Discogs has become an online phenomenon within the music world, providing a detailed and searchable catalogue of nearly two million releases that currently attracts four million unique visitors, who managed to rack up a staggering 100 million page views between them during January of this year. Portland-based programmer Kevin Lewandowski is the brains behind the operation. He got his first electronic music kicks via some DJ friends at university before going on to buy his own turntables after his graduation. Originally, Lewandowski had planned for Discogs to be a comprehensive database strictly for electronic music, due to the dearth of information on the internet about the subject.
Tips for buying on Discogs
Do your research
Looking for a recent release that has gone out of press? Why not e-mail the label or send them a MySpace message to ask if it will be repressed in the near future? There may even be a site selling the record at its usual price if you look hard enough. Also, try looking on sites such as GEMM and eBay to see if you can get a better deal.
Use your wantlist
There is the argument that adding a release to your wantlist will drive up its value, but it can be a very handy tool for seeking out a bargain as well. Clicking on the "Items I Want" link (which can be found under the Marketplace dropdown menu) will display all of the records on your wantlist that are for sale, and will also show you all of the most recently listed items at the top. Often records are listed at lower than the going rate, so using this feature will allow you to be the first to know about cheap deals.
Buy in bulk
Your first item will always have the highest postage rate, so why not buy more than one item from a seller to try and get a bit more value for money? By clicking on the seller's name, you will be able to see if they are offering any items in your wantlist, or if you're seeking out one of these types of purchases specifically, you can use the "Items I Want" section and then filter through the sellers until you find someone selling the records you want at a reasonable price.
Contributors to the site would submit details for a release, and these would then be voted on and made live by a team of moderators in order to ensure factual correctness. "It was just a hobby project for the first two years," Lewandowski continues. "It became a full-time job for me at the end of '02. My employer offered voluntary severance and I thought that was the perfect opportunity to work on Discogs full time."
By June 2004, Discogs had amassed a network of 15,788 contributors—who had cumulatively helped to input 260,789 different releases—and had begun to expand to other areas of music, such as rock, jazz, funk, and reggae. Its growth hasn't all been a smooth ride, however, as Lewandowski and his team came under fire in 2008 because of a number of changes that were made to the site's contribution process. Submitted releases and edits would be made live immediately, and users who "meet certain undisclosed requirements" would be able to vote on the correctness of the release page. Many thought this would accelerate misuse of the database.
Even though many users and moderators committed "oggercide" and vowed not to return to the site, Lewandowski has stuck to his guns and opened up the submission process, even allowing for digital releases and podcasts to be catalogued. "I still think it was the right thing to do. Over the years, I've had to make several changes to the submission process that would better handle the growing number of contributors. I knew a lot of people would be unhappy about the V4 changes, but I also knew it was something we had to go through to make the submissions process fairer for everyone and inviting to new users."
The site has become an invaluable asset for DJs, journalists and fans, providing unprecedented insight into artists with multiple pseudonyms and providing tips about rare and highly rated records (Discogs users can rate each release on a scale of one to five, which is then averaged out into a prominent mark on its respective page), but it's as a gateway to individual record sellers that it really excels. "I knew it could be a bigger business after the marketplace launched." Kevin explains. "The growth there was very good, it seemed like a perfect fit with the discography content." Discogs is unique in the respect that it maps a comprehensive cataloguing system to a marketplace feature, and as each release page is specifically tailored to accommodate versions from different countries and special limited editions, buyers can be certain of the product they're actually getting. The seller will then pay a 6% fee of the total price to Discogs after something has been sold and paid for.
regularly check prices with Discogs."
Glasgow's Rubadub is one major shop that uses Discogs as a means of selling records, and their retail manager and partner, Jason Brunton, is generally positive about the effects that Discogs has had on record buyers: "Like the internet generally, it's allowed people who are outside of the major cities—where the vast majority of larger music retailers and specialist shops are—to access and find music they might never have in the past. It's also helped knit together a community of like-minded obsessives who can share their knowledge and information."
Lewandowski, on the other hand, is empathetic about the effect that the site has had on physical shops around the world. "I'm not sure, but I'd assume their sales would be down just because the internet gives buyers a huge selection. But I'd like to work with physical stores somehow, if for example we could create a Discogs application that could help them." After I inform him that Rubadub's Richard Chater had expressed a desire for "a means to take immediate payment for records" (sellers currently have to message the buyer with a total including postage and then request a PayPal payment), Lewandowski is enthusiastic, but hesitant to confirm anything. "We'd really like to do this but there are some technical problems. I can't say when it will happen, but we're still looking at it."
Whereas it's unsurprising that a major player in the retail and distribution of vinyl like Rubadub sells the majority of their records via their official website, the site has become a vital lifeline for smaller independent shops like Newcastle's Beatdown Records. Of their sales via the Discogs Marketplace, Beatdown manager Nick Wrightson informs us that they're "creeping up at the moment to around 25% [of total sales], and it currently generates way more than our actual website. This is mostly because of the difficulty in marketing a record shop website, and driving folks to it without spending a fortune on Google AdWords."
Tips for selling on Discogs
Check the Market Price History
There may be a people on the site listing a record as being quite expensive, but there's no guarantee that it's actually sold before at that particular price. If you're looking to get rid of your stock as soon as possible, have a look at what the records have gone for in the past, so that you don't price yourself out of the market.
Re-list your items
This one's quite sneaky, but is a tactic used by quite a lot of sellers to bring attention to their stock. If you go to your inventory, select all of your items for sale and unlist them, when you list them again five minutes later, they will then appear as new items. If you have a large amount of records, you may find yourself with a few big orders coming your way in the following days.
Demand a signed delivery service
If you ever see that another seller is only offering a signed delivery service, the chances are they've been burned before. If a buyer says that they haven't received their item, they will be able to start a Paypal dispute to try and claim the money back from you. The onus will then be on you as a seller to give proof of purchase, and this will be nigh on impossible if you haven't arranged for the item to be signed for upon delivery and kept the receipt. Horror stories are rife of sellers getting rid of expensive records only to have to refund the money back, so make sure that this doesn't happen to you.
A steady increase in the number of people selling through the site has meant that there are now over five million items currently listed in the Discogs Marketplace, and the now transparent Market Price History function of the site (up until 2008, only users who paid a subscription fee of $12 per year could get full access to this data) has meant that pricing records fairly and accurately has been made much easier for shops, even if they don't sell via Discogs.
Sellers are also competing in a market where buyers can find out the price of a record elsewhere by just glancing down a single list, meaning that in order to secure sales, they have to be competitive with their prices. That said, for rarer items, sellers are able to set their prices in either monopolistic or oligopolistic conditions, leading to high prices due to low levels of supply. For example, E.R.P.'s Evoked Potentials (Part One) 10" commanded prices of up to €99—over six times its original price—just a month after its release via the Semantica website, due to it being limited to just 100 copies. The ease of resale is a problem on this occasion, as standard consumers become priced out of the market due to in-the-know profiteers. However, the breakdown of regional barriers—where a certain record is prevalent in a certain country but not another—has also helped to curb high prices for some older obscurities.
So does Lewandowski think that Discogs has democratised the market for records? "Yeah, I think so. It's now possible to buy almost any record you want on Discogs. There are cases where another site may have an item at a lower price, but I think that will change as we get more and more sellers." Beatdown manager Nick Wrightson's views on this new age of internet digging are mixed, though: "It's not necessarily a bad thing, but it's added to a culture where nothing is hard to find anymore, where even the rarest record is instantly available if you are prepared to pay the asking price. This has made the joy of crate digging a little obsolete, especially as even the charity shops now regularly check prices with Discogs. On the other side of the coin, it brings customers to shops like Beatdown from all over the world, and we've had a few customers visit the 'real world' shop after discovering us on Discogs."
With Discogs positioning itself as the market leader in the record selling market, it looks as if it's going to be around for a while, and a recent update to the layout of the front page has further helped to cement its image as a slick and professional operation, showing recent reviews, lists and even YouTube videos which have been added to the site. "In the short term we're going to be working on API improvements, a revamp to the artist page, and more social features," Lewandowski states, but he's not shy in his ambitions for the site. "In the long term, I think Discogs will be one of the top music websites overall."