The tyranny of distance
Your favourite bands are back in black, with vinyl record sales surging in recent years; we've even tested new turntables as well as USB-enabled record players. But once you've snagged your new turntable (or fixed up the old one in the garage), actually shopping for records can be a little bit daunting.
A record may be cheaper in an overseas store than locally, for example – until you factor in the shipping to Australia, and the exchange rate. Meanwhile, wn independent retailer may be more expensive than the internet, but the customer service will usually be superior. Your choice depends on what you really want out of your vinyl habit.
We looked at the cost of buying a Beatles reissue on vinyl in various online and big-name physical retailers, as well as independent stores.
Prices listed are the cheapest we could find at the time of writing. This includes cheapest available standard shipping option to our office in New South Wales. Some retailers and individual sellers offer express and/or registered shipping for an extra fee.
- Band: The Beatles
- Album: Abbey Road
- Released: 2012
- Version: 180 gram reissue, black vinyl.
- Usually the cheapest option for buying new release and second-hand records.
- Provided you're buying vinyl from a country where the exchange rate works in your favour.
- Many sites also offer a broad selection of rare or limited releases, albeit for a premium price.
- Can save money with combined shipping
- Some online sellers, including major businesses and independents, don't always provide high quality shipping.
- Records can arrive damaged.
- The same goes for individuals selling off their personal collections via sites such as eBay. Contacting the seller can be difficult at times too, making recourse difficult.
- Shipping costs can really add up, particularly when you're buying from overseas.
Although eBay is known as an auction website, many businesses run a digital shopfront through the service. Auctions still take place, however, so you may be able to snap up a good deal on eBay if you get lucky. Not only can you source records from cheaper markets, you also have the chance to pick up albums or limited pressings (e.g. coloured vinyl) that may not have been released in Australia.
In both cases, you run the risk of receiving damaged records due to sub-par packaging, plus your music can take weeks to arrive if it's coming from overseas.
- Lowest price we found: $31.95. Shipping: $6.95. Total: $38.90
- Pros: Comparatively cheap. Can save on shipping costs by combining purchases.
- Cons: Shipping time; longer if purchasing from overseas. Shipping can be expensive. Possible damage in transit. Can be difficult to return records if damaged or incorrect. Seller may be difficult to contact too.
Records are one of thousands of products sold by this massive online retailer, and due to its size, Amazon will likely be a bit more reliable than some of the sellers on eBay or Discogs. For example, the odds of receiving a poorly packed, damaged or incorrect record aren't quite as high. However, shipping time is still a factor to consider.
- Lowest price we found: $28.00. Shipping: $9.99. Total: $37.99
- Pros: Comparatively cheap. Can save on shipping costs by combining purchases. Better chance of secure packaging.
- Cons: Shipping time; longer if purchasing from overseas.
Discogs is a massive online music database that also has an built-in marketplace similar to eBay. The only difference is its sole focus on music, making it a haven for collectors. Most sellers are pretty savvy to this, however, so you're going to have a hard time finding any particularly good deals on Discogs, especially once you factor in shipping. Like eBay, you also run the risk of damage during shipping.
- Lowest price we found: $24.95. Shipping: $10.00. Total: $34.95
- Pros: Can save on shipping costs by combining purchases. Many rare records available.
- Cons: Shipping time; longer if purchasing from overseas. Shipping can be expensive. Possible damage in transit. Can be difficult to return records if damaged or incorrect. Seller may be difficult to contact.
- Can theoretically offer lower prices than independent stores, as they can afford to buy in bulk.
- Option to buy online or in store.
- Can also buy online and pickup in store or at warehouse for free.
- Shipping is typically cheaper than online merchants.
- Easier to return damaged or faulty goods.
- Can inspect record and packaging prior to purchase
- Can be expensive (some retailers are capitalising on the 'vinyl revival.')
- Often limited to big name and mainstream artists.
- Smaller bands and genres rotate with varying availability.
- May not be able to locate specialised, rare or niche artists and pressings.
Note: shipping cost not included if you shop in store. Listed cost of shipping applies to Australian addresses only. Some items can be purchased online then picked up in store.
JB Hi-Fi is the main Australian retailer in the vinyl market. The large number of bricks and mortar stores gives you the option to buy over the counter, or place an order and pickup in store (in some cases) and easily make a return if need be. Just don't expect to find a broad range of artists unless you head to a large, central metropolitan store.
- Price: $29.99. Shipping: $5.95. Total for buying online: $40.94
- Pros: Large company; opportunity to buy in bulk, which can mean cheaper records and shipping. Online and physical stores.
- Cons: Online costs and stock may not match those in physical stores (e.g. prices may be tied to online-only sales). Tend to regularly stock big name and mainstream artists, but smaller bands and genres rotate with varying availability.
Once an entertainment staple in shopping malls across the country, Sanity's presence in major cities isn't quite as strong as it used to be. However, you can still find smaller stores in suburban and regional centres, and a website as well. Like JB Hi-Fi, their focus leans towards big name artists, with far fewer independent/unsigned bands than JB Hi-Fi carry. However, they do stock music from most genres.
- Price: $34.99. Shipping: $4.95 (economy). Total for buying online: $54.94
- Pros: Large company; opportunity to buy in bulk which can mean cheaper records and shipping. Online and physical stores. More stores in regional and suburban areas.
- Cons: Online costs and stock may not match those in physical stores (e.g. prices may be tied to online-only sales). Tend to regularly stock big name and mainstream artists, but smaller bands and genres rotate with varying availability. Smaller presence in city centres.
These are small businesses that specialise in music, usually with one or two locations per city and the occasional store in different states. Some sell a broad range of music, memorabilia and collectables from a variety of artists, while others mostly focus on particular genres, such as dance, jazz or heavy metal.
- Likely to find rare records from large and small artists in these stores.
- If you're after a record that isn't in stock, these stores can usually track it down.
- Odds of poor quality shipping are quite low compared to web-based stores
- Option to buy online, in store, or online for free in store pickup
- Independent store staffers are usually passionate about music and may be more knowledgeable than major retailers and online stores.
- Handy if you're looking for music advice, as they can point you to bands similar to those you enjoy that you may not have heard of.
- Also likely to build up a good relationship with regular customers, which can lead to perks such as sneaky discounts or first preference on releases when new records arrive.
- Most are in the buying market as well, so you can sell your old records or pick up some cheap second hand pressings, as well as a few collectable items if you're lucky.
- This level of customer service comes at a cost. You'll often pay more at an independent than you would online or in a major retailer.
- These stores also can't afford to have as much stock on hand as somewhere like JB Hi-Fi.
- May not always be able to just walk in and pick up exactly what you're after.
- Limited number of stores (possibly one location).
Note: These are a small sample of the range of stores and prices across Australia. We've included these because they're established, well-known stores. The pros and cons listed above apply generally to each store, which is why we've only included the price and location. Shipping costs, obviously, are not included if you shop in person. Listed cost of shipping applies to Australian addresses only. Some items can be purchased online then picked up in stores.
Price: $34.98. Shipping: $10.00. Total: $44.98
Price: $32.99. Shipping: $4.99. Total: $ 37.98
Price: $44.99. Shipping: $13.40. Total: $58.39
- Price: $34.95. Shipping: $14.00. Total: $48.95
Every few months, independent stores and small-time sellers gather their wares into a central location for a one big record fair – and they're not for the faint-hearted. Row after row of crates overflowing with vinyl are packed into community centres, school gyms and other such venues, giving enthusiasts and hard core collectors the opportunity to dig through thousands of records in a day.
People often flock to these events in the pursuit of discount records and good deals on ultra-rare collectibles, as many sellers offer “fair only” specials. But they're also a good opportunity to browse collections from stores that you may not have visited before.
That said, some stands will sell records for the same price as their bricks and mortar location, while others may slightly bump up the cost for the event. You may even find a few stands pushing bootleg versions for a similar cost, and like most markets, record fairs are a mostly cash-in-hand affair. This can make returns difficult down the line, so it pays to be aware of what you're buying.
All in all, record fairs are usually good fun, if somewhat exhausting. Browsing massive collections, or “crate-digging” as it's often called, while chatting to fellow vinyl enthusiasts can be an enjoyable experience, especially when they introduce you to artists you may not have listened to in the process.
To find out about record fairs in your area, have a look online or check community centres, public libraries and so on for any notices.
Which option works for you?
Shopping online will usually yield the best deals, but there are risks involved with shipping, and the returns process can be a hassle. If you know where to shop, however, you can find the same album at local bricks and mortar stores for a slightly higher price, which also guarantees a quality product and a straightforward returns process if necessary.
In terms of physical stores in Australia, major retailers like JB Hi-Fi can usually provide the best price. However, you're probably not going to get the same level of customer service, specialisation music expertise and relationship with staff as you would in a small independent store.
At the end of the day, vinyl is expensive no matter where you shop, simply because it's big, bulky, heavy, and delicate, which all contributes to extra shipping costs. The cost of record pressing is expensive too, and you'll find that most albums are manufactured overseas, which adds more to the overall cost – particularly when the exchange rate isn't too good.
New-release music is almost always much cheaper on other formats. Currents, for example, costs around $19.99 on CD from big-name retailers, and $16.99 on iTunes. So if you're interested in buying records, be prepared to pay a premium for new albums – but if you're on a smaller budget, you can always trawl op-shops and online for bargains, rare treasures, and forgotten favourites, for the true record-collector experience.