Buying Someone's Records: An Ethics Question

While doing some work at my house recently, an electrician noticed my audio equipment and vinyl collection. This gentleman mentioned that he has a substantial collection of records sitting in boxes in his attic and asked if I would be interested in making him an offer to buy his collection since he no longer has any use for it. He is in his seventies, and the collection is one he has accumulated over his lifetime -- althoughhe probably hasn't purchased anything in 20 years. He also mentioned that the collection includes a number of very good condition 78s from various blues artists dating back to the 1950s. I am quite sure that he has no idea what the "market" value of his collection might be.

If i offered him something like $5 per on average, he would probably think that was a great price. In truth, many of his records -- particularly the old blues 78s -- have a much greater market value. Of course, I know that but he does not.

Your thoughts on the ethical approach to making an offer for his collection would be appreciated. I don't want to take advantage of him, but if he remains blissfully ignorant of the real value of his collection and is happy with a "low ball" offer, who is hurt?
My feeling would be that as long as you're not trying to convince him that they're "probably worthless", and in fact are giving him a nice chunk of change for the collection, there is nothing ethically wrong at all.

Say he has 100 records and you're going to give him $5/each, or $500. From his perspective, he just got $500 for something that was just taking up space for him, and with almost no effort.

From your perspective, you're getting a fantastic deal - again, coming into some great vinyl for a fraction of the market value. While this may seem like it's taking advantage of somebody, I wouldn't view it that way - you've spent a LOT of time familiarizing yourself with the music and the LP's to know that they're worth more. It will take you substantial time to clean up the collection, substantial time to sell the individual LP's you're not interested in, etc. All the while, the guy who sold them to you has his $500 hassle-free dollars.

If, before giving the guy the $500, you lined up a buyer for the collection (or knew you could have one) who would pay you $2000 for the 100 records, as-is, I would probably at least suggest to the current owner that he could get a pretty penny for his records and point him in the right direction. At that point, you've invested no time and you've done a good deed. Even there, I don't think you're morally obligated to approach it this way.

In any case, if the seller walks away with a smile on his face, has freed up storage space, and never has to think about it again, I think you've both made a good deal.
If your going to keep and listen to them then I think $5 is a good price given that you don't even know the condition of the LPs. If you're planning on selling the rare stuff and your conscience is bothering you, cut him in for a percentage of the sale. If you call him up afterward and say, "Hey, I sold some of that vinyl for more than I paid you and wanted you to have some of the proceeds," he'll be amazed and the next time you need electrical work, you'll probably be amazed.

There are no universally accepted ethical standards. Each individual has their own level of conscionable action.

The truth is, unless you have inspected his collection, neither of you really knows its' value. You may find that your example price per would be less than favorable to YOU!

Personally, it would bother me if I didn't forewarn the fellow that he could be sitting on a substantial windfall, provided that is indeed the case. If he decided he would rather just get rid of them all at once than go to the trouble of 'parting out' his collection to the highest bidder, I wouldn't feel badly about offering less. After all, you're taking all the thorns with the roses, so to speak.

Have a close look first and then be honest about your findings. The man can then make an informed decision and you can feel confident that you did the right thing.
If you are going to keep the collection for the listening enjoyment it seems as though you are offering a fair price and not trying to take advantage of anyone. If you are buying for resale, why not offer to split any profit made after expenses you incur. By doing it that way you will never have to worry that you took advantage of someone who may be less knowledgable. The fact that you even asked the question leads me to believe you will do the right thing. Good luck.
I sort of agree with Kthomas. Unless you actually inspect the records before you buy them you really don't know what condition they are in. For all you know they could be totally trashed and valueless, even those rare typically highly prized ones. If I were buying them blind, based on the condition I have seen most typical old vinyl in I'd be hard pressed to offer much at all.

What might be something fair to both of you is to actually inspect the records, cherry pick the good ones and offer him a fair 'wholesale' price for them and offer to dispose of the rest for him. (Include in your offer the value of the time you need to inspect the records and dispose of the ones of no value.)

BTW, if he mentioned the old 78's I suspect he already knows that they have some value - most folks wouldn't think old 78's would be worth anything, unless they just loved the music (and they had played the record endlessly right up to its demise).

Hope that helps a bit.
An items value is based on perception driven by circumstance. It is incumbent on the buyer and the seller to establish "worth" of an item when in transactions based on their circumstances. Circumstances drive the perception of somethings value.

If a mutual agreement of worth is reached a transaction can be made.

I recently sold 60 classic albums for about $1 each because I do not own a turntable and have no plans of acquiring one. the albums were taking up space I do not have, and I do not have a method of checking each album for condition.

Were they worth more-yes, probably. If the buyer had told me that I would have said "I know- do you want to offer more?" If he said "no" I would have sold them anyway at the original price offered due to my needs at the time.
This is totally unlike the question that arose from buying from a compromised person. You are taking a substantial risk, these records are played and therefore many will be scratched etc. Very few collections from garage sales have mint condition records. I don't know what your playback is but mine loves to find every scratch mote of dust etc. These are unbaerable so its a fair benefit/risk ratio. You will likely only find mint condition record that nobody wants to hear. The 78s are worth money if you are buying them only to flip them you might be a very ethical person and separtate them and give him extra for those- not a lot - but at least you acknowledge they are worth a bit more.
My thought is just tell him what you are thinking. Give him the plusses and minuses for both sides. Then at least your conscience won't bother you and you might gain a friend. He might have already thought of all this and if you confirm his ideas, you'll both feel good about this. Let the Golden Rule guide your actions. If you were in the same boat, what would you like the other guy to do? Maybe that is why I didn't make a lot of money in the electronics retail business. I was too honest. Good luck Dan
I always check them, then pay 1/3 what they would cost me. This is due to the fact that a dealer would only pay 1/2 standard cost in an emergency.
thanks for all of the input. to clarify, my intention would be to keep, not flip, the records. i would particularly not look to sell the old blues 78s, which would probably fetch the most $$.

in most business transactions, i believe that as long as both parties have access to all relevant information that would form the basis for their decision to buy/sell -- and absent any fraud or duress -- an arm's length bargain is inherently fair.

My unease is due to the fact that i probably have significantly greater knowledge than the seller about the market value of the records, and I suspect he wouldn't even know where to look to find out what they are worth. My unease is also probably due to the fact that I know the gentleman who has offered to sell the records, and I like him. I wonder if I would feel the same about the situation if it was a stranger who I would likely never see again?
I think you are doing him quite the favor. Since you are asking, you do want to be ethical. Do take a look at a few of the records to determine the condition of the collection. It you are comfortable with your offer, buy them.

If for some reason you get really lucky, share that.
First view them if they have value to you because they are in good condition and the music is to your liking.Then I would sit down with the gent and ask him are they of value to him does he listen to them are they important for him to hold on to then if no. I would make him an offer telling him that you have a TT and they would be a great addition to your collection. An offer such as $2 to $5 from you is more than any used record store would offer.
My God man, he's an electrician, this must be the first time in his life that he has undercharged for anything! Is this some perverse trick question?
Have you considered the idea that he offered them to you becuase he could see your love of music? He may have valued them having a good home, with someone who would appreciate them as much as getting rid of them.
You'll have an idea of what they are worth after seeing them, at that point you can modify your offer or maintain it depending on what you discover and what you in your own mind are comfortable in living with.
I've got a huge collection in 30 carton boxes of relatively untouched records that less-likely I will ever open and listen: old blues, 78rpm's, classical, reader digest boxed sets of 60's, 50's that count arround 500 units.

I can spool for $3/piece.

Think about it and let me know...
Viridian--Sadly, that was the first thing that crossed my mind also.
Don't offer him anything. He offered the deal to you.
Ask HIM how much HE wants. Then you can both be satisfied if you can live with his price or you can make a counter-offer.
Tradesmen make deals all day long and they must be pretty cagey to survive.
Take an hour for a quick inspection of the records. If you still feel $5 each is fair, then buy them for that, or adjust your price (up or down) to a value you believe to be a reasonable win-win for both you and the electrician, and don't feel you have to match the "highest market resale value." Also, reread the first part of your post, where your electrician noticed your vinyl collection, and consider the reason he offered the records to you may be because he knows you will enjoy them as he did, and not just sell them for a quick gain.
this thread reminds me off that "one" a couple weeks ago where a member posted getting a Linn turntable for a bargin from an old man who did not know better. He poster received a lot of abuse from the membership here for taking advantage of the old man.

I get the feeling this poster may have read that post and is posting this one.

I agree with others, ask him what he wants. if it is fair, then don't counter for a lower price. Buy it.

I live near a lot of used record stores which is often the place where people in this position end up selling large quantities of records. Used records stores routinely offer .25 to $1.00 per disk, where they may be worth considerably more.

I have sold CDS to these places and been offered $2-4 a title and see them for sale the following day at $10-$11.

My point is, you are likely doing him a favor to save him from lugging down crates of records only to be offered pennies for them to avoid having to lug them back home.
First, electricians provide a service which costs them many years of education and training. Do you want to play with 240v, try to meet building codes, while not electrocuting yourself, or burning down your house?

Second, be careful of any records that have been stored in an attic or basement...they may have all turned to junk.
So I had my electrician do a little work around the house for me and I get the bill and it works out to $185.00 an hour plus materials. I say, "Hey, my doctor only charges me $160.00 an hour." The electician says, "Yeah, that's about right; that's what I used to charge when I was a doctor." Oy vey.
I would inspect the quality of the lps and if they are not in great conditon I would pass. If they are I would pay as Justlisten suggests up to $ 1.00 each unless there is a lot of junk or maybe more for mint important classical or jazz, beatles stones etc records. I met a nice augoner who sold me his collestion of top classical and rock records but only after he sat on them for a month. He looked up a couple of titles onebay and said they were worth $ 20.00+ each. I told him he should sell them there. Catalog, photograph, produce listing, purchase mailers, go to the post office. My opinion is that for me its not worth the time and effort.

I emailed him a month later and offered $ 100.00 for two boxes of mint LPS and we had a deal. He did not have the storage space in NYC . BTW you would be amazed at the mint LPs in the $ 1.00 bin at Academy records in NYC and you only have to buy what you want.
Tell him you know that some of the recordings are worth more than you can offer. Maybe he doesn't want to be bothered and he'll tell you sell em yourself. If he says oh yeah tell him places he can sell em,who knows he might give the ones that are not worth much for free because you did him a solid by letting him know the value of what he had and by selling them he can make more than he ever imagined.
I recently bought records from a 89 year old man who was moving out of his home, due to financial circumstances. I bought the albums that were moderately priced in Goldmine; anything worth more than $30 I put in a pile and asked his Grandson to pick up the Goldmine book, and sell the records on the Internet. The guy could use the money. He worked for 65 years as a barber.

If the guy was driving a Mercedes, maybe I would have taken a different approach. Also, keep in mind that records stored in an attic at high temperatures may have warped, so check them prior to purchase.
Wow - great question...similar thread posted earlier by someone buying audio equipment (Linn table, I think). What if everyone on this planet evaluated situations on the basis of, "treat your neighbor as yourself"? If you were in the old dude's situation, how would you like someone "in the know" to treat you? You aren't obligated to educate the seller...still, for conscience's sake, consider the "Golden Rule".
No matter what you decide, you will have an ethical advantage over this-a single, elderly music lover with a collection of nearly 10K well cared for 78's and LP's passed away. A local jerk offered to his distant neices and nephews to "haul away his junk and dispose of it," for a $200. Yep, that's what he charged them. Those of us who would have put a stop to it learned too late. Inquired about legal action and were sent on our way. None of our business.
Following this thread, It seems like the question of the ethical is being confused with a question of the economic. Which is the dominant logic that should guide the transaction? If it is economic and a one-time event, it seems that offering the lowest price would make the most sense: there will be no future bargaining sessions and thus no opportunity for feedback from this transaction to harm a future round. If it is an ethical one, then regard for the other supervenes economic calculus and should guide one's actions.

To state that there are no universal ethical standards is to fail to grapple with the essence of the ethical. That we can talk of ethics as relevant to this transaction implies a universality. After all, ethics is about sociality and the duty of one to the other. The question then, concerns the substance of one's choices here. What is the ethical standard which applies in this case? Here one can consider the duty to the other and the duty to oneself and the traits with which one chooses to live his life.

Is there a duty to inform the electrician? If so, why? If not, why not?
Perhaps the duty is to embrace community and realize that economic gain is not the sole criterion by which one marks his time in this world. To share the information - this collection may well be more valuable than you think- is to open a space for friendship or at least amicability rather than material competition. It is to act well (in the classical, aesthetic sense) and treat the other with respect as a fellow community member who will benefit unexpectedly from the windfall just as you will benefit from the collection. To fail to disclose is to deny the other's equality in the transaction. There may be many reasons for this, all rationalizations, each more or less compelling [save the elderly gentleman the physical pain of moving the records (empathic), the wasted time of driving to some store for a pittance (economic), the benefit of a windfall that the man could surely use (patronizing)].

As for the buyer. After the purchase, what would the transaction conditions be that give you pause? Failure to disclose? Would you be balancing the joy of saving money against your choice not to disclose, thus mitigating the joy you have in the name of some $ figure? To be ethical is precisely to make a choice in which you meet your duty to the other (this duty can be discerned for yourself if you scrutinize your decision criteria and your moral philosophy, if applicable). What is the vision you have of your life's conduct? If you conceive of your ethical duty as individualist, then offer low. If you conceive of it in other terms then go with that (trust your instinct, there are reasons, too detailed here to elaborate, that we have them).

Thank you for a most erudite response to my original post. I can see that you are a student of political philosophy -- or at least you should be.

It seems to me that your position is informed by John Rawls' Theory of Justice, and if it is, I agree. Like Locke and Rousseau, I believe that what is right (ethical) and just depends on a social contract among all people. Unlike these earlier philosophers, however, I agree with Rawls that the roots of this social contract are not to be found in some higher principles or "natural law." Rather, what guides us is a sense of fairness -- what each of us would think was right and fair if we were behind a "veil of ignorance" about our own advantages and standing in society. In many ways, this sounds a lot like the "golden rule" (do unto others...).

All of that said, you seem to believe that the application of economics and ethics is a zero sum equation. I do not agree. I believe that purely economic motivations (make the most money, get the best deal) can and should be tempered by ethical standars (what is fair, the rules of the game). My experience in the business world (which involves advising businesses on strategic transactions, like buying other companies or selling their own business) is that a just and ethical deal is not the one that leads the parties to act against their self interest. Rather, it is one where the parties adhere to a common set of ground rules (equal access to relevant information, no fraud, no duress) and accept the outcome that those rules produce as fair/just/ethical "by definition."

As a result, if I decide to disclose/offer "market value" for the electrician's records, it will not be a denial of my "duty as an individualist" (as you seem to suggest). Rather, it will be because I believe that "rules of the game," in this case, require disclosure to ensure a just and ethical outcome.
Jeffrebowman2k -
Great decision. Good for you! Congratulations. I loved Classicjazz' statement, "economic gain is not the sole criterion by which one marks his time in this world."
It is always nice to run into a fellow thinker. As for Rawls, I am impressed with his work but in the end he still valorizes the individual's position. Any contractarian disaggregates society into component parts. Ontologically, the person is prior and the social is the agglomeration of individuals who come together. Whether by contract or coercion is another matter.

As for fairness and reasonableness, I find this conceptual glue to be alluring but how exactly does one define reasonableness? That is the slippery slope and it may end up being some arbitrator who "knows it when she sees it". However, here I would agree with Wolin's criticism of Rawls' resort to comprehensive doctrines getting along (Habermas also does this in his own way). CDs are inclusive, demand faith and delineate obligations that cannot be questioned and these rules guide life in many spheres. That was I think Kierkegaard's point. Faith and reason (and even the human ethical) are incommensurate and the former supercedes the latter. I tend to be interested in exploring foundations of the ethical rather than definitions (which are either made already viz. Wittgenstein or under contention i.e. Foucault).

Finally, I would maintain that conceptually ethics and economics are separate and that it is the political that brings them together (which is what Rawls is doing). This is where I agree with Levinas. And no, I don't mean that economics is purely zero sum but from a rational choice perspective of a one-time transaction between two strangers at arm's length, it would seem that maximal gain by whatever criteria (satisficing?) you use is the order of the day.

I think offering Market value is too high.

AFter all, you are buying in bulk, without the considerable time
and effort (not to mention knowledge) required to sell these
at market cost.

I have quite a few LP's I'd like to sell but just don;t have (or rather feel like)
investing the time to sort, gather, grade, take pics, list on ebay, follow auctions, receive payment, ship out, deal with any lost in shipping or dissatisfied customers, etc.

We're talking days of time here. If you are willing to pay market prices, just buy the 20 or so items you really want at 50-70% of what you deem market price, and pay $1 -2$ for any others you just want that are not valuable - that's all he'd get anyway.

Also consider the economic circumstances of the parties involved. If this person was getting kicked out of their home, I'd offer more, or even suggest places to sell as I'd want to help no matter what.

If it's just found money to the seller, and you're not loaded, then enjoy the good deal. They come around too little in life.
If I went to a garage sale and there was an old book for sale with a parchment paper that read " Magna Carta", I would buy the book. Ask him what he feels is a fair price. If you like it give it to him.
I can go to the flea market or garage sale every week and buy LP's anywhere from 10 cents on up. Most are a dollar or under. Geez, just ask the guy what he is looking to get. If it is real low, then give him more. What is so hard aout that? Billions of LP's out there and some think that they are rare as hens teeth.