Eric S. asks:

I was wondering if you think the bubble of highly inflated vinyl prices will burst anytime soon, so I can finally afford some of the pieces I’m currently coveting, or if I’m just gonna have to wait for the reissues, or play crappy vinyl rips (not yours) with serato (if I had serato)?

There’s no simple answer to this since it depends on a few factors, perhaps the most important being: “what genre are we talking about?”

Let me back up a second though. From my (limited) experience, the supply of vintage vinyl is relatively inelastic. For one, you can’t manufacture “old stock.” Second, the higher the demand is on specific genres/artists/etc., the more likely the existing supply will tighten as collectors may be more likely to hold onto desired titles (grip mentality) unless the pricing is attractive enough to flip. Either way, pricing is driven up by both demand and dwindling supply. But, we know that genres come in and out of vogue. As demand falls, not only do prices drop with it but the desire to hold onto certain records may fall too, thus increasing supply, also lowering pricing.

None of this supports the idea that there’s an “inflated bubble” when it comes to records. The phrase suggests there’s something irrational to how certain records/genres grow in value but these are records we’re talking about. What about gripping and flipping 30-40 year old pieces of petroleum products is rational to begin with? To the extent that our interest in records is fueled primarily by emotional desire (rather than pragmatic utility), the vinyl market is bound to be volatile. And yet, despite that, I would wager that the vast majority of records are priced rationally, i.e. “what people are willing to pay for it.” If may be that you (like myself on countless occasions) are annoyed that there are sufficient people willing to pay more for a certain title than we are but that’s not a sign of an irrational market. That’s a sign that we – the more reluctant buyers – are not ready to be players in that market.

In any case, to get back to the core question: it depends on the title, what the actual supply is and whether or not demand is still increasing or has peaked. Moreover, if prices fall because a certain record has gone out of vogue, might that also chill your desire for said record?

For me, there are certain titles that I feel like will always be unattainable on the open market – the supply is too small for pricing to ever fall to where I’d ideally like it – so I hold out the slim hope that I might come across it through other means: that random garage sale we all fantasize about or (more realistically), a misplaced “Buy-It-Now” on eBay, heh. And really, isn’t that the fever dream that fuels us as collectors? Not the simple act of possession but the means of acquisition?

To wit: I don’t have crazy “digging in the field” stories like many other folks I know who’ve spent much more time combing through mold-infused basements and forgotten warehouses, trying to search out that heat. The best I have dates back to 2002, on a record trip through the Midwest I took with two friends. We began in Chicago, then drove down to Indianapolis, then Columbus. We eventually continued onto Elyria, Toledo and ended in Detroit. Between Columbus and Elyria, we had a decision to make: whether or not to drive down to Cincy or hit up Dayton instead. We chose Dayton.

The first store we went to was…ok. Real mom and pop spot and I did get this out of there but nothing remotely crazy. While we were there, my dude Justin talked up the owner and found out there was another store in the area that supposedly stocked vinyl. We drove over and from first appearances, we assumed this was going to be a bust: it sold CDs and pagers and didn’t seem like some vinyl hot spot but we asked anyway and were shown to a back room that wasn’t huge but felt right and sure enough, even though the owners said they could only give us an hour in there because they had close early that day, we managed to find any number of very cool 7″s and LPs, including about half a dozen stock copies of this single:

Over Night Low: Rev Jay.mp3
From 7″ (DeLuxe, 1972)

And look, this isn’t like finding a mythical box of Salts.1 Back in 2002, this 7″ might have gone for $75-100 under the best of circumstances but it wasn’t something to mortgage your house over. Still, it was one of those “nice, random finds” that fuels our impulse to keep making side trips to Dayton or wherever else the fever takes you.

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  1. If you’ve never heard the story, this has become digging urban legend – though it may be true – but supposedly, someone found a box of Salt 7″s, pulled a few out and then broke the rest in order to make sure the supply stayed low. That sounds like sheer insanity to me but I suppose stranger things have happened.