The quintessential tool for every vinyl collector in the world is Discogs.com. The website is a crowdsourced database of information about audio recordings counting over 11 million releases, by over 5.4 million artists, contributed from over 456.000 users. Why use it? First of all it’s the one and only source to check the discography of any artist or label in the world. One has to dig deep to find a release that hasn’t been added to the website before. Another reason to use Discogs.com is its online marketplace. This is where the fun starts, since every record on the website is possibly for sale, somewhere in the world. Hello vinyl records, goodbye savings!
In this feature we’ll dive deeper into the world of Discogs.com. If you are an expert user already, you might want to continue reading about the history of the website. If Discogs is a whole new world for you, we’ll share a few beginner tips. And last but not least we’ll discuss an ongoing debate about vinyl records and the economical market mechanism in part 2 of this article (coming soon).
Discogs was launched in 2000 by American programmer, dj and music fan Kevin Lewandowski. He wanted to create a database for his own collection and added about 250 records to it. The first one? A single by Swedish dj ‘The Persuader’ aka Jesper Dahlbäck. At first the tool was meant to collect information about electronic music, but in 2004 the database got opened up to other genres such as hiphop, rock, jazz, funk, soul, Latin and reggae. The amount of releases included would increase rapidly from 260.000 in 2004 to two million in 2010. Nowadays, after a successful global vinyl revival, Discogs.com counts 11 million releases listed, every single one added by a volunteer contributor.
Much like Wikipedia, Discogs is an open source database that relies on a large community.
This dedicated group of people is the heart and soul of Discogs, every release in the database was entered and edited by a contributor. They trawl dusty collections seeking out releases that have not yet been archived in the database. They’ve spent collective decades in the database forum discussing the best way to enter information about these releases, so they can be easily found by anyone. And countless hours offering each other advice in the submission histories.
Discogs rewards contributors with points. Most of the contributors have only ever submitted between 1 and 10 releases to the database, but the vast majority of submissions are made by people who have contributed between 10 and 5,000 releases each. There are 137 people who have contributed more than 5,000 releases each! We weren’t able to find a Belgian among the top contributors. If you exist, please contact us.
How to Discogs?
If this is your first time, here are some insights to help you successfully use the database and marketplace.
How to add to your wishlist or collection?
Adding records to your wishlist or collection is as simple as making coffee. After making an account on Discogs, every record can be added to either your collection or your wantlist, or both. Many record collectors use the ‘collection’ feature as a digital database of their personal collection and the ‘wantlist’ feature as a digital database of the slabs of black gold they are looking for. The fun part starts when a cross-check is being made on the marketplace between your wantlist and the items for sale from a seller. Watch out, this is a rather addictive feature!
How to read the statistics?
Every record has a unique set of stats that can be used to read the value of a record on the marketplace:
the number of people who have a record in their collection
the number of people who have a record in their wantlist
The average rating of the record
The amount of ratings
The last time sold
The lowest selling price
The median selling price: this is not the average selling price, but the middle value when all prices are listed from low to high.**
The highest selling price
** If there's been 5 sales at €10, €11, €12, €20 and €25, the median value is €12 (the middle value of the 5). The average is €15.60 (10+11+12+20+25 / 5)
How to buy?
Discogs.com is only offering the online marketplace and will never act as a seller. When you are interested in buying a certain record, you’ll be able to see which sellers offer which version, where the seller is located and what the shipping conditions and cost will be.
Version: many records have different versions, often offering different artwork, tracks or another medium (CD for example). In order to make the right choice, the category number (Cat#) is to check. Be sure to double check the track titles with the youtube listening links, in order to sell the version of the record you are interested in.
Seller: buyers and sellers have to rate each other after completing an order. Every seller’s average rating and comments from previous buyers are available to consult before making an order. It is recommended to check sellers before ordering, since Discogs is an online marketplace and just like in any business frauds are at play. Luckily Discogs is a crowdsourced platform and the available stats make it easy to double check a seller’s reliability. Bad ratings are a seller’s worst nightmare, so they’ll do anything to avoid these.
Shipping conditions and cost: before making the final decision and pushing the ‘Place Order’ button, make sure to double check the shipping conditions. These are listed on the homepage of each seller and announce the extra costs that will be added to your order. Some sellers have an automatic calculation added to their online store. In this case you’ll be able to directly pay for the goods. In many cases though shipping costs are ‘to be determined by seller’. This means the seller will receive your order and reply to you as soon as possible with the extra shipping costs. Watch out: once you have made an order, you can’t cancel, even when the shipping costs are higher than you expected.
Tip: Most records have a fixed price, but some sellers also leave their items open for offers. The option 'make an offer' will be shown in the marketplace.
Payment: the seller will provide details. These are listed once you add a record to your cart. Most sellers use PayPal, which is a reliable and easy to use online international money transfer service. A seller will only ship your records when he has received the full amount.
How to grade?
The quality of every vinyl record and sleeve for sale on Discogs.com is graded. Wonder what these grades are? Discogs uses the Goldmine Standard for grading the condition of items listed in the Marketplace. Goldmine is a music collector’s magazine from the United States that is being published since 1974. Their article ‘Record Grading 101: Understanding The Goldmine Grading Guide’ is the bible for many record sellers world wide. The higher the grade, the more expensive the record will be. Many buyers limit themselves to a grading of VG+ or higher for vinyl records, in order to avoid disappointment upon arrival. Many sellers comment on the grading of every record, adding a short explanation on the status.
Coming up soon in part 2 of this article: a discussion about the economical market mechanism and what this has done to the dynamics of buying and selling vinyl records.