Saturday, August 8, 2015

An Exhaustive Guide to Selling Records on Discogs

Jenny and I used to joke about my record collection being our cancer fund. And then I got cancer, and it became a reality. The test leading up to my diagnosis and my total thyroidectomy and radioactive iodine ablation spanned 2014 and 2015, which left two deductible and two out-of-pocket maximums to meet. $4000, or "four large" as Frank Seymon might say on True Detective. About 10% of our yearly take-home pay. Factor in loan payments and such, yeah, it was rough. I was able to have some of the balance forgiven by the hospital, but there was no such luck with bills for my doctor, the laboratory, and the imaging people. So I started selling my records, and so far I have almost accounted for half my medical bills.

This led to what I have dubbed the Great Decluttering, which has involved going through all the books and junk I've been hoarding for years and putting it on, Amazon, or Ebay. The Great Decluttering has almost entirely covered that $4000 (which, with Olathe Medical Center's financial assistance is more of a $3500 shortfall) and now I'm out of control. Everything must go (plus I'm planning for the out of pocket maximum I will invariably have to meet in 2016 because there's still work to be done/malignancies to be removed on the cancer front).

However, if there's one thing I've taken away from going toe to toe with the reaper, it is that owning valuable things I never use is wholly senseless. Part of this is tied to finally achieving adulthood. I made many, many, MANY stupid financial decisions during my late teens and twenties. Actually, I'd say that most of my financial decisions were stupid ones. And I'm spending the last year in my twenties trying to atone for those sins and set the table for my thirties. Part of this is tied to being a father and needing to put away childish things, but it still amazes me how quickly my sentimentality for objects vanished once I got the hang of hawking stuff online.

That's not to say I'm not still precious about certain objects. I'm not obliterating my LP collection, I'm still keeping a big chunk. I'm just chipping away at the chaff. That's a slippery slope, because based on the way this has been going, there are always going to be records to chip away. Like this Abel Tasmans record I own. I could probably net $30 from it, but I don't want to give it up because A.) It's a great, fun record that B.) Is kind of weird and adds to the neatness factor of my collection and C.) I'm a huge Flying Nun Records fanboy. But that's not to say I won't change my mind in 6 months when I'd rather take toss that $30 into our high yield savings account and bolster our down payment fund. I'm still keeping my Vault Boy bobblehead from the Fallout 3 Collectors Edition I bought years back. I sold off the tin lunchbox it came in ($40!) and the game, making of DVD, and art book ($30 for the lot!) but that damn bobblehead brings me so much joy. Rosie waves to it every time I take her into our little loft computer room. It's just damn neat.

I'm not saying get rid of all your neat shit, and if you are sitting financially pretty, go ahead and buy all the neat toys and records and movies you want. But if you are cash-strapped, it's just plain insane to throw away money on wants vs needs. This is boring grown-up talk, for sure, but I am now a boring grown up and this post is here in case you decide you want to hit the reset button on all those goddamn records you bought when that (high interest) student loan money was growing on trees.

For reference (and for folks living in that glorious realm where record buying is a sustainable hobby), here's my Discogs store.

What You Will Need

A Stockpile of records - $5000 - Ideally purchased in college because you had a surplus of cash and were 18-23 and very, very stupid with your money.
This is what remains of my once prosperous empire. 
My wares.
LP Mailers - $50 - Snag a box of 50 LP record mailers and 50 (or 100) 45 mailers. You can get these on Amazon with free shipping. Actual thing that happened:
My Father in Law: What's that big package out there?
Me: Oh, it's a big box of cardboard.
50 mailers of either variety will set you back $25 a pop, money that you can recoup by adding it into your shipping fees.
You can get a big box of 50 for $25 on Amazon. Wholly necessary. Don't think you can getaway with shipping vinyl in used pizza boxes. You're better than that.
I feel like there are way more than 50 mailers in this box. I can't remember where I ordered them from, but it seems like way too many.
LP Sleeves - $12 - Because Love Garden is lovely, all the records you buy (except for maybe the ones in the shotgun room) come with a sleeve. If yours are sleeveless, it's a nice touch to send them sleeve. This also allows you to mail the record out of the sleeve to prevent damage during shipping). $12
Packing Tape - I buy this 4-pack of Scotch moving & storage tape because I'm too lazy to research whether or not it would be cheaper to buy packing tape at Costco. I'm sure it is (especially of tape is on sale), but it involves math and I have no time for math. $10

Packing Tape - $10 - Any kind will do. I like the Scotch moving and storage variety, but that's me being hoity toity. It just feels good and thick. You feel safe with this tape. God, who am I, Don Draper? But seriously, Don Draper could totally sell you on this tape. Four rolls of approximately 200 yards of tape will set you back ten bucks. You can buy an 8 pack at Costco but it's cheaper to get the four packs.
Sweet, glorious, shiny tape.
Tape Dispenser - $20 - For my first few months of record slinging, I considered the purchase of a tape dispenser an extravagance. I'll keep my $20 thank you very much. But you try getting the damn tape off the stupid roll, getting it just the right length, cutting it, having the tape fold back up on you and then tossing the thing across the room and see if you don't change your tune awfully quick. Worth every penny. And hey, should I ever run out junk to sell, I can always turn around and hawk it on eBay.
Preserver of sanity. 
Half-Sheet Postage Labels - $10 - I buy these packs of 100 that come two labels to a sheet. I handle all of my transactions through PayPal, which has a built in postage thingy that makes the whole process pretty much headache free. You're welcome to take your stuff into the post office and wait in line. You might buy your postage from my my dad, the friendly and surly postal clerk, which would be a nice interaction, but if you've gotta printer it's a no brainer.

Scissors - $5 - For cutting out the labels. I'm sure you can buy fancier labels that have the postage-area pre-cut but that's an extra expense. Just buy a pair of scissors (or, better yet, find some lying around. Maybe the ones in the craft room on which your wife has scrawled "SEWING ONLY." She's asleep with the baby while you're packaging all this stuff, and she never has to know. Or, because your wife has ESP and will rain down the fires of hell on you for besmirching her sewing scissors, just buy a pair because scissors are cheap.
Just some plain, boring ass scissors. Get yourself some.
Printer Ink - $10 (if you're smart about it) -  This will vary depending on what kind of printer you have. I have an Epson printer-scanner-copier and I buy third-party cartridges for it off of Amazon. In general, if you are not buying printer ink off the internet you are leaving money on the table. $10 for 3 black cartridges that last just as long and are just as good as the $25 ones from the store.

Extra Cardboard - $0 (unless you wanna be a princess about it. I kid. Were these $10 for a pack of 200 I'd be in, but $30 gets you inserts for 100 shipments, which is an extra 30 cents that would need to be accounted for in your shipping costs. It makes sense if you're a record store or this is your lifeblood, but for the hobbyist it's an extravagance) -  You can buy the cardboard insert pads, but why would you? Sure, harvesting cardboard from your house or back alleys isn't glamorous, and cutting it into 12" x 12" squares will probably lead to some carpal tunnel flare ups, but it's better than blowing $30 on precut cardboard (I should note, these inserts are REALLY nice and convenient and thicker than your average cardboard, but unless you're professionally moving records it's hard to justify how much these will eat into your profits). Put those economy sized diaper boxes to work, damnit! The first batch of record mailers I bought kept the LPs snug and I didn't need inserts. The second batch I bought had more depth and I required inserts to make sure the records didn't flop around. Better safe than sorry. $0, unless you wanna be a princess about it.

Small Postage Scale - $20 - Maybe you have a little scale in your kitchen. I did, and it hasn't been back to the kitchen since I started selling records. As of this writing you can get a little postage scale for $18 on Amazon. I know the point of this venture is to save money, but just bite the bullet and get one. You'll need it, and it's worth not having to deal with the hassle of the post office, where you would not only need to wait in line and buy postage, but get the tracking numbers and plug them into the PayPal invoices. Doing it through PayPal lets you do all of this in about 45 seconds. Assuming you go by the old equation that time is money, this thing more than pays for itself after like, a day and a half.
I gave up precision for eyeballing measurements specifically so I wouldn't have to keep shuttling this thing up and down stairs.
Bonus: Sharpie Markers - Not necessary, but you probably have some lying around, so throw one in the nifty little holster on the tape dispenser (they can keep your scissors company). I like to write THANK YOU on the back of the mailer because, well, why not. It's a nice touch.

Total Start-up Cost: $135. It seems like a lot, but Discogs lets you set your own shipping cost, so set it to account for this. I charge $5 for a single LP. It costs about $3 for the shipping, $.50 for the mailer, and the other $1.50 goes toward tape, ink, labels, scissors, and the one-time purchase of the tape dispenser and the kitchen scale (assuming you didn't have one already). This extra $1.50 also helps to offset the (very fair) 8% commission Discogs charges and the (annoyingly unfair, but a necessary evil) 30 cent plus 2% of sale charges PayPal lays on you. I adjust my shipping prices to accomodate multiple items, but I won't charge more than $6 for a domestic sale because it's never really gonna cost any more than that unless they're ordering like 20 records (and even then, with Media Mail, it'll be $7-8 bucks). Don't get greedy, be fair.

Now you have set the table and can have peace of mind that, assuming you have 50 records and 50 45s to sell, you are going to more than recoup all of these expenses.

Setting Up Your Discogs Account
It's so easy. Just link from Facebook for ultimate simplicity.Go to the Seller tab in settings and link your PayPal account. Next, select your payment methods. I only accept PayPal because it's the quickest and most hassle free, but you do have some other options.

Your biggest concern when setting up to sell is laying out your shipping policy. Here is mine:
Ships Media Mail or First Class depending on weight. 

Shipping to the US 
LPs - $5 + .50 for each additional LP ($5.50 for Double LPs, $6 for Triple and so on and so forth) maxing out at $6. 
7”s - $3.50 for up to three 7"s + .50 for every additional 7" maxing out at $5. 
CDs - $3 + .50 for each additional CD maxing out at $5. 

Inquire for international rates! 

Domestic rates include delivery confirmation. Items $50 and over will require insurance. Payment by Paypal must include the shipping address the item is shipping to. Please make sure your Paypal address is the address you want your items sent to. 

Order will be cancelled if no payment is received within 4 days. 

Items are conservatively graded. Feel free to contact me if you'd like a more thorough description of the item!
That is the product of a lot of trial and error. The easiest way to compile your own shipping policy is to look at the seller terms of other buyers. I'm not quite happy with the way I have laid out the variables for shipping and considering offering a flat $5 fee for as many LPs as the customer wants to order. Shipping via Media Mail only climbs over $5 if you're sending more than 5 pounds worth of stuff, so it's easy to offer breaks if it means I can move more of my stock. For 7"s it's a little tricker, as they can ship out as First Class Mail. First Class Mail rates jump ounce by ounce and though you can ship First Class up to 13oz, anything over 8oz is cheaper to ship Media Mail.

I was trepidatious about shipping internationally at first, but after I got the hang of selling records, I realized that it's not any more difficult than shipping domestically. Well, not really. You can do it through PayPal, but the rates differed from what I calculated on USPS's handy international rate calculator and (after talking to my father, the friendly/surly postal clerk) I just handle all international shipping through the USPS website (I'm sure PayPal's international shipping works just fine, but I'm happy to eat a little money for some peace of mind...for now). The main difference is that you will need to fill out a customs form. It's all integrated, and super easy to use. You just plug in the cost, what it is, and verify that it's not over a certain amount/weight and you can send stuff pretty much anywhere. It is prohibitively expensive, and you'll want to make sure to quote the buyer a price before shooting them an invoice.

You can set rates in your seller terms, but I ask that the prospective buyer inquire about rates before purchasing. That doesn't stop dudes from Belgium of Bangkok from ordering weird Drag City 45s from the mid-90s, but I'd say 80% of them end up needing their order cancelled because they don't want to pay $20 shipping. But I'm always happy when someone is able to pony up that record because I think its fun sending good tunes globally. Plus, when was the last time you interacted with someone from Siberia? Note to self: Make sure you check where the order is going before firing off a perfunctory invoice with $5 shipping. Just today I sent standard $3 shipping invoice to someone in Australia. Fortunately, it was a CD sampler and was under an ounce so I only ended up having to eat 50 cents or so. But beware!

The rest of your shipping policy is the rules and regulations bit, and you can layer in as much or as little as you'd like. I tried to keep mine simple. Anything over $50 needs insurance to protect in case of accidental destruction. You can configure the rate on the USPS website. I believe it's something like $2.75 between $50-$100, which is easy enough for the seller to swallow if they're already shelling out that much money.

I stipulate that the buyer's PayPal address should match their Discogs address. It's not a requirement, but the PayPal address is the address I will send the record to because that's the one that is used when I use PayPal's wonderful little shipping interface. When I first started selling, I shipped a Kid Dynamite LP to a girl in North Carolina. A month later she wrote me, asking where her record was and, upon investigating via the tracking number, I got a big fat alert saying it was in the process of being returned. Because she hadn't put her apartment number in the address. It eventually worked its way back to me and I sent the record back to her (with the apartment number affixed), invoiced her for the new shipping, and everyone was happy, but it's better to avoid that headache inducing stuff altogether. If I have a stack of LPs to ship and I'm doing it before work or something, I don't always double check. It's good to double check, and if there is a discrepancy, contact the buyer right away and find out where the record is going.

I wish I could cancel orders after two days but, alas, Discogs gives buyers 4 days before you can cancel the order and flag them as a nonpaying buyer. After a day, I will send the buyer a nudge via a Discogs message. After two days, I will get the buyer's email from the invoice and send an email. Usually that will do it. If they don't respond after that, I cancel the order as soon as possible because four days it's just sitting there not getting paid for is four days it's not on the market.

Be helpful and courteous! Offer to answer questions, send pictures, or give a more thorough description of the record's description. I let the buyer know that I grade conservatively, which leads to a lot of "IN WAY BETTER SHAPE THAN I EXPECTED" comments which is fun. Every record collector is different. Say you list an album as NM. It might look brand new by your standards save for a couple of small, barely noticeable surface scratches, but to someone else not listing the record as a VG+ is a devious transgression. We will get into the nebulous world of record grading in a minute.

Listing Your Records for Sale
Grab one of those records you want to sell. Hold it in your hand, look it over, and decide that you can live without it. That's the first step. Once you can destroy your hoarder tendencies and learn to keep only the records you will actually listen to, you will be a happier person. Or maybe you can't destroy those tendencies, but in that case this is not for you and just make sure your massive shelves are bolted to the wall, because they're a safety hazard.

The first step is identifying the record you are selling. Newer LPs are easier to identify, older LPs can take a solid 20 minutes of researching photos, catalog numbers, and whether or not the center label is orange or red. Fortunately, most of my collection is newer stuff and easy enough to ID.

For example, let's say I'm selling my copy of The Clientele's Strange Geometry. I have linked to the master listing, which is where you are going to want to start. Take a look at the different versions listed on that page. In this case, there are four. Three are CDs. One is an LP. Great! It doesn't get any easier than that. Weirdly, this excellent album hasn't been reissued. I wonder if it's worth more than the $14 I paid for it? Take a look at the Marketplace tab on the side of the page. This will list all copies of this LP currently for sale.

Holy crap! The lowest listing is for $170! "I'M GONNA BE RICH! GONNA CALL UP MY BOSS RIGHT NOW AND QUIT MY JOB..." is what you might shout to yourself if you get carried away. That's a big number, but take a look at the statistics.

Lowest: $50.00
Median: $60.91
Highest: $70.60

This is probably the most useful tool at your disposal on Discogs. In addition to pinpointing exactly how much you should list your item for, you can also see the entire sales history of any given record. I find this stuff to be incredibly fun. The statistics also tell you when the item last sold (May 15th, 2015 in this case), how many people have it in their collections and, most importantly, how many people want it. The more people who want it, the better. When you list it, collectors with this album on their wantlist will get a nifty email letting them know there is a copy for sale.

It looks like that copy that sold in May sold for $61, so that's a good starting point. Another one sold a couple weeks after that in Australia, but I'll go ahead and throw that out and base my price on the domestic going rate. I'll even start a little greedy and list it for $70 to see if anyone wants Strange Geometry that bad.

And they don't. Someone places an order a few weeks after listing but says he meant to order God Save the Clientele and I'm like "yeah sure, ok" and cancel the order no harm no foul. After a couple more weeks my fishing trip is over and I drop the price to $60. After a few more weeks, I drop it to $55 and that's where it currently sits. How long you want to let it sit out there at a given price is up to you, and with rare and out of print albums, it helps to give these listings some time because sometimes it's going to take that one person who REALLY wants it stumbling across your listing for it to move. Personally, I am aiming for somewhere between the low and the median. I have faith that the album's value hasn't totally bottomed out and a quick search shows that it isn't being reissued anytime soon so I'm not going to take less than $50. I'm cool with that. Not factoring in inflation, that's about a $35 profit, and more than I was ever expecting to get back since I never expected to sell any of my records.

Once you have done your research and decided on a price point, click the SELL YOUR ITEM at the top right of the page and head down the rabbit hole.

The first thing Discogs will ask for is the grading. Fortunately, there's a handy link right there that explains the difference between a G+ and a VG, a VG and a VG+, etc. They go by the Goldmine Standard and their guide is as thorough and easy to understand as you're going to find on the web. The more LPs you list, the better you will understand how to grade your items. Here is my listing:
Clientele, The - Strange Geometry (LP, Album) 
Media ConditionVery Good Plus (VG+)
Sleeve ConditionVery Good Plus (VG+) 
Looks amazing. Borderline NM. Sleeve has a very light hint of ringwear but is otherwise gorgeous. Requires additional $2.75 for insurance.

"Looks amazing." With a period. No nonsense. I want to ensure the buyer that, though it has the faintest whiff of ringwear developing on the sleeve, the record looks like new. Here I am able to grade conservatively and paint a more specific picture of the record I am selling. Speaking from personal LP buying experience, this is the stuff that helps me pull the trigger and order with confidence.

Once you have graded your LP and added any comments, it's time to set the price. Like I said, don't be a crazy person and put it up for $500 unless you have done your research and found that to be the going rate. is another fantastic resource to pair with Discogs' Sales History tool. Popsike is useful when an LP (or a specific version of an LP) has no sales history on Discogs. Popsike catalogs LPs that have sold in online auctions and makes it very easy to price your record. Let's look up that Clientele LP shall we? Though it only sold for $35 the last time it was up for auction, the rest of the listings are definitely in that $45-$70 range and I'm comfortable with not taking less than $50. Click List Item for Sale and it's out there! Now just wait for some nerd to buy it!

You Made a Sale! 
Make sure your email settings let Discogs alert you when you have sold a record. Once you get the email, head over to the Discogs website, click Marketplace up at the top, and then select Orders. Click on the order number to view the transaction. Next you will send an invoice to your prospective buyer. Enter how much you want to charge for postage and hit send. Easy as that. As soon as you get a little ding from your email telling you so and so has deposited $57.75 into your PayPal account (it's going to be a little less than that factoring in PayPal's fees) go ahead an package that puppy up! Note: Discogs' cut of your sale isn't taken off the top. Instead they send you an invoice once a month and you pay 8% of your total sales. I monitor this and make sure I keep enough in my PayPal account to cover the fees, so when that invoice shows up I can immediately pay it and get it out of sight/out of mind.

Packaging and Shipping
Now we get to put all of that stuff you bought to use! This stuff is pretty self explanatory.
I love this record, but there is this horrendous rap interlude on "Galaxies" that is straight-up untenable. 
Take the LP out of the jacket (keep it in the paper sleeve) and lay it on top of the jacket. Encase this in a plastic sleeve. There you go, that's step one of damage control.
Next you're going to want to make sure you can't feel the LP sloshing around in the mailer. Use some of that excess cardboard I had you rustle up and make sure it is nice and snug.
Misleading image. For this one I used some proper cardboard inserts I had lying around from a wholly counterproductive LP purchase I recently made ($5 for Mark Mulcahy's Fathering, you'd have pulled the trigger too).
Tape it up, there you go.
I like to do two exclamation points and make a smiley face out of them. Find your own personal touch!
Head to your PayPal account and find the payment from Joe Recordnerd. Hey! It gives you an option to print shipping! This is why I'm OK with paying PayPal their fees. They make it so damn easy to get your stuff where it is going. Click the Print Shipping Label link by the transaction and fill out everything it asks. The address should already be in there, so you'll just need to enter the type of mail, the type of package it is, and the weight. You'll use either Media Mail or First Class, depending on what you're selling and how much it weighs (unless you're offering expedited shipping via Priority Mail). Make sure to round up whatever number your scale gives you in ounces. If its weighing in at 15.75 ounces, set the shipping weight as 16. Easy peasy. You can also add insurance if you want, so easy.
Always a balancing act. The trouble with my tiny scale is that when I lay an LP on it, I can't see the weight, so I have to quickly pull the LP away and mentally analyze the ounces. But sometimes this works. I WANT a dedicated postage scale, but I want a house more, so that $20 will just stay where it is. 
Next you will pay and print. The postage is automatically deducted from my PayPal account and I just pop in a printer label, hit print, and let it fly. Affix label to package. Write a happy little note of thanks on the back. You did it! Once this is done head back to the Discogs order and change the status from "Invoice Sent" or "Payment Pending" (the seller with usually set it to Payment Pending to acknowledge that they have received your invoice) to "Shipped" and run that thing up to the post office IMMEDIATELY! I DON'T CARE IF IT'S 3 AM DO IT DO IT NOW! I'm just kidding. Let them know you will mail it out the next day (or that afternoon if you're doing it in the morning, you got this), give them the tracking number from the postage label, and that's it.

Though this is basically a hobby/side hustle, it's important to exercise basic customer service technique. Don't be a dick, be friendly as hell. I had a guy get super annoyed because the spine was splitting a little on a 7" I listed as VG+. It was totally my bad, and when he asked for some sort of partial refund I comped his shipping and he was happy. He wrote nice feedback, which is super important. People won't buy your stuff if you're a dick. Maybe they will, but if you continually do a crappy job packaging LPs or you lie about the condition, that will catch up with you.

One of my favorite things about selling on Discogs is the personal connection. Unlike Ebay or or Amazon, you deal directly with the customer. You send the invoices, offer discounts, and work with the customer if there are any special circumstances. I like that these records I've just had sitting around, going unlistened to, get new life in someone's collection. People are almost always happy when they're buying records. Maybe that's some sentimental McDonalds-esque philosophy, but it's really nice having records people have been looking to get at a reasonable price. I know how much I love it when I see a Superchunk record go up for $5, so I pay it forward.

Make a stack of the LPs ready to go out in the mail and drop them off at the post office within 24 hours. I usually take them with me to work and, because I have a baby prone to throwing yogurt everywhere at breakfast (HOW DID IT GET IN HER DIAPER! HOW IS IT IN MY HAIR?! SHE IS A WIZARD!), I am always up against the clock and don't have time to swing by the post office before I clock in. Unless it is an unbelievably mild autumn day, never ever leave these in your car. Even then, I always take the packages in to work with me and then run them to the post office on my lunch break.

And that's it! I told you it was going to be exhaustive! But I wrote the guide I would have wanted to read when I was too intimidated to start selling stuff records online. My biggest fear was that I would improperly grade something and someone would be super pissed off. Most of the feedback I've received says that the record was in better shape than described, and that's what I am for. I'm doing the thing now where I'm flashing back to the times I pared down my collection (or needed extra scratch) by taking records in to Love Garden or Half Price Books. It's a double edged sword, because buying used records from Love Garden is where I got all my cool shit to begin with and they've gotta make a profit or what's the point?

When people got mad at their offers at Half Price Books, I would just tell them that we were a middleman. You're always going to make more if you go through the trouble of selling it on your own, but if you don't want to go through the hassle you bring your stuff to us. Don't get me wrong, selling stuff online is a hassle, but it's a fun hassle. It's fun running the numbers and realizing that while I was down on myself for wasting so much money on records, a lot of these records have appreciated in value.

It's given new life to this blog. I've been keeping track of the running cost since I started, and as that number rose, the more depressed I got. But my goal is to break even. Right now the running total is about $3500 and last time I've recouped almost half of that. Once I'm square, maybe I can start filling in some of those gaps in my collection and start behaving like a human being again instead of behaving like a money obsessed robot. But until then...

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