Now that Record Store Day 2017 is history, it’s way past time for you last remaining Luddites to get busy. Sure, you’ve been collecting those shiny, silver discs since the epiphany of hearing “Sgt. Pepper” or Steely Dan’s “Aja” inspired you to replace all those scratchy LPs with pristine, “lifetime-guaranteed” compact discs. But now that streaming has taken over, they’re probably either gathering dust on seldom-touched shelves or, more likely, sitting in boxes in your attic, basement or garage. While it’s possible that CDs could have an unexpected second act like vinyl has, don’t hold your breath. So, short of a garage sale, what’s an inveterate CD collector to do?
Marty Levy has been buying and selling music in one format or another since 1976, when he joined Rainbow Records, the first vinyl retail outlet in L.A.’s Silver Lake, which he and his partners sold to ultra-hip indie Rockaway Records before launching his own used-CD enterprise Smogtown in 1990. With many of industry contacts who’d sell him both record company “promos” and clean copies, Levy was the record industry’s answer to a righteous dope dealer, nonchalantly shelling out cash from his rolled-up stash of $100 bills to fans and bizzers alike.
Marty bought my promo copies for years until I finally parted company – painfully – with the entire 3,500-odd collection when I downsized from my house into an apartment. As he kept warning me while I foolishly clung to my collection, my CDs went from being valued at $10,000 to $3,000 in less than five years – a 70 percent drop that mirrors what’s been going on in the marketplace. Chart analyst BuzzAngle Music reports CD sales dropped another 11.1 percent in the first quarter of 2017, from 20 million copies to 17 million. Meanwhile vinyl is up 22.5 percent and even cassettes are rising to the tune of 64 percent — but both are still small players in the big picture (just 11,000 cassettes were sold in the quarter).
“We’re getting inundated with used-CD collections,” says longtime retailer Bob Say, proprietor of Sherman Oaks, CA’s Freakbeat Records, a proud holdout. “It must be the age group. They’re either retiring, selling their houses or moving. The boomer era of ‘Look at what cool records I have!’ is over.”
“The CD lasted for 30 years, which is standard for an audio medium,” insists B. George, the producer of Laurie Anderson’s groundbreaking “O Superman” and today chief curator of the 2.5 million pieces housed at The ARChive of Contemporary Music, which he started back in 1985. Although at first the CD format’s benefits included both durability and portability, George jokes about the initial “lasts a lifetime” promise, pointing out radio stations found that repeated playing “diminished them and made them difficult to play.” The metal in CDs eventually oxidizes, he explains, crucially losing digital information that can never be recovered, making them inferior to vinyl for long-term musical data storage. “Like a leaf, it goes brown,” says George. He also points out CD players are rapidly disappearing from the marketplace, with one of the final death knells sounded when car manufacturers removed them from auto dashboards.
In other words, sell your CD collection before it’s worth less than a box of pet rocks. By now, it’s apparent that those who held on to their vinyl were the smart ones — but alas, a similar renaissance for the Compact Disc collection seems unlikely: “No way, never ever,” says George.
Freakbeat’s Say claims 20 percent of his sales still come from used and promo CDs, although a whopping 75 percent share is now claimed by vinyl. “I do see some young kids buying [CDs] because they’re cheaper,” he allows. “My suggestion is just leave those 10,000 CDs on the shelves for a few years and see if this thing shakes out.”
With those grim prospects in mind, here are some suggestions beyond burying your CD collection in a time capsule.
It Hurts to Say Goodbye: Eight Ways to Leave Your CD Collection
1. Support Your Local Used-Record Store: There was a time every town seemed to sport one, but, as Freakbeat’s Bob Say points out, he’s one of only three record retailers left in the entire San Fernando Valley, and their livelihood depends increasingly on vinyl. “It’s a buyer’s market,” says Say, “and at this point we’re only buying 10 percent of what we see.” Expect around $1 or $2 per used copy, if you’re lucky — and be willing to accept a lot less.
2. Contact a Specialist: If you feel your collection contains rare or valuable items, contact an expert like former record company executive Jeff Gold’s Recordmecca, and he’ll assess the value of not just your CDs and albums, but any other pop tchotchkes you’ve accumulated.
3. Sell Them Yourself on Amazon, eBay, etc.: Maximize the returns from your collection by finding the people most interested in what you have to sell, i.e., German krautrock, Scandinavian death metal, U.K grindcore, vaporwave, etc. This is pretty time-consuming, and if you figure it out, likely to earn you significantly less than minimum wage.
4. Garage Sale: However, Say laments, “I see people who won’t even make the effort to look through the boxes. It’s too much work.”
5. The ARChive of Contemporary Music: Add to the non-profit library’s 2.5 million collection, get a tax deduction and feel proud you’ve contributed your Iggy and the Stooges albums to the collective consciousness of Western Civilization.
6. Music-Based Flea Markets: Ex-New York Rocker editor and pre-eminent collector Andy Schwartz says the best marketplace for your stuff is the annual WFMU Record Fair, which takes place this year at the Brooklyn Expo Center from April 28-30. The only trouble is you have to schlep them yourself (they’re heavy) or hire someone to do it, which cuts into your profits.
7. Donate Them to Goodwill or Your Local Library: Contribute to the culture of your community… and let the town church group figure out what to do with your copy of Suicide’s debut album.
8. Be Creative: Crush them up and use them for your backyard gnome garden. Use them to store your pre-1998 tax records. Use them to practice skeet-shooting. Make them into festive earrings. Staple them onto your Sex Pistols black leather jacket. Skim them along a pond. Dump them in several million acres of landfill (actually, that’s already happening).