Calculate your chances...negative...negative...negative!

Friday, February 22, 2008

More thoughts on the World's Greatest Music Collection auction.

Well, there were some bidders, but *shock* the winner has vanished into thin air. Who didn't see that one coming?

As a certified record nerd, I've been thinking about this auction and I think I have it figured out. See, there's a lot about it that just didn't make sense to me (as I noted last post.) But there's even more, like why didn't they use a real auction house instead of eBay? And, considering they've mentioned it's inventoried, why wouldn't you put an inventory list up, or at least the most valuable stuff, to entice a buyer? The actual listing was pretty poor and the Q & A with the selling agent really didn't give much more insight.

Then it hit me, they didn't expect to sell this on eBay. I mean, if they did, cool. But, I think this turned out exactly like they planned.

Why? Well, you can't buy the kind of publicity this auction got. A lot more people are aware this guy is cashing out than would be if this was just done at Christie's or announced in the record collecting press.

The three million starting price was a joke and they knew it. I'm sure they would have taken it had it been seriously offered, but I don't think they expected to get any real action at that opening bid. But, they did get the word out and now the world knows this guy is looking to sell.

I'm still highly skeptical of the estimated $50 million value. How many $10K Rolling Stone albums (currently available on eBay, buy it now for $4000, BTW) does it take to offset the hundreds of "Here Comes the Hotstepper" I'm sure are in this bounty? And I think that right there is a lot of the reason the guy is having a hard time finding anyone to pony up for this collection. It isn't worth nearly as much as he thinks.

On that note, if my theory is correct, they might have hurt themselves with the auction. We already know the collection isn't really worth $50 million as no one is willing to pay that for it. Same for $25 million, which, IIRC was what he was shopping it around for prior to eBay. Now we can safely say it isn't worth $3 million either as no one was willing to pay that for it.

I guess the big question is, what is this collection really worth? The truth is, no one really can say until it sells.

The other side of this is that a collection this large is going to be a constant money drain. He has this in a warehouse I'm guessing he owns. How many people in the country own enough space to house something like this? And managing this beast would be a full time job on it's own. No private collector has those resources, to say nothing of the fact that it's way to broad a collection for anyone not obsessed with owning a copy of every record pressed to keep together (which is one of Paul Mawhinney goals in selling this thing.) Unless you're Bill Gates, you'd have to sell parts of this thing full time just for upkeep on the parts you want.

Regardless, I think this was a neat way for them to get publicity. As to what happens now, I think one of two things will occur. First off, I'm really skeptical anyone is going to come through and buy the whole thing. I could see a group of people wanting to get into selling, but even then, I have a hunch this would be a poor investment and if Mawhinney really wants to keep this together, I don't see this happening.

So, that's the question. How serious is Paul Mawhinney about not breaking up his collection? Assuming he's serious, he'll end up donating it somewhere, if he can find someone who has the resources to deal with a collection of this size. (And really, what museum would this collection fit into anyway? That's the part I can't figure out.) If it's the money he's after, he's going to have to begin the long process of selling it off piecemeal.

Now, this guy has been a dealer for a long time and I think he knows what's up. While many people in the media were portraying this as the bargain of the century, I really think he'd take a bigger bath selling out one at a time than all at once. (See the Rolling Stones auction above.)

It'll be interesting to see what happens now, that's for sure. Having just taken a pittance for selling a huge load of records at a chain reseller, I guess there's some solace in knowing there's at least one guy doing even worse than I am.

EDIT: I'd like to add this link to a 2003 Pittsburgh Business Journal article about the two previous failed sales of this collection. I'd encourage you to read it and make up your own mind, but I think it's just making me a bit more convinced I'm on to something here.

EDIT #2: After reading a bit more about this guy and going over the part in the above link about the Library of Congress' offer in 2003 that he told them to go shove (and I'm assuming it was more than the eBay thing,) I'm starting to doubt my theory after all. The picture I'm seeing is a dealer guy who knows the "book value" of what he has and wants nothing less. The funny part is, most of the current articles highlight a few records that really aren't that impressive (17 first editions of Elvis' Christmas album! Whoopie!) so I'm beginning to really doubt the value of this collection. Historical value, sure. Financial value, maybe not.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

At the Corner of Preservation and Profit.

While I've been taking a bit of a bath on the records and CDs I've been getting rid of, at least I'm not Paul Mawhinney, owner of the self proclaimed World's Greatest Music Collection. (I'm assuming the definition of "great" would have to equal 20th century American music. But I digress.)

Paul's collection consists of an estimated 6 million unique titles. It's value is claimed (according to whom?) to be $50mil. It's in a climate controlled warehouse. It's amazing! It's colossal! It's for sale!!! ...again.

After offering this bounty for sale twice with no one able to cough up the asking amount, off to eBay it goes. Less than 24 hours left (as of now) and no one has touched the $3mil starting bid. I'd be shocked if anyone did.

Now, here's the problem: if you read the info, they are only interested in selling to someone who will keep the collection intact. It's been offered to museums and I get the impression that's where they'd like it to go. And that's really where it should go.

However, no museum has that kind of cash, not to mention the logistical nightmare or transporting and storing this massive collection. $3mil is a lot of scratch, even if this is the bargain of the century (is it?)

And I'm not so sure a big old record collection would exactly be worth building a museum around, although if they really want to keep this collection preserved this way, I think that's their only choice. Either that or they are going to have to donate it and as I music fan, I'd love to see this end up in the Library of Congress.

The big thing I have to wonder is why? Why does this collection exist? They estimate on the site it'd take someone fifty some odd years, listening 24 hours a day, to hear it all. This sounds like a "life's work" project. Mawhinney was a dealer, owned a few indie labels and some publishing. Sounds like kind of an "American Graffiti" era fan. I have huge respect for all of that. There's obviously passion (or obsession) here, but passion doesn't pay the bills, as Mawhinney is discovering.

If he really intended this to be some archive of recorded music, why didn't he look into setting up a museum himself or find a worth donor to give it to? I don't begrudge the man wanting to leave something for his children, but intending to do so on the back of a record collection is a very poor financial decision, especially in this market.

If I can play armchair quarterback for a minute, I think this collection is going to be broken up and sold off, which in itself is going to be a massive undertaking. I just don't see any other way this guy is going to get anywhere near what this collection is estimated to be worth.

It's going to be interesting to see what happens next. Maybe someone will come in with a last minute bid and take it all. I find that unlikely though. I think, at the end of the day, the finances are going to override the historical value and that will be that.

And I can't imagine what is going through this guy's head right now. To have find that what has essentially been one's passion for decades isn't worth a fraction to anyone other than themselves has got to be crushing.

Anyway, I wish him the best of luck. Like I said, I honestly don't begrudge the man wanting to get some return on his investment. It's not my collection, but I know what I'd like to see happen with it. It will be interesting to see which path Mawhinney chooses.

Monday, February 18, 2008

New Vinyl Has Me a Bit Perplexed

After all the writing I've done recently about ditching my CDs and not wanting to put cash into a stereo upgrade I've been lusting after for years that I didn't think I'd use, I've done a partial about face. I'm still ditching a ton of CDs (and LPs too, for that matter,) but I decided to finally sink some money into upgrading my stereo. This is due in part to the fact that all my thrifted gear from the 70s is finally giving up the ghost, but I digress...

Anyway, I'm focusing mainly on records, as that's what I still enjoy listening to and it's what I'm keeping the most of. That said, I'm not new to this. I've owned a record cleaner for a few years. I know how to set up a turntable and properly care for the vinyl disc.

What I'm discovering is just how lousy modern record pressings are. Now, I'm someone who can deal with noisy vinyl. A lot of what I own has come from the thrifts and is in much less than fantastic condition. I can listen past pops and clicks, especially on a platter I've spent less than a dollar on. But when I plunk down $15+ for a new album and rip off the shrink wrap (and all the stickers bragging about the weight of the pressing,) that sucker better sound like a new record. Saddly, that's rarely the case.

Now, I know how records are made. I know it's as much an art as a science and I know if you want perfectly quiet, you might as well snag the CD. What I'm talking about is this Amy Winehouse LP I have that first time on the turntable has some terrible surface noise during the first couple of songs on both sides. Or the new Dungen album with what sounds to my ears like the distortion from an LP being repeatedly played with a mis-tracking tonearm.

Those are just two instances off the top of my head. I can say for certainty it's not my table as it plays other records just fine. I was still buying new vinyl on into the 90s and even then it sounded fine. I guess I just don't understand what the deal is. Maybe it's too many people jumping into the vinyl bandwagon assuming people either aren't going to play the things or that they have no idea new records aren't supposed to snap crackle and pop.

Speaking of suspect vinyl pressing, I believe I've written before about all these reissues showing up in shops of a seemingly suspicious origin. What I mean is, there are legit reissue labels like Sundazed, Simply Vinyl, 4 Men with Beards, etc. Then there are these other LPs that don't have any information about their origin. They look like photocopies of the originals. Some are colored vinyl, some claim 180g wax. They retail for about $9-$15 and they have a lot of stuff that isn't even out on CD.

Well, I believed the name of the company was Scorpio and I've had that confirmed. What I didn't know was that they have a website ( and are apparently on the up and up. I find it a little weird that they claim to be legit when they have some real "who the heck owns that" type obscurities, but that's what they claim.

What I can tell you about them is, their discs are mastered from DATs or CDs and are really hit or miss as far as it goes. Sound quality can vary from really great to pretty dull and unimpressive. The biggest problem they have is a high rate of warped records. It's happened to me, and even the next batch of that title was warped as well.

Still, I have a bunch of their stuff, as sometimes it's the only way to find it without paying collector's prices. However, I think they are aiming mostly at the hip-hop DJ market, which is pretty smart. Why ruin your original JB vinyl, when you can get a Scorpio for $9?

Anyway, fun stuff and if you're into the fetishism of vinyl (not *that* kind, you perv) you can pick up that stuff with confidence. If you're looking for the "magic" of vinyl, you might want to pass though.