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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.


Colours & Sounds in Reseda is a Deadhead's delight. The store carries about every Grateful Dead recording--regular and bootleg--ever made. With scores of CDs to choose from and hundreds available, one could spend a month listening to different versions of "Sugar Magnolia."

Yet the CD business in the "Sounds" half is slower than Casey Jones on Valium, while business in the adjacent "Colours" head shop is, well, smoking, according to owner Mike Fey.

"Let's see, today we've been open since 10:30 this morning and I've made--let's see--zero CD sales," he said. "But in the store next door, we've made about $500 in sales."

Meanwhile, a few blocks away at the Record Trader, which is owned by the retail chain Tempo, they are selling thousands of used CDs, not to mention tapes and videos. "We've got a lot of stuff," said sales manager Kathy Price.

If the medium is the message, CDs are today's communique of choice. New CD sales are booming--having spun far beyond records, which now account for only 10% of the $12-billion music market.

But when it comes to used CDs, the message is mixed. They make up only 1% to 2% of that huge music market, according to Pete Howard, publisher of the International CD Exchange (ICE), the nation's largest CD newsletter.

That's isn't to say that the 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 that over those first 10 years new CDs--unlike electronics hardware--actually have gotten more expensive. Discount operations such as Best Buy have increased the pressure on chains to offer deals on the latest releases. But overall, says Howard, unused CDs haven't dropped in price. "Actually, they've risen to $16.98 or $17.98."


All of which makes shopping for used CDs worth the effort of slogging through bins in thrift stores, swap meets and yard sales. But the selection can't be expected to rival Tower Records.

At used-CD stores, too, shopping can be hit or miss. Some places are hopping--meaning a good turnover of merchandise. Others stagnate.

"It's all about location, selection and price," said Fey of Colours & Sounds. "And most importantly, you need a good source of people to bring in new stuff."

Used CDs themselves come from a number of sources: people unloading unappreciated gifts, starving students, people who just don't like what they bought. But a prime source tends to be promotional copies that record labels send out to radio programmers, DJs, music reviewers--who are often willing to ignore the "promotional use only--sale or other transfer is prohibited" sticker.

The Moby Disc outlet in Sherman Oaks seems to be thriving largely due to its location (right next to Starbucks and on a busy block of Ventura Boulevard), but it also has some serious promo connections. There were approximately eight copies each of 1000 Mona Lisas and Charm Farm--brand-new releases that even the radio hasn't heard of yet. The squeaky clean store offers the typical deal for trade-ins: one thin dime to four bucks for used CDs or one-third more if you prefer store credit.

Heavy Rotation in Studio City is working both ends, selling new and used CDs. They have lots of promos and promo singles, which means radio connections. They offer the usual terms for trade-ins, and Sublime CDs are at a premium, according to owner Peter Coplon.

"Yeah, that guy [Brad Nowell] that died in Sublime, you know, I never sold any of their stuff, then after he died, I sold 10 CDs in a few days," said Coplon, who is pleased with how his business is going. "I also have a mailing list of around 1,500 people and I have a monthly $2-off sale. Also, I'm getting into CD-ROMs and used video games."

Coplon had a good selection of new and hip stuff for $6 to $8, or you could buy a "Learn to Speak German" CD-ROM for $25 just in case you want to rent an original version of "Das Boot." He also had all sorts of Nintendo and Sega games for about half-price.


Business is likewise hopping at the Record Trader. Inventory is ever-changing, and customers can listen before they buy. Crummy CDs or CDs by unknown or unloved artists can be as cheap as three for $1. And there is nothing wrong with that Tom Petty CD for $4, either.

"One thing I can say is that CDs are cheaper in the United States than they are anywhere on the planet," said Howard of ICE. "And CDs are cheaper in Southern California than they are anywhere else in the United States.

"I know people who come from back East that come out here to buy used promo CDs for seven or eight bucks then take them back to sell them for 10 or 11 bucks."

But probably not Tesla CDs, which have become the bane of Fey's existence.

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