Originally created 08/15/97

Used CDs are a playful bargain



A technological advance, it seems, is actually saving the music fan money.

Shocking, but true.

This advance would be the advent of the compact disc. Oh, sure, that advance happened years ago, and when it did fans had to shell out a lot. The discs cost more than cassettes, and many audiophiles felt compelled to go out and buy the Beatles' The White Album and Van Morrison's Astral Weeks in the new format.

Now, the worm is beginning to turn.

The big selling point of the compact disc has been durability. You can play it and play it, and it doesn't wear out. The result is a growing secondhand market in which good-as-new discs sell for what a cassette cost 10 years ago.

If you want to buy used compact discs in Augusta, your options have grown a great deal in the past few months.

In May, Disc Go Round opened on the Bobby Jones Expressway. The store has 6,000 used compact discs in stock.

This summer, Home Folks has been converting much of its in-store stock to used discs. Among its four locations, inventory is up to about 20,000 discs.

Add this to CD Warehouse on Washington Road, most of whose inventory is used, and Infernal Racket on Eighth Street, with maybe a quarter of its stock used. Then throw in garage sales, flea markets and pawnshops.

It's getting to where there are almost as many used CD options as there are new disc stores.

Sure, the used stores have their downside. Selection isn't nearly as comprehensive, especially for the newest material. Discs can be damaged - a fact Disc Go Round, CD Warehouse and Home Folks remedy by allowing customers to preview the discs in the store. Disc Go Round and CD Warehouse also have an easy-return policy, and Home Folks, while urging customers to "play before you pay," says it will respond to reasonable complaints.

Anil Sharma, a junior at Augusta State University, buys about four compact discs a week, but he hasn't bought a new disc in about four months.

"It's a difference between going to Kmart and paying $16 for a CD, and waiting four weeks and going to a used-CD store and paying eight bucks for it," he said.

Ray Walls, assistant manager of Sam Goody's in the Augusta Mall, said he doesn't see the used-CD trade as a threat to his end of the retail business. Stores like his can guarantee having the new Bone Thugs-N-Harmony album or some other hot seller, whereas used disc stores tend to carry only a few copies of the chart-toppers. Also, with older discs, a retail store can order a back disc, such as some old Joan Baez album, whereas a shopper who limited himself to the used-CD stores would just have to keep checking back, with no guarantee it would ever show up.

According to statistics from the Recording Industry Association of America, the new-compact business has been just fine. It has increased in each of the past five years, with 7.7 percent growth from 1995 to 1996.

Robert Snelling, co-owner of Infernal Racket, said used-CD sales will likely remain a small part of what his store does because his customers are usually looking for current music.

"We sell a lot of real new stuff, and they're not into buying things that are real old," Mr. Snelling said.

Robert Rautenstrauch, general manager of Home Folks' area stores, was the man behind the move at the chain. It looked like a good way to make money.

"It's good for us as well," Mr. Rautenstrauch said. "We were such a victim of the $14.99, $15.99, brand new compact discs. People got tired of paying for it. We got tired of paying for it."

Most of the desirable compact discs go for $8 or $9, with lesser titles going for $6 or so. A new disc in a store can go for anywhere from $12 to $17.

Store owners pay anywhere from $2 to $4 for a disc, depending on the quality of the disc and the desirability of the title. The stores also augment their stock from other sources. Home Folks shops at flea markets and buys in bulk. The Disc Go Round owners bought 2,000 discs from a store going out of business and contributed 1,000 from their private collections.

Both Mr. Rautenstrauch and Ken Morrison, co-owner of Disc Go Round, said that they have been surprised at the number of discs the public has brought in to sell to the store.

Mr. Morrison said one of his concerns going into the store, his first business, would be whether the public would bring enough good stuff in, but "that's the last thing I have to worry about," he said.

People want to get rid of certain discs more than others. For example, people bring in R.E.M.'s Monster disc five or six times a day, Mr. Morrison said. They don't want to keep Ace of Base or Joan Osborne as part of their permanent collection either, he said. Mr. Rautenstrauch adds to that list Boyz II Men and - this is hard to believe - Shaquille O'Neal.

At CD Warehouse, assistant manager Clay Cushman is also seeing a lot of Sheryl Crow, Alanis Morissette and Stone Temple Pilots.

Mr. Morrison recalls an odd incident that happened on the day he received his first shipment of Paul McCartney's new CD, Flaming Pie. Disc Go Round, like CD Warehouse, keeps a sampling of new discs around so it can attempt to offer something resembling complete service to customers.

"I had just set up the display but hadn't sold one yet, and a man came through the door to sell a used copy of Flaming Pie," he said. "I guess they're trying to get their money back."