Who knew Mott The Hoople even put out that many records?
June 2, 2012 3:18 PM   Subscribe

Where do flea market vinyl dealers get their records?

I live in Brooklyn, which is probably one of the old school vinyl picking capitals of the USA at this point.

I've just recently started to get into this, and on nice Saturday afternoons I like to make a slow crawl from my apartment to the Brooklyn Flea in Fort Greene, sometimes stopping at stoop sales and less formal selling-stuff-on-the-street situations if I see crates of LPs.

There are quite a few different booths selling records at the Flea: used vinyl dealers, pop culture ephemera folks, and junk booths which might have a crate of vinyl. After hitting a few different booths, patterns will start to emerge. I'll see the same few random albums over and over, or the complete oeuvre of a group I've never heard of. The more booths I visit, the more I notice it. What's even weirder, is that if I stop at a stoop sale nearby that has a lot of vinyl, often they'll have the same groups and albums as the booths in the Flea.

While I do see a few usual suspects from week to week which I can tell were popular albums back in the day (ahem, Saturday Night Fever soundtrack), these trends I'm noticing don't really account for that. It's weird stuff, and in huge quantities.

Where does this stuff come from? How do secondhand record dealers* and junk shop owners get used records? How do they choose what to sell at any given event? The approach to sought-after classic albums is easy to grok, of course. I'm talking about putting out 20 copies of this one obscure Ian Dury record. How do all the dealers end up with the same inventory, despite the diversity of business models? Is there one guy with a warehouse full of this stuff out in Queens somewhere? Is there some kind of shadowy mafia controlling all the flea market booths in the city? Is there a strategy to this?

*Another weird angle is that I haven't noticed record shops doing this at all; there are patterns there, but they're different patterns.
posted by Sara C. to Media & Arts (11 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Sometimes, it's "dead stock" meaning unsold merch from failed stores, wholesalers or suppliers. And of course, estate sales, Salvation Army, etc., yard sales and all the usual 2nd hand sources.
posted by Ideefixe at 3:32 PM on June 2, 2012

Vinyl specialist record dealers with stores usually have 2x as much stuff in their basement or some storage unit as they have on display. (Just ask them.) They've been picking up decent stuff for 20 years for cheap. They get, and have gotten, first pick from people clearing out their vinyl, if the people have any brain at all - and most people who collected vinyl do. So, they'll have the best stuff, at the highest prices.

Junk shops and flea markets get what's left over, the junk. If there is anything decent that's new there, professional and amateur pickers pick the good stuff and take it to the second hand vinyl specialists or ebay.

Sometimes you can score if you're that early picker from a clueless new flea market seller, then you can flip it to the specialist or ebay too, or keep it.

So the stuff basically self-sorts. Anything new from a new seller at the flea market gets "self-sorted" within a couple weeks.

You'll find the biggest selling albums most often, just because they were the biggest selling albums. The specialist stores have the ten copies they want to stock, and those just don't sell anyway to their clientele, so the rest winds up at the junk sources. Clueless junk sellers think Saturday Night Fever and Thriller must be valuable - they're just junk.

Something odd like 20 new copies of Ian Dury shows up because whoever had them is just plain tired of looking at them and storing them for 30 years and knows they won't sell in the next 30 years either. Still, he has probably held 2 mint copies back.

I'm sure there are small warehouses or hoards that are yet to be discovered or released. Lots of small record shops closed everywhere, and their remaining stocks were bought cheap or collected from dumpsters and are still hoarded by vinyl freaks. This stuff is 99.9% not rare valuable stuff, and its value declines every day. There's still that .1% though that may show up someday!
posted by caclwmr4 at 4:19 PM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I should clarify that I'm not a vinyl "collector" in the sense of trying to get valuable stuff for cheap. I'm well aware that the stuff in the 3 for $5 bins I've been digging through is of no real value. I understand exactly the metrics of more valuable stuff going to people who know what they're doing, who will charge accordingly. I'm listening to my $30 copy of Blonde On Blonde as I type this, actually.

I'm more curious about how the weird stuff ends up in the junk crates, and why every booth in the flea market has the same stuff in said junk crates. Despite the fact that there's 50-odd years worth of LP's out there, and a lot of the stuff I'm finding over and over is really weird.
posted by Sara C. at 4:48 PM on June 2, 2012

I'll see the same few random albums over and over

The Salvation Army store near my old apartment had, at last count, no less than sixteen well-worn copies of the same Christopher Cross album. I don't know.

or the complete oeuvre of a group I've never heard of

This one's much easier to explain: Someone was really into some band, and now they aren't, so they got rid of their collection.
posted by Sys Rq at 5:51 PM on June 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'll try again, if you give more info about what "weird" is to you, some examples.

Last summer I saw a scratched to hell Blonde on Blonde in a ragged cover in the 99 cent bin at a used shop. That copy is junk, but it is classic junk, so there are shades of junk. There was likely a nice condition $20 original elsewhere in the store.
posted by caclwmr4 at 6:12 PM on June 2, 2012

Seconding estate sales, rummage sales, etc. But, one that I think hasn't been mentioned thus far is people who have bartered for records, trading their unwanted albums for what they can get from the dealer. Stuff that's common but their vinyl is in mediocre shape -- like those innumerable Christopher Cross, Eagle's Greatest Hits, Elvis reissues, etc -- are more likely to be offered by somebody wanting to get the nice first release of some Japanese live album. So, they tend to precipitate into those 'junk' bins.
posted by AzraelBrown at 6:15 PM on June 2, 2012

Best answer: Most of the time if you answer an ad on craigslist to take away old records, it's on the condition you take everything. I imagine most people buying to listen, like me, take the choice cuts and pawn the rest off on Goodwill or the equivalent.

Dedicated buyers and sellers of junk on the other hand keep them and end up having those common titles stack up endlessly. I mean, Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass sold 75 million records and there is now a market for precisely none of them.
posted by Lorin at 7:08 PM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've been trolling Craigslist a lot lately, and "WE BUY RECORDS" is a regular announcements. If you list records for sale, or list them on Freecycle, they tend to get snapped up no matter what the situation.
posted by Miko at 8:22 PM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

For the specific issue of seeing the same record again and again, one can't say without knowing all the specifics, but I'll suggest that there may be some amount of confirmation bias or just the brain, as it often does, finding patterns in random noise.

If you flip through a thousand records every Saturday, you are just by random chance going to happen to find some duplicates beyond the usual multi-platinum suspects. Finding three copies of an Ian Dury record stands out in your mind, especially now that you are actively looking for repeats of weird albums. But you don't remember the hundreds or thousands of other less-than-notable albums that aren't duplicates. Then again, maybe the scope of duplication you're seeing is more than this can explain.
posted by Pseudonaut at 9:51 PM on June 2, 2012

Response by poster: The scope of duplication goes far beyond confirmation bias. It's not 3 Ian Dury records in a thousand, it's the same three Ian Dury records at each of 5 different booths (one of which might have had 10 copies of the same Ian Dury record, and another of which might have had every record Ian Dury ever made), and then stopping off at a stoop sale on the way home to see the same three Ian Dury records again. As if it's been organized in advance that this is Ian Dury week.

All this in a part of the world where Ian Dury was never particularly popular, selling to a market that is unlikely to be interested in Ian Dury.

That said, I think Lorin's got the answer. Especially since Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass is one of the common WTF offenders.
posted by Sara C. at 11:37 PM on June 2, 2012

Best answer: I've observed this in just about every thrift shop I've been to in central/western Massachusetts, where it's endless copies of the same Mitch Miller & His Gang, Ray Conniff Singers, Montovani, and all those other artists who were popular with grown ups who didn't like The Rock & Roll.

Once in a while I'll find somethin newer, which leads me to believe that timing is a factor too; someone could donate a crate classic 1970's rock LPs and they'd disappear within a week, but those clumps of old Lawrence Welk and Eddie Arnold albums just continue to accrete in ever-greater quantities.

(I think there's a federal law stating that all purveyors of used vinyl must stock at least 3 copies of Whipped Cream and other Delights. I think I own two copies myself.)
posted by usonian at 4:53 AM on June 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

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