What's the best way to sell a bulk CD collection?
December 12, 2008 7:51 AM   Subscribe

OK, hypothetical situation: you've spent a long time building a huge collection of electronic music CDs (several thousand.) Some of them are "rare" and most of them are "meaningful" but now that you've moved to beatport, torrents & all digital files, real CDs just don't have the same value to you that they used to. And for that matter, there's probably very few albums you couldn't find again if you spent a little time. At what point do you finally say, "I no longer need dozens of boxes filled with CDs I used to love?" I just reached that point myself. It's time to purge ... but I don't know how to do it!

Does anyone have experience selling a bulk collection? This isn't typical off-the-shelf CD store stuff, it's 95% electronic from late-80's acid house through to 2007-ish electro/breaks and everything in between. DJ Scratch mixes from places like turntablelabs, early 90's german "tekno" compilations, DJ service discs, painstakingly compiled UK imports of the entire Ninja Tune and MoWax catalogs, "limited" (?) pressings from live shows, hits and misses as I attempted to find my perfect genre, blah blah... Each one means something to me, but does it -really- have any value to anyone else in the age of the MP3?

I'm imagining that I could individually sell about half the CDs for a few bucks each on amazon or ebay [cry cry - I paid $20-30+ for many of them!]. For thousands of CDs that's not a small amount of $, but a big investment of time. Or maybe I could take the entire collection to a used shop, and get what, $50? Anyone have any clever ideas in-between?

Thanks all!

PS did I mention that the discs and their cases are stored separately & not in any particular order? :) I was thinking maybe I could find someone on craigslist to come over and re-assemble them and price them out on ebay/amazon to find the ones that are worth selling. But is it going to be worth the extra hassle & cost? That's the kind of creative thinking I'm hoping to find here :)
posted by SteveEisner to Computers & Internet (34 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Should add: it's a couple thousand CDs. I don't have any experience selling on ebay but this thread had some good suggestions
posted by SteveEisner at 7:52 AM on December 12, 2008

The question is, how do you connect with potential buyers who care as much about your collection as you do?

Unless there is late-80s electronica specific classified section out there (hey, there probably is) it seems that ebay is the way to go.

The first task though - regardless of what venue you choose to use for selling - is to organize your collection, catalog it, and get it into a state where you can market it. Maybe this means you dust everything off, sort and stack, take photos, and pull out the 100 most desirable examples for special treatment.

The point is that your potential market is limited, and probably picky, so just saying, "OMG awsum 80s tecno cds! BID NOW!" probably won't cut it.

Depending on the real value of your collection all of this may or may not be worth your time. In fact, you may come out better just cherry picking the valuable cds for individual listing on eBay and then selling the rest in bulk.

I've never been to a "record show" but I knew a guy who ran a record shop and part of his schtict was that every few months he'd load up his van with all his collectible stuff and road trip to shows, where he'd rent a booth or table and sell the stuff there. He did okay I think. Maybe there is something similar for electronic music? Just a thought.
posted by wfrgms at 8:04 AM on December 12, 2008

"but does it -really- have any value to anyone else in the age of the MP3?"

Sorry to be a Debbie Downer, but the answer is "probably not"
posted by tiburon at 8:08 AM on December 12, 2008

If you do end up just taking them to a used CD store, take them to different stores in batches. You'll get more money than if you just take all of them to one store at the same time.
posted by jon_kill at 8:14 AM on December 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Whatever you do, make sure you've ripped them before you sell them. It might take forever, but it'll be a treasure trove in the future.
posted by dunkadunc at 8:20 AM on December 12, 2008 [2 favorites]

I think, given the obscure nature of these CD's, that you probably will not get much for them - especially if you try to take them to used CD stores. Their business is in the toilet now, and buying up niche music - you are probably going to get cents on the CD in return.

Do what I did - be nice and generous and give them away. I made the transition to all digital around 2004 and never looked back. After taking a few months to slowly rip every CD I had to MP3 format, I put them all in a box and invited a ton of friends over to scavenge through them and find what they wanted. After all of that was done, I put the rest of them on Craigslist in the free section and they were picked up that night.

Granted - this person might be making money off of what you gave them for free - but, unless you are poor and really need the money, it may not be worth your time to take the time and sell these things.
posted by Brettus at 8:23 AM on December 12, 2008

"but does it -really- have any value to anyone else in the age of the MP3?"

It sure would in the Bittorrent music community.
posted by Sufi at 8:23 AM on December 12, 2008 [6 favorites]

I recently had to take care of a large book collection (that actually was not my own -- a roommate moved away and left behind almost everything she owned, telling me to "keep what you want, sell the rest") and faced a similar challenge (albeit, not the scale your'e at).

Here's some suggestions, based on what worked for me.

1. Take an initial pass through, assessing the physical quality of each CD. My guess is that even your average used CD store wouldn't be interested in something that was scratched, missing the liner notes, a dupe of something (unless it was a heavily-sought bootleg), etc. This can tell you a lot about the state of your collection right there -- what percentage is off-the shelf stuff (I know you said there wasn't much of this), how much of it is pressings from live shows, how much is "I duped the CD from my friend Sid", etc. Group each of these different categories together.

2. Once you've got the categories sorted, that can help you decide what to do with how much. If you have more off-the-shelf stuff than you thought, that may prompt taking just that category to a used CD store and getting rid of the lot. Or, sell them on a place like Amazon.com -- they will let you list a CD you're selling and they'll handle the billing part for you, and just deposit the funds from selling it directly into your bank account. One big warning about the off-the-shelf stuff, though -- make sure that it doesn't have any "this is for promotional use only" sticker or stamp on the liner notes. That actually can come back to haunt you with Amazon. Some used CD stores will take it, but not all.

3. Depending on the CD store you go to, they may also be able to suggest what to do with the limited pressings from live shows and the like. Maybe they also take them. Maybe someone there knows of a club of enthusiasts you can approach.

4. Contact a local DJ, particularly one who specializes in your music. They could be very happy to make you a deal. (When my parents moved, my father dealt with a lot of the vinyl LPs he didn't want to take along by contacting a local "oldies" DJ and asking him if he was interested, and ended up making about $100 for the lot.)

5. You'll probably have some stuff that the CD store or the club wouldn't want for one reason or another -- i.e., it's got the "promo copy -- not for sale" stamp on it, it's missing a liner note sleeve, the case is cracked, etc. Tag sales may be your best option for that.

6. If you have some CDs that are off-the-shelf and in good shape -- or, maybe just missing the liner notes - but no one seems to want to pay for them, Swap A CD may be something to consider -- you list the CDs you have available, and if someone wants one, they email you and you mail it to them (you do have to pay for shipping). For each CD you do that with, you get a point, and you can then take that point and trade it in for a CD off someone else's list.

Hope this helps.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:23 AM on December 12, 2008 [2 favorites]

I'm imagining that I could individually sell about half the CDs for a few bucks each on amazon or ebay [cry cry - I paid $20-30+ for many of them!]. For thousands of CDs that's not a small amount of $, but a big investment of time. Or maybe I could take the entire collection to a used shop, and get what, $50? Anyone have any clever ideas in-between?

In my experience if you do have out of print or otherwise rare CDs, they will go for decent money (especially on Amazon). You're right about the time investment though, do you really want to go to the post office every day to send a new package out, deal with customers, etc.?

A bulk listing on eBay will probably only get a small fraction of what you could sell them for individually. In order to get the full price, someone would need to like your style of music, have enough money to pay you what they are worth, and not already have enough of what you're selling that it would be paying for a bunch of duplicates. It's much more likely that any given person would want one or two of the CDs in your collection rather than the whole thing.

My plan would probably be the following: Find all of the rare CDs out of your collection, and find out what they sell for on Amazon and eBay. Sometimes one that you think is out of print has actually been reissued and worth almost nothing, so it's worth checking. Figure out what price you can sell something for and have it be worth your time, and sell all of your CDs that are worth more than that limit. The rest, sell in bulk and be done with it.
posted by burnmp3s at 8:24 AM on December 12, 2008

Truly rare electronic CDs still hold their value. For example, CDs from the em:t label will go for $100+ when they hit eBay, Discogs, or Gemm.
posted by zsazsa at 8:27 AM on December 12, 2008

Another option, if you want to hang onto the music but want to ditch the CDs themselves, would be to follow this guy's lead. You can send them all off to a company that will rip them onto a portable HD and keep the CDs themselves for their troubles, and usually kick you some cash, and they'll cover shipping. If it were me, I wouldn't want to deal with the hassle of selling and ripping the music; I'd sell the most valuable ones individually, and then ship the rest of them off.
posted by craven_morhead at 8:31 AM on December 12, 2008 [2 favorites]

Although it is generally true that the bottom has really fallen out of the used CD market, there are plenty of exceptions to the rule, and certainly parts of the Mowax / Ninja Tune catalog, and like-minded stuff, would be in that group.

The very simple question, really, is: do you want to do lots of work and maximize your profits, or no work and get a fraction of their value? If you decide to take the plunge and sell them on eBay, it would be worth your while to sign up with a service like inkfrog for a month or two, which makes writing / listing auctions much easier. It would be best to think of it as a temporary part-time job, really.

If the thought of selling them online makes your eyes glaze over (and that IS a lot of work) the other best way to get the most out of them is to take them to a record/CD show in a large or at least semi-large city. It'll still be a few days work of reuniting all the CDs/cases & pricing them, but at the end of the show you'll be done with it. Price the stuff to sell and at the end of the day it probably wouldn't be too difficult to find a dealer who will take the rest off your hands (for a pittance).

One other option to consider is to find someone who sells on eBay and offer them a percentage of the profits to list the stuff for you. They will probably ask for -- and deserve! -- 40% - 50% of the profits, but that will still be much more than you'll get by taking them to a store or selling them in bulk online.

I sell on eBay for a living (and for my first couple of years there sold nothing but electronica/dance vinyl & CDs), feel free to mefimail me with any questions.
posted by the bricabrac man at 8:31 AM on December 12, 2008

I understand that on EBay, comics are sold in batches of one gem plus some filler. Perhaps you could pursue a similar strategy.

Also, open a LibraryThing account and get a CueCat. Scan in the barcodes on the CDs and let LT build your catalog. Waste a couple of hours, assigning a few useful tags to the records. Then, throw in the LT subscription with the CDs when you sell them: you get added value, a differentiating feature to youur sale, and maybe a link from the LT blog if you ask nicely. :7)
posted by wenestvedt at 8:47 AM on December 12, 2008

2nding what Dunkadunc said:... for the love of dear christ, please rip them first (preferably using something like Exact Audio Copy into a Lossless format like FLAC) before you do anything with them. (and if you really wanna be nice, share them after ripping) yes, I know lossless requires more hard drive space, but hard drive space is cheap these days. Once you get the collection digitized, then you'll be less stressed about deciding what to do with it. (yes, I know there is still the "personal value" but as others have said, you're unlikely to get $$ what you think they are personally worth. I have the same problem with a large comic book collection that is probably valued over $3000 but I'd be lucky to get $300 for. Thats just the way it goes. (unless you are lucky enough to find some niche basement collector itching to flesh out his collection )
posted by jmnugent at 8:53 AM on December 12, 2008

a few years ago i sold a lot of CDs through half.com - it was easier for me than setting up auctions on ebay. I'm not sure if people are using the site much anymore, but it exists. In several instances I sold "worthless" CDs for good money, and what i considered to be "great" titles for almost nothing. With the extremely rare stuff you're better off with ebay.
posted by brandsilence at 9:14 AM on December 12, 2008


1. sort through your collection and pull out anything you know to be valuable
2. rip everything, most anything that rips will kick your CD out when it's done, so this isn't a sit-watching-it kind of operation
3. sell off all the valuable stuff that you removed in stage 1
4. offer the rest to friends as previously suggested
5. anything left is taken to a charity shop and given away; certainly in the UK they like getting stuff for free because whatever price they get for it is pretty much all profit

You now have a good digital collection and some money in your pocket, your friends have some free shiny things, and the charity shop has some stuff to sell. The only real loser in this whole process is the teenager whose Granny buys him one of your classic 80s electronic CDs instead of the latest thing thrown together by some idiot sampling 80s electronic music tracks.
posted by mandal at 9:19 AM on December 12, 2008

Please pardon my naivete, but is it actually legal to sell CDs after ripping them? Aren't you only allowed to own/sell one instance of the recording? I always assumed you had to keep or destroy the original disks.
posted by amtho at 9:28 AM on December 12, 2008 [2 favorites]

Exact Audio Copy + AccurateRip -> FLAC/LOG/CUE for the win.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 9:33 AM on December 12, 2008

Sorry - I'd say keep 'em, in binders (ditching the cases - I keep the booklet/cover, but ditch the plastic) or boxes.

You never know when you may need to re-rip or the RIAA comes a'knockin...
posted by jkaczor at 9:33 AM on December 12, 2008

If you decide not to sell those rare albums, consider donating them to a special collections library. Stuff disappears from history unless it gets archived.
posted by Hildago at 10:32 AM on December 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

amtho, it is still illegal to rip CDs and then sell them, while retaining the ripped files. You are supposed to delete any legal "safety backup files" that you may have made once your ownership of the actual licensed medium terminates.

Obviously everyone does it, but to be so forthcoming on a public forum about your intentions to break the law on a large scale is a little cavalier, especially given how overreactionary the flailing zombie remains of the RIAA is being these days.

I have my 3k+ cd collection tucked away in DJ sleeves (traycard and all) from DiscSox. Great little company, nice product.
posted by Aquaman at 10:38 AM on December 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Sorry, I didn't mean "your" intentions, of course. I meant "one's" intentions, referring to others, above.
posted by Aquaman at 10:43 AM on December 12, 2008

If you don't mind throwing some time into it, discogs will probably be the most profitable way to do this.
posted by aubilenon at 10:44 AM on December 12, 2008

amtho, it is still illegal to rip CDs and then sell them, while retaining the ripped files. You are supposed to delete any legal "safety backup files" that you may have made once your ownership of the actual licensed medium terminates.

Do you have a cite for this? As far as I know the legality/illegality of that would be based on Fair Use laws in the US, which are not entirely clear about things like this. It's not even really clear if creating backups of CDs that you keep is legal.

To be able to say for sure that it's illegal there would have to be a law that specifically forbids this, or there is some sort of binding agreement when you buy a CD that disallows it, or there has been a specific case where a precedent was set for it. My guess is that a court would probably rule it to be illegal, whereas taking a digital photo of a painting and then selling the painting would not, but that's just a guess.
posted by burnmp3s at 10:53 AM on December 12, 2008

As a scholar of popular music, lemme make the case for a donation to a research library. Not every library will have a recordings section that has a collection mandate for "cutting edge late 80s electronic music," but some of them would be thrilled to keep and care for your collection. It may be worth calling the libraries of universities in your area and asking them if they are interested in donations of CD recordings from the late 80s/ early 90s.

You could also post this question on the "Dancecultures" listserv, which is populated by academics that work on dance music. Those who are already professors may have an interest in "encouraging" their music librarian to acquire some of these recordings. And, if nothing else, they will probably be able to tell you which libraries have well-funded public culture / popular music collections.

BUT, an important step before all of these is to organize and catalog your collection. You need to highlight a few items that represent the breadth of your collection and underline the rarity of the items. This will especially help if you end up donating / selling this to a research library, as the librarian you deal with needs to justify the acquisition to his/her superiors.
posted by LMGM at 12:09 PM on December 12, 2008

Donate to a large library.
posted by joeclark at 1:02 PM on December 12, 2008

You might want to have a look at hard to find records and see if they might be interested in any part of your collection. I've only ever dealt with them for vinyl purposes, though, so I don't know what kind of offer they'd make for CDs.

(Incidentally, if you happen to have a copy of Sm:)e Records' History of Our World Part 2 in good condition, I would be insanely delighted to take it off your hands for the original purchase price. I've been trying to track one down for bloody AGES and have been met with only large quantities of fail and despair.)
posted by elizardbits at 1:23 PM on December 12, 2008

You could set up a couple online accounts at somewhere like Amazon and list your collection on Discogs with all marked as for sale. You'd have to make sure to remove it from both once you've sold a CD, but you'd be getting more exposure. A lot of music buying/selling that used to happen on ebay or gemm is now through Discogs.
posted by mikeh at 1:47 PM on December 12, 2008

Yes, use Discogs, where even elizardbits could find a copy of a favorite long lost CD.

Hard To Find Records should not be used at all due to their in-house bootlegging operations.
posted by rhizome at 2:43 PM on December 12, 2008

If you have a Mac, check out Delicious Monster's Delicious Library app. It might help you keep track of the albums you decide to sell.
posted by vkxmai at 4:06 PM on December 12, 2008

Apart from agreeing with those who say you should sell on eBay, Amazon, discogs.com, etc., the things that you know are really rare, I'd also say wait. As you surely know, fashions come in and out in electronic music, and you may find in 5 years from now people really want the output of a label that no-one cares about today.
posted by galaksit at 8:52 PM on December 12, 2008

I had a similar situation a few months ago with obscure metal from the late 80's and early 90's. I knew a lot of people out there would pay good money for the CDs, but who honestly searches for those bands on eBay all the time? You aren't going to have enough of those loose-pocketed buyers who also happen to search for this obscure artist during the 7 days your auction is up for.

But eBay is great because of its synergistic effect. If you 1) list all of these CDs individually, but at the same time, 2) put a starting price of 99 cents, 3) offer combined shipping discounts, and 4) say "check out my other auctions, I'm selling x number of similar CDs this week", people will click and buy. And so a buyer may be a fan of ten different obscure artists that you're selling, but they only need to find one of them in order to find the rest of them. And you will find that all of the CDs will sell for a whole lot more than they would if you just listed them one by one at different times.

Use eBay Turbo Lister to write up all of the listings in advance, and then list them all on a Sunday evening for 7 days.

A disclaimer, I only had about 80 CDs that I needed to sell when I did this, so this could be completely unrealistic for you with a few thousand. But if you were able to weed out the ones that you don't think would sell for much, and only list the "cream of the crop", the rarities or the ones that you think people would be interested in, and do it in batches (a hundred a week or so), you could probably get your money back on those. Then you could employ some of these other ideas to get rid of the rest of them...
posted by relucent at 10:52 AM on December 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

but who honestly searches for those bands on eBay all the time? You aren't going to have enough of those loose-pocketed buyers who also happen to search for this obscure artist during the 7 days your auction is up for

Just wanted to note that you don't have to rely on people obsessively running searches every week; you can set it up so eBay notifies you every time an auction with (obscure band name of your choice) in the title is run, and that's what most people looking for obscure stuff do.

And yes, relucent's idea of running them together, or at least running similarly themed titles together and telling people to check your other auctions, is a good one.
posted by the bricabrac man at 11:24 AM on December 13, 2008

you can set it up so eBay notifies you every time an auction with (obscure band name of your choice) in the title is run, and that's what most people looking for obscure stuff do.

While this is true, you still have to get at least two people competing with each other to set a reasonable price. If this stuff is obscure, consider listing at fixed price (aka buy-it-now). You can add "or best offer" if you want. Fixed price listing can get ~50% higher prices on well established commodities that aren't extremely active/common. On truly obscure stuff, it can mean getting a price when you would otherwise have to sell for the opening bid (because not enough people are looking at the right time).
posted by Chuckles at 1:47 PM on December 13, 2008

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