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Spin Again

As prices of new CDs continue to rise, shoppers can save by buying used. It's a small niche of the market, but liable to grow.


Nobody is going to confuse Beat City Records in Ventura with the police storefront that just opened a few doors down. The walls of the rock collectibles store are papered with autographed 8-by-10s and concert posters so bright that owner Jack Davis should furnish sunglasses to protect unwary customers.

But in among the rare records, electric rock art and new CDs for sale is a glass case overflowing with used CDs.

"People are wising up," said Davis, picking up some of his merchandise. "They wanna save some money, but people don't always know what's good. I mean, I have stuff here that should've sold a long time ago. 'Love, Peace & Happiness' by the Chambers Brothers, still sealed, for $9.99? What's up with that? Here's three John Lennon CDs, eight bucks each. Look at this one--it has all his Beatles stuff. What's up with that?"

Up the street a few blocks, behind the wildest paint job on Main Street, there's the usual crowd inside Wild Planet. The walls are covered with a zillion T-shirts extolling rock bands, drugs of choice, or this week's nihilistic slogan. Wild Planet also sells vinyl, cassettes, incense, candles, novelty items and magazines, and it's the only place in Ventura that has any Raging Arb stickers left. Here, too, the used CD biz isn't bad, according to manager Leannn Engeldrum.

"Business is pretty good--I wish it was better. For awhile, we didn't have that much cash to buy [used] CDs, but we're starting to buy again, although we give more for store credit," she said. "I'd say used CDs are probably 10% to 25% of our music business. A new CD costs $14, and we sell used ones for three to eight bucks. It's that simple."


If the medium is the message, CDs are today's communique of choice. New CD sales are booming, fueling a $12.3-billion industry that has replaced vinyl in the hearts, minds, but mostly ears of music fans. Records now account for only 10% of the market.

But when it comes to used CDs, the message seems mixed. They make up only 1% to 2% of that huge market, according to Pete Howard, Oxnard High class of '71 and publisher of the Santa Monica-based International CD Exchange (ICE), the nation's largest CD newsletter.

That isn't to say that the used-CD market won't survive or even grow. "CDs are only about 10 years old, and people are still keeping the stuff they bought," Howard said. "Remember, people used to throw out records when they got old, but not CDs. There's millions of them out there. Maybe in 10 years or so, people will be selling whole collections the way they do with albums these days."

The thing is, over the last decade, CDs actually got more expensive. Discount operations such as Best Buy have increased the pressure on chains to offer deals on the latest releases. But blank videocassettes, for example, have dropped from double digit dollars to around $3, while new CDs have actually risen in price, up to $17.98 for releases by selected superstars.

"The record labels promised to lower the prices of CDs after a while, but they never did," said K.C. Staples of Record Outlet in Thousand Oaks. "Although CDs are cheaper to make than they used to be, the record companies kept the profits, and the prices kept going up. I think they're ripping off the public."

Whatever the reason, the high price of new CDs makes shopping for used CDs worth the effort of slogging through bins at thrift stores, swap meets and yard sales. The selection, obviously, can't be expected to rival that of Tower Records. If it's there, it's there, if not, not.

Shopping at used CD stores, too, can be hit or miss. Some places are hopping with a good turnover of merchandise. Others stagnate. Location, selection and price, as in all business ventures, are important aspects of success in the used CD biz.

Staples, for example, seems to have made a good move when he relocated his Record Outlet several blocks farther south on Thousand Oaks Boulevard.

"I believe our new location is going to help a lot," he said. "We used to be near a musical instrumental store, Instrumental Music, and when they pulled out, our business dropped. We're five doors down from Instrumental Music again at our new location and our first day was better than any in our 12 years."


Things were quiet, however, inside The CD Trader in the strip mall directly across the street from Thousand Oaks High School, probably because all those Lancers were still in class.

"I was looking for something that was easy to do," said owner Steve Cowan, "and there's only so many places to sell used CDs. The only thing is, being across from the high school, I thought [students would] have more money than they did. But Cal Lutheran is right up the street and I do a lot of business with them."

A few miles away in Simi Valley at Best Records, owner Al Coscio has used CDs, most of them practically new. He also sells sports paraphernalia such as hats, clocks, T-shirts, even a Cowboys trash can. But the CD biz has been on the slow side according to the owner.

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