In my experience, buying vinyl is usually more fun than playing a record. There’s nothing better than digging through a milk crate and finding something great, especially if you’ve never heard it before. But where should you buy vinyl records? And should you skip retailers like Walmart?
Visit local record stores and retailers
The best way to get familiar with vinyl is to browse through a couple thousand records. Shopping local gives you a hands-on experience with vinyl and the joys of digging out boxes. All you need to do is search for record stores in your area on Google, Yelp, or Facebook.
Most of the new record stores are very small and “boutique”, which can be a good thing or a bad thing. For one thing, these little shops sell a ton of new releases, which may be exactly what you want to buy. But the prices aren’t always great, and some genres fall short. I’ve never had much luck finding R&B in the smaller stores in my area, for example.
But small record stores can be great, especially if they’ve been around a while. You’ll find that the best record stores often carry a mix of old and new vinyl, giving you a plethora of things to choose from at a variety of price points. (When buying a used record, check the vinyl for scratches, warping, or other damage. You can clean a vinyl record, but you can’t fix a broken record.)
If you’re lucky, you’ll find a huge record store located in an odd corner of town. These big box stores are often operated by veterans who impulsively buy other people’s record collections. Thus, the selection is outrageously varied, the prices are low, and hidden gems are constantly popping up. But if you’re looking for new records, these huge thrift stores aren’t always the best option.
You can also buy vinyl records at Walmart, Barnes & Noble, and Target. But unless you find a good discount or limited edition LP, I don’t suggest buying vinyl from these places. They don’t offer a very strong selection and their prices tend to be a bit high. (Of course, if you live in a rural area, these retailers may be your only local option.)
Oh, I should also mention the antique shops. In my experience, antique stores Really overestimating the value of old records. If you buy vinyl at an antique store, be critical of the prices. (Read the next section for an easy way to check the value of a register.)
When you shop online, start at Discogs
Modern record collectors love to shop online. Not only is it convenient, but, well, some discs just aren’t available at local stores.
When buying records online, I suggest starting at Discogs. It is the most popular database and marketplace for vinyl records, CDs, tapes, and other music media. You can find plenty of affordable records on Discogs, including new and old releases (of course, Discogs is also one of the best places to find rare and expensive vinyl).
To be clear, Discogs is not a retailer. It’s an online marketplace, kind of like eBay. I’ve never had a problem buying on Discogs, since most of the sellers are record collectors and small businesses. Still, you should pay attention to the comments that are left on seller profiles. At the very least, use Discogs as a price check tool when buying records elsewhere.
Once you’ve looked at prices on Discogs, shop around a bit. Big record stores like Amoeba Music and Dusty Groove sell records online, and retailers like Amazon, Walmart, and Barnes & Nobel regularly offer discounts on new vinyl.
Also, if you don’t mind getting a not-so-great price, you can buy records directly from an artist’s website or Bandcamp page. Or try visiting a record label’s website: Blue Note regularly reissues their classic jazz albums, which are hard to find (or expensive) when shopping secondhand. And Third Man Records is a good place to find limited edition vinyl, especially around Record Store Day.
Visit a flea market, swap meet, or pop-up
If old vinyl doesn’t scare you, try visiting a flea market or swap meet. You’ll find a lot of old records, often at decent prices. And some flea markets have indoors record stores, which don’t always show up on Google or your GPS. (If you live in a rural area, a flea market is often the best alternative to a “real” record store.)
Obviously, you have to be careful when buying records at a flea market or flea market. Check the discs for scratches or warping, and check the prices on Discogs to make sure you’re not overpaying. Some people think that old vinyl is worth a ton of money, but unless an old record is extremely rare, it should only cost a few dollars.
You can also try searching for pop-up record stores in your area. These are often hosted by record collectors at farmer’s markets, small concerts, and other events. Most vinyl popups are advertised on Facebook, although you may have to do some searching to find one locally.
Try a vinyl subscription box
While it won’t give you the experience of a box finder, a vinyl subscription box set can help you discover awesome new records at a reasonable price. These services also tend to offer limited edition vinyl, which may have some sentimental or resale value.
Now, there are plenty of vinyl subscription boxes to choose from. The most popular option is Vinyl Me, Please, which sends out deluxe edition vinyl and an exclusive booklet every month. Your subscription also unlocks access to the Vinyl Me, Please store, which offers a ton of exclusive editions.
If you want something convenient, Amazon’s Vinyl of the Month is an easy option. Subscriptions start at $25, and you can choose from genres like “The Golden Age,” pop, country, hip-hop, and rock. (Amazon occasionally ships a “featured” album, which is usually a limited edition.)