Many thousands of people in this world spend extortionate amounts of money on 12" pieces of black plastic. These pieces of vinyl used to be the most popular music recording format there was, the 12" LP, 12" single and 7" single being the most common. These could be bought quite cheaply back in the time they were made, though you have to search to find anything new these days. And many old examples (especially the elusive 'mint' condition) are now hugely overpriced. For example, a copy of Jimi Hendrix's 'Cry of Love' on red vinyl, with a misprinted B-side label was uncovered a year ago, purchased from a little old lady for 50p. The new owner then looked it up, knowing full well that misprinted records are worth more to collectors, only to discover that it was worth £1,000! This being because only five were printed, and only two had been uncovered before. Unfortunately, due to the laws of supply and demand, this meant he had just increased market supply by 50% and brought down its value quite considerably.
Many record collectors are those who cherish the memories of their youth, when they used to sit by their old Dansette Senators (an old record player). These are generally old men (often with beards) who keep all their records in protective plastic sleeves, and constantly play them (often on the same Dansette Senator). These are good and harmless people whose vinyl lust is genuine, and who never argue about the music or the size of their collection: the true, honest, genuine ageing hippy, who just loves his music. A real record collector.
Another type is the man who knows how much they are worth. He has all his favourite albums on CD, and listens to them on one of those horrible mini-systems with the built-in equaliser settings like Hall, Rock, and Big Room. These are the types who generally own three gold-label copies of The Beatles' 'Please, Please Me' and keep all their records in a bank vault. Also most likely to own a few vintage instruments of not inconsiderable worth (also in the bank vault) yet have no idea how to play a note. These are the evil scourge of the true vinyl collector, ever pushing up the market prices.
The latest generation of record collectors, however, are those who could not afford to buy new music when they were younger. These were the unfortunates, who could not afford one of them new-fangled CD playing doohickeys, nor the CDs to put in them. And the record companies prices went up and up, even for tapes. These music loving miscreants were forced into the second-hand record shops, where they had to use the judgement of the pretty cover to pick their new favourite band. Eventually, the lure of that shiny black plastic got to them, and it was no longer what they could afford; they evolved into fully fledged Vinyl Junkies. These are the types who argue about who played the third lead solo on Captain Beefheart's 'Ella Guru' and constantly worry that some of their records are not 'cool' enough. Not a scourge, perhaps, but real musical snobs and way too competitive.
First be sure to get your hands on a record collector's price guide. These are, unfortunately quite expensive, so borrow one if you can, or research your chosen genre on the net and read record collecting magazines for rare insights into future values on new releases.
Painstaking hours of hunting through musty old shops are yours for the asking if you choose this path. Though thanks to the recent popularity of DJs, it is a lot less hard to come by than it used to be. Also, you can now get recent music on vinyl again, so superstar DJs are useful for something at least. Because of this, the 12" single has experienced a huge surge in popularity, having previously been the domain of the obsessive acid house DJs (who have now evolved into the modern superstar DJs we know and love).
Of course, in this modern age you can always buy your precious long players online at sites such as Vinyltap as long as you don't mind not being able to check its condition for yourself, or sniff it. Another useful thing about the Internet revolution is that there are some useful sites to discover just how much your prize find is worth, such as Record Master or for a larger directory of sites, be sure to visit The British Independent Record Dealer pages to know as much as the guy behind the counter.
There are three main venues for purchasing vinyl; some may cause more acute embarrassment than others.
The second-hand record shop - A great place to hang out and buy your records, but only, and this cannot be stressed enough, if you know your stuff. This is the main hangout of the younger vinyl junky, the competitive ones remember? If you have never heard of Captain Beefheart, prefer the Bay City Rollers to The Jesus and Mary Chain, or believe that the Style Council were not a really bad idea on Paul Weller's part, then this is not the place for you.
Keep your head down, look for what you came in for and get out. Fast. Unless you can hold your own, in which case humiliating a young would-be muso is your best way of 'getting in' with the shop's owner. Once you have your indisputable knowledge of all things obscure, underground and considered credible, then hours of fun can be had in these shops. You will very rarely find a second-hand record shop which has only one person at the counter. Even rarer is to find its inhabitants actually purchasing anything. Much coffee is drunk, and cigarettes smoked and the overall effect can be quite daunting for a newcomer.
Charity shops - Utterly fantastic for bargains. Armed with your record price guide you can leave one of these shops with hundreds of quid's worth of profit in your bag. Many a little old lady has given her old records away to charity having no idea what they are really worth. Of course, the shop assistants have no idea either, and some of those old soundtrack albums are worth quite a few quid. Also worth noting are jumble sales, car boot sales and market stalls, which land in the same category.
Record Collector's Fairs - It cannot be stressed enough that these are a real last resort; the sellers at these events are also collectors and will know the true value of their wares. Many of them will also be looking for a mug to sell worthless Led Zeppelin LPs to at extortionate prices. Know your stuff! If you don't know what you are looking for, or what it is worth, take along an expert, or only buy things that are cheap. You will probably get burned a few times before you get the hang of these events. Then you will avoid them at all costs, for this is where you find the 'bank vault' collectors, who can afford to buy at full price and hope that their purchases accumulate with time.
Misprinted labels, limited editions, and seriously obscure bands are your best bets for value. Many live under the mistaken assumption that 'classic' albums are worth more because they are better. Great albums they may well be, but they sold an awful lot of copies, and are consequently in such great supply that they are rarely worth more than about five pounds, even in mint condition. So don't bother with your dad's Beatles collection (unless they're in Mono, or have white or gold labels; then you're quids in). Foreign imports have a good rarity value as well. Another common mistake is that age (vintage) adds value; many believe that old 78s are worth a few bob. Most are not, however, there are always exceptions, for example, if you find an original Robert Johnson 78, however knackered, scratched, or stained, you're looking at well over a grand's worth. 10" EPs are always a good bet as well.
However, if you're just looking for some good old fashioned music, the way it was meant to be heard (like most Vinyl Junkies), then go for the Led Zeppelins, the Creedence Clearwater Revivals, the Rolling Stoneses, Beatles and Whos. After all, isn't that what records are for anyway? To be heard?