web now, paying the collector prices they charge and, like any business, passing the costs on to our customers. There is no other way to run a business that specializes in old records. Vintage LPs are practically the only ones that have the potential to be Hot Stamper pressings, and we must pay whatever they cost in order to acquire them in large enough numbers so that our record shootouts can continue.
The rest of the commentary describes a business that no longer works the way it did.
Unfortunately for us, the price we paid for the records you see on the site is only a small part of the cost of the 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. [Not true, obviously; Neil Young records cost ten or twenty times more than Carly Simon records!]
With eight to ten full-time people on staff, the listening crew constantly playing one title after another, the scores of listings going up on the site daily, all-day shopping trips to local stores [alas, not as many these days], internet searches for the rarest titles, and the weekly mailers going out to our customers — all of this and more runs in excess of a thousand dollars a day [about double that now]. The cost of the records — the “raw material” of our business — is rarely as much as the labor it takes to find, clean and play them [still true].
Finding good clean vinyl these days can be a real chore. Someone has to drive to a record store, dig through the bins for hour upon hour searching for good pressings, or, more likely, pressings that look like they might be good, have them all cleaned, file them away and then wait anywhere from three months to three years for the pile of copies on the storeroom shelf to get big enough to do a proper shootout. [Mostly true, except that the records come by mail.]
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 that a much higher level of efficiency will ever be possible. Every record must be carefully evaluated and that process occurs in real time.
No matter how skilled or efficient the musicians may be, from now until the end of the world 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 take two or more, which limits the number of titles that we can do on any given day.
The math is simple: $1000 [now $2000] 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 very much on them, not with costs like these. If you know of a better way to do it, please drop us a line.
We encourage any audiophile who wants to improve the quality of his record collection to do some shootouts for himself. Freeing up an afternoon to sit down with a pile of cleaned copies of a favorite LP (you won’t make it through any other kind) and play them one after another is by far the best way to learn about records and pressing variations. Doing your own shootout will also help you see just how much work it is.
They are a great deal of work if you do them right. If you have just a few pressings on hand and don’t bother to clean them rigorously, that kind of shootout anyone can do. We would not consider that a real shootout. (Art Dudley illustrates this approach, but you could pick any reviewer you like — none of them have ever undertaken a shootout worthy of the name to our knowledge.)
With only a few records to play you probably won’t learn much of value and, worse, you are unlikely to find a top copy, although you may be tempted to convince yourself that you have. As Richard Feynman so famously remarked, “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself – and you are the easiest person to fool.”