When it comes to finding used records online, Ebay is my go-to online source. There are other options, but I feel they lack some very basic features necessary to properly assess and purchase used vinyl. Amazon’s marketplace is okay… but if you’re looking for a specific pressing or even more generally, a release from a specific label, good luck. There’s multiple listings of the same album, and you’re never really certain on the condition of used vinyl, because the sellers have so little room (and incentive) to write a useful description. Discogs is a possibility. But that is even more random than Amazon. The lack of pictures in Discog listings makes it discomforting.
Ebay isn’t perfect. Sometimes it’s downright frustrating, from both a seller’s and buyer’s perspective. But from my experience, it’s the best online marketplace to find used vinyl. There are certain things I look for in a listing before pulling the trigger. If you adhere to this list, you greatly increase your odds of receiving vinyl worth listening to.
- Pictures. It goes without saying. But take a good look at the picture. You probably won’t be able to see scratches and scuffs on the vinyl, but you can tell a lot from the cover (despite what the adage claims). Moldy, torn, and chewed up covers are all red flags. If the owner cared for the cover, chances are the vinyl received the same level of care.
- Shrink wrap. I personally don’t care if a record is still in shrink wrap other than the fact it provides insight into the owner’s mentality. It isn’t easy to open a record with the shrink wrap still in tact. It’s not entirely difficult, but it is time consuming. And, once again, if the owner took the time to cut the shrink wrap so it remains on the album cover, the owner probably treated their records well.
- Inserts. Obviously inserts don’t affect the sound or condition of a record. But to reiterate, if the owner kept track of all the inserts, than you can feel confident of a clean record. The more specific or obscure the insert, the more this holds true. For example, finding an early Mobile Fidelity release with the original survey insert is a good sign.
- A condition scale. Ebay provides decent freedom for a seller to provide a fair description. One thing to look for is a scale. It’s one thing to call a record NM, but does the seller actually provide details to what they consider a NM record?
- The seller’s feedback. This is where I differ from a lot of Ebay buyers. It’s assumed that the more feedback a seller has, the better they are. I find this to be wrong. Sellers that have a 10,000 feedback score are professional Ebayers. They care more about the quantity of items sold, than the quality. How much time do you think they spend accurately grading, writing a description, and packaging each record? I find feedback scores that range from 200-1000 to usually be the best sellers. This number proves their experience, but also hints at a carefulness and respectfulness of the products they sell. There are exceptions to this, of course… but if I have a choice of a seller, I almost always choose the sellers with a modest feedback score over the ones with excessive feedback.
- Play Grading. It really can’t be disputed that the best way to grade a record is to listen to it. But I’m realistic. I don’t expect all sellers to listen to every record they sell. I listen to every record I sell… but I’m kinda weird (my wife reminds me this all the time). It’s reassuring when the seller play grades a record. But, like I said, I don’t expect it… with most records. If, however, I’m spending a nice chunk of change (say, upwards of a hundred dollars) on a record, I do expect the seller to provide an accurate listening grade. After all, I’m spending some good money on the product. The very least you can do is take 45 minutes of your time.
Ultimately it’s a crap shoot. You never really know how good used vinyl sounds until you put it on a turntable. But if you follow the guidelines I’ve outlined you reduce the risk of spending money on a shitty sounding record. If you purchase a record and you feel the grading, price, and packaging were all fair… follow the seller on Ebay, or create your own list of preferred sellers.
After a year or so, you’ll have a good list built up of honorable sellers you’ve worked with, and then you can just start cherry picking from their stores.