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Does Your CD Lose Its Value By The Bedpost Overnight?

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Chump Change

How well does your CD collection retain its monetary value? If you decided to cash it all in, how much of all that money you spent will come back to you?

One of the interesting things about Amazon product links is looking at the disparity between the price of the new product and the going rate for used copies, both of which are listed below the title.

In some ways, this is a purely economic indicator of the residual popularity of the album; it’s simple supply and demand. Some albums, like a good car, retain their value pretty well; others are worthless within a year.

A simple real world indicator of this principle can be had when you truck your used CD’s over to the local used shop for cash or credit. All those one-hit wonders you got suckered into buying? So did everyone else; the used market is oversaturated and you get a dime for the CD you spent $15 on.

Conversely, a shrewd buyer of cult titles that maintain a solid fanbase but never get overexposed will exit the store, green cash in hand.

Used CD's

Supply and demand. The supply side can be affected by overpressings and underpressings; going out of print altogether ratchets up the price. However, as a rule, it’s not a bad indicator; the good enduring stuff keeps some value, the useless junk doesn’t. The CD model is even more purely reflective of popularity than vinyl record prices, since condition is more of an issue with used vinyl. The prices aren’t static; they represent hundreds of sellers, and are updated hourly at Amazon.
[ADBLOCKHERE] To examine this farther, we’ll start with the Beatles. The White Album, from 1968, is now the Beatles’ biggest selling album ever, and remains popular among fans. The Beatles continue to attract new first-time listeners at a remarkable rate even now, so the market for used Beatle product is brisk. At Amazon, a brand new White Album, a double disc, goes for $27.99. Used starts at $16.99. That’s 61% of its value: a good retention.

On the other hand, Justin Guarini’s (remember him, American Idol?) album is selling for $0.49 used, retaining a paltry 4% of its value since its release a few short years ago, confirming its junk status. Evidently, people can’t trade ‘em in fast enough.

How well does your collection retain its value? Here are ten hypothetical case studies:

1. If you are an alternative rock fan, your collection might include:
Smashing pumpkins: SIamese Dream (1993)

Smashing Pumpkins: Siamese Dream New: $13.99 Used: $4.50
Nirvana: In Utero New: $7.97 Used: $2.25
Soundgarden: Superunknown New $12.99 Used $4.24
Beck: Odelay New $12.99 Used: $3.70
Coldplay: Parachutes New $10.96 Used: $7.32

NEW: $58.89
USED: $22.01
VALUE RETAINED: 37%

2. If you are a classic rock fan, your collection might include:
Neil Young: harvest (1972)

Neil Young: Harvest New: $8.97 Used: $5.95
The Rolling Stones: Exile On Main Street New: $17.98 Used: $8.99
Boston: Boston New: $18.98 Used: $12.88
Yes: Close To The Edge New: $8.97 Used: $5.98
Led Zeppelin: Led Zeppelin IV New: $14.96 Used: $5.95

NEW: $69.86
USED: $39.75
VALUE RETAINED: 57%

3. If you are a metal head, you might have:
Metallica: master of Puppets (1986)

Metallica: Master of Puppets New: $14.96 Used: $7.62
Slayer: Reign In Blood New: $13.99 Used: $11.50
AC/DC: Back In Black New: $9.97 Used: $6.98
Ozzy Osbourne: Blizzard of Ozz New: $7.97 Used: $5.99
Pantera: Vulgar Display of Power New: $12.97 Used: $4.99

NEW: $59.86
USED: $37.08
VALUE RETAINED: 62%

4. If you are an aging James Taylor fan, you might have:
James taylor: Sweet Baby James (1970)

James Taylor: Sweet Baby James New: $8.97 Used: $2.29
Joni Mitchell: Court and Spark New: $8.97 Used: $5.45
Linda Ronstadt: Heart Like A Wheel New: $10.99 Used: $6.25
Cat Stevens: Tea For The Tillerman New: $13.99 Used: $6.94
Paul Simon: Still Crazy After All These Years New: $12.97 Used: $8.92

NEW: $55.89
USED: $29.85
VALUE RETAINED: 53%

5. If you are a fan of 80′s college rock, you might have:
R.E.M.: Reckoning (1984)

R.E.M.: Reckoning New: $10.99 Used: $4.75
The Replacements: Tim New: $10.99 Used: $5.99
The Pixies: Surfer Rosa New: $10.99 Used: $7.99
Los Lobos: How Will The Wolf Survive New: $10.99 Used: $5.99
Violent Femmes: Violent Femmes New: $8.97 Used: $6.99

NEW: $52.93
USED: $31.71
VALUE RETAINED: 60%

6. If you’re an up-to-date hepcat, you might have:
New Pornographers: Twin Cinema (2005)

New Pornographers: Twin Cinema New $13.96 Used: $11.45
Death Cab For Cutie: Plans New: $13.96 Used: $8.31
Doves: Some Cities New: $14.99 Used: $9.75
Sufjan Stevens: Illinoise New $13.96 Used: $9.77
Franz Ferdinand: You Could Have It So Much Better New: $14.96 Used: $9.46

NEW: $70.38
USED: $48.74
VALUE RETAINED: 69%

7. If you’re a newly grownup teenager, you might have:
Britney Spears: In The Zone (2003)

Britney Spears: In The Zone New: $9.97 Used: $1.99
Beyonce: Dangerously In Love New $9.97 Used: $4.99
Backstreet Boys: Millennium New: $14.99 Used: $0.01
Avril Levigne: Under My Skin New: $14.96 Used: $5.40
Jessica Simpson: In This Skin New: $13.98 Used: $1.61

NEW: $63.88
USED: $14.00
VALUE RETAINED: 22%

8. If you’re a Deadhead, you might have:
Grateful Dead: Workingman's Dead (1970)

Grateful Dead: Workingman’s Dead New: $10.99 Used: $6.00
Jefferson Airplane: Surrealistic Pillow New: $13.98 Used: $8.65
Quicksilver Messenger Service: Happy Trails New: $7.97 Used: $7.81
Hot Tuna: Burgers New $10.98 Used $9.14
New Riders Of the Purple Sage: The Adventures of Panama Red New $9.98 Used $5.89

NEW: $53.90
USED: $37.49
VALUE RETAINED: 70%

9. If you’re an adult alternative fan, you might have:
Natalie Merchant: Ophelia (1998)

Natalie Merchant: Ophelia New: $10.99 Used: $1.64
Dave Matthews Band: Crash New: $14.96 Used: $2.99
John Mayer: Room For Squares New: $9.97 Used: $3.99
Sheryl Crow: Sheryl Crow New: $13.98 Used: $0.20
Counting Crows: August and Everything After New: $9.97 Used: $1.77

NEW: $59.87
USED: $10.59
VALUE RETAINED: 18%

10. If you’re a fan of 80′s MTV groups, you might have:
Culture Club: Colour By Numbers (1983)

Culture Club: Colour By Numbers New: $11.98 Used: $5.95
Duran Duran: Rio New: $10.99 Used: $6.50
Tear For Fears: Shout New: $13.98 Used: $9.99
Billy Idol: Rebel Yell New: $10.99 Used: $5.99
Madonna: Madonna New: $13.98 Used: $7.81

NEW: $61.92
USED: $36.24
VALUE RETAINED: 59%

Conclusions: The average disc by a well-known artist generally averages about 30%-50% value retention. The big surprise is on how those Deadheads keep up the demand for old hippie music; an example of specialization being the value-smart way to listen to music. The big losers, shockingly, are adult alternative listeners, they fared worse even than the stale teenybop record buyers. Sometimes the adults aren’t always so smart.

None of this matters if you are amassing a vast library of CD’s you will never part with. But if you’re the type who might need some cash some day, or likes to exchange stuff for credit, two words: buy used.

Be sure to visit Freeway Jam

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About uao

  • http://freewayjam.blogspot.com uao

    Man, those Google ads play havoc with formatting…

  • http://www.filteringcraig.com Craig Lyndall

    [There's a top-secret way to control ad placement under some circumstances.]

  • http://www.filteringcraig.com Craig Lyndall

    I was going to do this myself, but you have the article locked for editing.

  • http://www.filteringcraig.com Craig Lyndall

    Oh, and great article by the way. I have always been fascinated by the relationship of quality, marketing and quality of the music.

    One of the most interesting bands to me was Soul Asylum. Their album was really good with Runaway Train and Somebody to Shove, etc, but it was so overdone on MTV that their album retains no value due to the excess supply.

  • http://freewayjam.blogspot.com uao

    Thanks, Craig. I’ll remember that. I didn’t know about the “locked” thing, either.

    And appreciate the thoughts, too. Yeah, I don’t know many people who are just entering the Soul Asylum market myself. That one would be a SELL at over $2, BUY at under $1, and HOLD in-between…

  • J. P. Spencer

    Great article, uao!

    The thing about the Deadhead stuff retaining high value due to demand justifies what I have been telling friends for ten years. Record labels make the real money on back catalog sales. Note the lack of a reissue of Vanilla Ice or MC Hammer currently on the market.

    And the PUNCH LINE is, most artists who would generate back catalog sales are currently being dropped by the major labels faster than you can blink. As the Deadheads die off, and that day is coming sooner than you think, the old model of a record company will probably die off with them.

  • http://freewayjam.blogspot.com uao

    Thanks J.P.

    I agree with you, especially on the point of bands being dropped before they’ve reached back-catalog status; it used to take a band 4 or 5 albums just to find their sound and hit their stride.

    Now you get one shot, right out the door. And if it flops, out you go.

    No wonder music winds up sounding so samey; nobody dare take a risk, and spend a couple of years turning it into something new.

    On your other thought–

    Before the Deadheads die off, a crash of bigger proportions is coming.

    I’ll never forget the day in 1989 when I was told by 6 record shops that my collection of vinyl records that I had lovingly spent all my lunch money on since I was 14, was worth pennies on the dollar.

    “CD’s” they told me. “Nobody wants to bother with vinyl anymore”

    “But what about my early Kinks albums?” I asked, my eyes almost welling up.

    “Rhino” they told me.

    I hear more and more people every day who tell me “I don’t bother with CD’s anymore, what with my computer and iPod”

    I’d say if you’re sitting on the fence about cashing in the collection, now would be time to do it.

    Because when everyone starts going digital, the used CD market is going to be decimated, just like the vinyl market when I parted with my beloved vinyl collection.

    I only listen to early Kinks on mp3, now.

  • http://spatulaforum.blogspot.com Nik

    I’m going to buy my wife 100 copies of the Backstreet Boys “Millennium” for a belated Christmas Present. And I’ll only spend a buck doing it. I rock!

  • J. P. Spencer

    I hear what you’re saying, uao, but old habits die hard. I don’t currently own an IPod, and I’m not considering it.

    The biggest reason for me is that I am still of the belief that a full length album is truly the better marker for judging a band/musician. ANYONE can catch lightning in a bottle once with one song, but it takes a true artist to fill a record.

    Besides that, EVEN THOUGH the art of the album cover has taken a hit from vinyl to CD, I am a nut when it comes to reading liner notes in their entirety and appreciating cover art. Case in point: one of my favorite musicians in rock history is Nicky Hopkins, and there is no way in Hell I would ever know that or discover how many well-known songs he played on if all I had was an IPod.

  • http://freewayjam.blogspot.com uao

    Those with habits will keep them as long as it is practical.

    I still love albums too; you can play albums on an iPod; you don’t have to shuffle.

    But man, do I love shuffle play. I’ll cram 10,000 songs in, and 5,000 will be ones I’ve never really listened to.

    One shuffles on, I get hooked on it, and I click a button (I hear SONY is testing a thought-activated model) and there’s the album.

    And the album art is there too, albeit on a 1″ screen.

    I’m still hanging on to my CD’s; like I said in the piece, if you never sell, you never have to think about it. And I’m an old vinyl junkie, so I do enjoy hardcopy to mull over while I listen. However, I don’t think I’ve touched a CD in months; I reach for the iPod or the media player on the computer.

    Maybe you’re right though; there won’t be a crash. Just an erosion, and it’ll take the last Gen X’er to be buried alongside his CD collection.

    But first time CD buyers: steer clear of teen stuff and adult contemporary. Maybe some things really are worthless.

  • http://www.dorksandlosers.com Tan The Man

    Good article. You can also point out that the albums that sold well in their prime oversaturated the market. With Britney Spears and N’Sync, that pop music was just a fad that satisfied for the briefest of moments. And now, with the low prices of the used CDs, these former fans have finally realized that the music they used to listen to was crap.

  • http://www.iamcorrect.com Lono

    So, CD’s age financially about as well as an American car.

  • http://freewayjam.blogspot.com uao

    Not if you’re Justin Guarini…

  • http://www.magicjunk.com/blog Mark Sahm

    Good article and comments, UAO.

    You’ve convinced me to take another look at the bookcase of CDs that’s squatting in my living room, and breeding dust bunnies.

    Although it could be a macho thing to keep it all… you know, like the size of a man’s record collection is admirable amongst other males, much like a massive Playboy collection.

  • GoHah

    What about the Winona Ryder factor? Considering the dismal retention value of ex-boyfriends Adam Duritz of Counting Crows and Dave Pirner of Soul Asylum (and anyone do the math for Jacob Dylan’s Wallflowers or Evan Dando’s Lemonheads), I smell a conspiratorial “love ‘em and leave ‘em in the cut-out bin” musical Mata Hari.

  • http://freewayjam.blogspot.com uao

    Good question GoHah, let’s find out:

    If you are Wynona Ryder, you may have dated:

    Counting Crows: August and Everything After New: $9.97 Used: $1.77
    Soul Asylum: Grave Dancers Union New: $9.98 Used: $0.01
    Thw Wallflowers: Bringing Down The Horse New: $13.98 Used: $0.01
    The Lemonheads: It’s A Shame About Ray New: $9.98 Used: $0.25

    NEW: $43.91
    USED: $2.04
    VALUE RETAINED: 5%

    Conclusions: Stay away from Wynona Ryder, she won’t do your career any good.

  • Vern Halen

    Comment #16 – very, VERY funny. Have a great day!

  • http://trinimansblog.blogspot.com/ Triniman

    Interesting article about something that I have noticed over the years.

    I’ll probably never part with my vinyl collection. In fact, I look forward to the day when I can afford a true hi-fi system to play my records. I was at an audiophile friend’s place the other day and my Belafonte at Carnegie Hall never sounded any better.

    It’s cool to have a large and varied collection of CDs, especially if you can point out all the popular albums that you don’t have, that are worth next to nothing in the used record stores.

  • http://www.livejournal.com/users/cmpwrite/ Connie Phillips

    Interesting article uao.

    Something it made me think about – is there a correlation between the price of a used and the availability of the song for download, either from I-tunes or a p2p source?

    I know my son would rather buy an album from I-tunes and put it right into the i-pod, then even mess with the Cds, I wonder if that will have any effect on cost for the “hard copy” or not.

  • http://freewayjam.blogspot.com uao

    I reckon every time someone downloads an album from iTunes or somewhere else, that’s one more orphan CD sitting in a warehouse somewhere, unloved and unwanted.

    Which means it gets discounted more to give it a competative advantage. After all, it’s cluttering up someone’s warehouse.

    If I were a CD futures trader, I’d be very nervous about the iPod.

    Frankly, I love them; I can carry 10,000 tunes with me in my breast pocket; beam them to any stereo in anyone’s house or car with an FM transmitter doohickey, and not get sick of what’s on it for months if not years.

    God bless the intrepid vinyl collector, who is a person of principles. A tip of the hat to the CD collector, who lovingly alphabetizes his collection.

    But they’re going to go the way of the proud Betamax owner, a little more every month.

    Especially once those artists and labels who have resisted making their music available for digital download so far finally cave in…

  • SFC SKI

    As a man who once had to sell his CD’s to make rent, I know mine was not worth much (but enough to keep me off the streets in wintery Boston.)
    I don’t regret selling most of it, but I hate that I can’t find certain songs on iTunes, mostly ’80′s bands that haven’t gotten around to be ing reissued, and alas, those that might never due to licensing issues. I do find that the test of time for a CD is best reflected in just how soon you find it for resale, and how many copies.

    On the whole I will sooner by the one-hit off iTunes to save money, or the entire album off Itunes to save space in my cabinet. I live out of a duffle bag a good percentage of any given year, so I need to condense things down to MP3′s and discs (I have had terrible luck with iPOds, 2 for 2 unable to update or load software and tunes; Apple gets no more of my money for iPods. It’s a shame, the size was very convenient). As I move every 3 years or so, I get tired of schlepping all those discs, so I rip and resell the few CD’s I buy.

  • http://victorplenty.blogspot.com Victor Plenty

    One advantage of the file-sharing networks at their peak is that you can find an amazing variety of rare material, which would never be profitable for anyone to bother with “licensing and re-issuing,” but which is made available on a voluntary basis by file sharers who are even happy to donate the bandwidth to let you download it.

    Of course, the corrupt over at the RIAA deem such a marvelous resource as nothing more than interference with their cultural vampirism. So they enlist the courts to stamp out all music distribution systems that aren’t crippled.

    Apple’s iTunes sounds pretty good to me sometimes, but it’s still crippled in comparison to what could be achieved with just a little real creativity. Sadly, real creativity has become a mortal sin on the business side of the recording industry.

  • http://freewayjam.blogspot.com uao

    SFC Ski- It was a wintery day when I parted with my original CD collection for rent the first time, back when I was a reckess 20-something. Coming away with less $$$ than I anticipated, I wound up having to hock my video camera, too.

    As for iPod, I actually prefer many non-Apple knock-offs; some hold more gigs, and are more flexible about what they can play.

    Victor: I’ve always felt the same way about p2p. Just because I downloaded the unreleased 1972 live album by the Stones doesn’t mean I haven’t or won’t pay cash for real Stones product; in fact, the download got me wanting to upgrade my scratchy old Exile on Main Street disc, which I did.

    They haven’t found a way to shut down Gnutella yet, although they’re trying.

    I have a lot of reservations about iTunes (one is the absence of key artists; you can’t be a one-stop source for music without having the Beatles, for example). But even in its very imperfect state, it’s continuing to grow rapidly.

    I still think iTunes is overpriced; if the price was cut 50%, the CD business would really be in trouble…

  • http://elsaelsa.com elsa

    used = stolen? Speaking as someone who had every single cd I owned, stolen…

    I have not replaced them for the most part. Just too heartbreaking. But I figured when it happened, they’d all be listed on amazon or half.com by the end of the day. And what a great collection that got. $$$$ :(

  • http://alienboysworld.blogspot.com/ Christopher Rose

    Comment #6 from J P Spencer was chosen as Comment of the Day for Wednesday 28 December 2005.

  • http://www.djradiohead.com DJRadiohead

    I used to rotate my CD collection a bit… trading/selling ‘old’ and purchasing new (or other’s people’s castoffs). I guess I suffer a little bit from what Sahm described earlier. Size Matters.

    Actually, it has a lot to do with having prematurely discarded discs and re-purchasing them. It has to do with seeing my CDs as a collection and library more than a ‘Current Playlist.’

    Interesting article and research.

  • http://www.markiscranky.org Mark Saleski

    i don’t get rid of anything.

    ANYTHING.

    (ok, except for one particularly horrible Lee Rittenour cd that i got before learning that Grp Records equals “icky smooshy sorta-jazz”).

  • http://freewayjam.blogspot.com uao

    I used to be like Mark,and took pride in keeping everything, no matter how junky it was.

    Then, I was like DJRadiohead, and started rotating stuff forcredit at good old Poobah records in Pasadena (don’t know if they’re still there…)

    Then, I decided to travel overseas, and gave away all my worldly possessions (he who travels light travels far).

    You should’ve seen the feeding frenzy when I let my three best friends rummage through my library; covers were torn in half during the struggle.

    These days, I keep a pretty comprehensive digital collection. I don’t have complete collections of songs by major artists like I used to (I once paid $60 for a lousy Ringo Starr single to get the B-side). But my digital collection has more depth; I like beingable to get just that one good song, instead of having to buy the whole otherwise-lousy CD)

    And elsa, you may be right about Amazon traffiking in stolen booty. At the local MEGA-used store, you have to show ID to trade in CD’s. But they don’t check carefully; my neighbor used to borrow my drivers license; and he’s 5 inches taller, 12 years younger, and doesn’t look like an Irishman.

    My heart goes out to you, though. Having someone swipe your whole collection is pretty horrible…

    Thanks for the comments, guys.

    And J.P.’s comments were good too; no argument from me on that one, Christopher. All the comments were; I do appreciate them.

  • http://www.djradiohead.com DJRadiohead

    Saleski, I remember listening to a Ritenour CD… once. I was in my brief “jazz-sophistocation” phase. It ended when I decided I’d rather be a moron and not listen to this stuff than a genius with Lee Ritenour. Found out a few years later I was listening to the wrong stuff entirely.

  • Scott Butki

    Wonderful piece, UAO.

  • http://dumpsterbust.blogspot.com/ Eric Berlin

    Fascinating read, uao! One of the most surprising things to me is how cheap some of those albums are new these days, let alone used. Back in my big spending on music days (figure early ’90s when I was in high school and music was a huge part of my entertainment budget) it was nearly impossible to pay less than top dollar for new CDs. Very interesting, too, that the cult/niche markets seem to retain the best.

    This piece has been chosen as a Blogcritics.org Editor’s Pick of the Week, Celery Sticks and the Post-New Year Story Cornucopia edition, congrats!

    You’ve just earned yourself the right to nominate your favorite story (for the period of 1/4 – 1/10) for next week’s Editors’ Picks column. List the link, the story title, and the author in the comments area of this week’s column, and of course tell us why it deserves to be honored!

    Thanks and congrats again ~ EB

  • http://freewayjam.blogspot.com uao

    Thank you kindly, Scott and Eric.

    This is one I had written in my head a few times over the years, but never actually tried to commit to paper or pixels. Finally got it out.

    Back in the vinyl-CD switchover period of the mid 80′s, I recall paying about $23.99 at Tower Records in NY (one of the cheaper places, in those days) for the average CD, in 1986 dollars.

    So they are a lot cheaper, and they’ve improved a lot in terms of adding bonus cuts, artwork, and the rest. So a well-chosen CD really isn’t a very bad investment at all. And if digital downloading or other distribution means ultimately push some CD’s out of print, that might actually boost the value.

    So if Nik (#8) really did get those 100 Backstreet Boys for a buck, he might want to hold on to them for when the millennium-nostalgia craze comes, around the year 2015, after Backstreet Boys CD’s have become as scarce as bluegrass 78′s. At $0.01, the price can only go up…

  • http://dumpsterbust.blogspot.com/ Eric Berlin

    I’d like to think that the competition by digital music and the massive number of ways to be entertained these days will force record companies to put out great products at affordable prices.

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    How well does your CD collection retain its monetary value? If you decided to cash it all in, how much of all that money you spent will come back to you?

    One of the interesting things about Amazon product links is looking at the disparity between the price of the new product and the going rate for used copies, both of which are listed below the title.

    In some ways, this is a purely economic indicator of the residual popularity of the album; it’s simple supply and demand. Some albums, like a good car, retain their value pretty well; others are worthless within a year.

    A simple real world indicator of this principle can be had when you truck your used CD’s over to the local used shop for cash or credit. All those one-hit wonders you got suckered into buying? So did everyone else; the used market is oversaturated and you get a dime for the CD you spent $15 on.

    Conversely, a shrewd buyer of cult titles that maintain a solid fanbase but never get overexposed will exit the store, green cash in hand.

    Supply and demand. The supply side can be affected by overpressings and underpressings; going out of print altogether ratchets up the price. However, as a rule, it’s not a bad indicator; the good enduring stuff keeps some value, the useless junk doesn’t. The CD model is even more purely reflective of popularity than vinyl record prices, since condition is more of an issue with used vinyl. The prices aren’t static; they represent hundreds of sellers, and are updated hourly at Amazon.

    To examine this farther, we’ll start with the Beatles. The White Album, from 1968, is now the Beatles’ biggest selling album ever, and remains popular among fans. The Beatles continue to attract new first-time listeners at a remarkable rate even now, so the market for used Beatle product is brisk. At Amazon, a brand new White Album, a double disc, goes for $27.99. Used starts at $16.99. That’s 61% of its value: a good retention.

    On the other hand, Justin Guarini’s (remember him, American Idol?) album is selling for $0.49 used, retaining a paltry 4% of its value since its release a few short years ago, confirming its junk status. Evidently, people can’t trade ‘em in fast enough.