I know quite a few collectors who actually plan their shopping sprees. I used to do that too, at times, but today I neither look at my usual online haunts all that regularly nor do I head into town as often as I would like. The shopping patterns I adhere to are not based on emotional stability (or instability) but on 20 and more years of experience when it comes around to – bit by bit – putting together a solid collection of both printed and recorded material. What seems to be a simple activity at first, quickly turns into a convoluted process of scheming and planning, much of which has been thoroughly affected by both local politics and European protectionism.
Over here in Germany, being a music collector isn’t as much fun as it could be. Like the rest of you, we can of course enjoy those items that we finally managed to get our hands on, but getting there is usually the problem, especially if you are on a tighter budget. Prices are sometimes outrageous here, customs officials handling imports from the US, for example, could perhaps be likened to 500-pound gorillas from whose IQ you automatically need to deduct another 10 points, and when confronted with wrapping and packaging by some international mail order dealers, you are never really surprised when your shipment gets hit by a Chinese water demon in transit.
So, it’s down to shopping in my home country first, then the UK and then the rest of Europe, depending on where I’m able to find things cheaper. Once a year I feel brave enough to order larger shipments from abroad, but I usually have to kick myself afterwards for having done so.
On top of that, once or twice a year, when the time comes around, I frequent the various post-Christmas and pre-whatever sales and try to make a killing, but that’s it. I do have quite a lot of music as well as a limited budget and because of this I also try to stay away from places that could incite me to spend too much money. I usually need an incentive to get me to look for some particular (re)issue and because many sites I have bookmarked supply that, I try to stay away from those as well. Hell, I haven’t been on eBay for over a year because the times when one could really nail a cheap collector’s item are long gone. After years of scoring major bargains on eBay, I got the feeling that there was always that one obsessive-compulsive collector that ruined the price on each and every item I had wanted to bid on … every single time. Some people just have too much money and too much time on their hands.
There was a time – several years in fact – in which I added on to my collection in larger leaps and bounds, but I also reached the point many moons ago at which I thought I had most of the “must-have” stuff I had previously assembled on a mile-long shopping list of sorts. Today I either fill up holes in that collection, explore a new music (sub-)genre or update a few releases with better-sounding reissues. I’m also practically forcing myself to stay away from classical music altogether (well, almost …) because I just know that once I enter that market, I might as well move out of my apartment (and apply for social welfare).
Last, but not least, I’m usually a patient guy. I can wait a year or two until things become much cheaper and there’s hardly an item I buy upon release. In fact, I can’t really remember having bought more than one or two CDs when they came out these past 24 months and then only because they were reduced in the first week of availability. Unless it’s a limited edition and sure to go out of print fast, I usually wait … indefinitely if I have to. Many of the collector’s items I bought years after they were released, many of them used or remaindered. Yes, one misses out on stuff that way, but there is so much to go around that there’s always an item on the wish list that can replace that missed opportunity.
The best intentions usually evaporate into thin air once I enter one of Germany’s infamous “Zweitausendeins” stores, a new one of which opened one city down the road about a year ago. Actually, I had effectively avoided both their online site and the new shop for quite some time and because I have unsubscribed from their mailing list, I suddenly had a lot more cash than previously. Still, my subconscious took me right past their store front while on a walk through town the other day. Another inner demon made me enter a few seconds later. Bad idea.
For all of those who don’t know “Zweitausendeins”, a few facts. It is Germany’s biggest budget outfit, founded in 1969 and a fixture on the market for music and book lovers ever since, that usually buys up huge quantities of any book, CD, and DVD, quite a few remaindered, some not, and then slashes the prices massively. Yes, at times you can get this or that item a bit cheaper via an Amazon marketplace dealer or other more reclusive online haunts, but at their best, “Zweitausendeins” has stunningly cheap or more than reasonable offers, especially when compared to prices elsewhere in Germany. They also have quite a few clunkers in their catalog and you shouldn’t just grab anything they offer without having first done some research in regard to the quality of that item, especially if you are interested in sound and general production quality.
If you do use their online site (only available in German) and have your stuff shipped to you, it is likely that you’ll end up rolling around the floor in fits of laughter when you see how they “wrap” and “package” their stuff. Over the years, I’ve had a ton of shipments from them with cracked and otherwise damaged jewelcases, dented books as well as boxed sets (they do replace damaged items without fail though which makes one wonder why they don’t package stuff better in the first place – that must surely be cheaper in the long run?) and when you see their flimsy cardboard boxes and rest your gaze on some crumbled-up brown piece of paper randomly thrown into the box (which is usually much too large for what it’s supposed to be protecting) as “wrapping”, you simply can’t help but wonder if they’ll ever learn. I haven’t complained much because I always have a stack of replacement jewelcases lying around and because most boxed sets had a minor dent at the most, but if you are a perfectionist in these matters, maybe you should order elsewhere.
Still, often their prices are hard to beat, communication with them is good and the people working in their stores – at least the ones I frequent(ed) – know their stuff.
So, last week the sun came out for seemingly the first time this year, I headed into town to have a nice glass of wine at some street café … and walked head-first into said storefront.
You know the skit: “I’ll just have a look if they happen to have some interesting item cheap …”. Yeah, right.
I walked away with John Coltrane’s “Fearless Leader” boxed set (34 Euro), the MPS Art Van Damme 5-CD set “Swinging the Accordion on MPS” (23 Euro), a Columbia Miles Davis “Original Album Classics” 5-CD set for the price of one single CD (11 Euro), and Verve’s “Getz Au Go Go: The New Stan Getz Quartet featuring Astrud Gilberto” (live; 4 Euro). If I hadn’t had them already, I could have walked away with all the other MPS 4-CD and 5-CD boxed sets (Monty Alexander, Eugen Cicero, George Shearing, all 24 Euro besides the Cicero at 19 Euro) or their single releases (for example Monty Alexander’s Montreux live set, 30th anniversary, 7 Euro), the complete EMI recordings (17CDs, 40 Euro) of Jaqueline du Pré, and a trillion other items, like a a couple of meters of Rudy van Gelder Blue Note remasters for 4.99 Euro a piece.
See, that new shop has all the interesting sets displayed up on a shelf that is just at my height and I just needed to walk along and grab them. No digging around for stuff, not much of an IQ needed to spend insane amounts of money. No agility either.
To finish things off, I hit their online site when I got home to check if they had the other John Coltrane box from the same series, “Interplay“, and they did. Plus Miles Davis’ “The Legendary Prestige Quintet Sessions” (also 34 Euro) and Klaus Doldinger’s “The complete Philips sessions” (24 Euro).
So, in a matter of a few hours, I either bought or ordered 30 CDs (plus a film or two that I’m not even going to mention) and could have added another thirety or more to that pile. Leaps and bounds again. That’s “Zweitausendeines” for you.
I also temporarily got irritated at having previously spent a lot more on some of the stuff I could have now gotten at least 1/3 cheaper. Yes, in light of what I stated above, new MPS releases are usually bought right away, simply because they are damn good.
… And More
What has really gotten to me these past 24 months or so is how wildly the prices not only differ from continent to continent but sometimes also from one area in Europe to another. Germany, and all of us who know this country certainly expect that at each and every turn, is usually the most expensive (people from Switzerland and Austria might disagree). It is ridiculous how much money you can save by just digitally stepping across the Channel and purchasing a lot of stuff in the UK, especially since – in my experience – price cuts are put into effect in the UK weeks (if not months) before they are even considered in Germany. To make matters worse, the current Euro – Dollar exchange rate basically begs us to order from the US as often as we can … if it weren’t for the above-mentioned German customs offices which are, in each and every instance I had to deal with them, run by a horde of mentally deficient primates.
To be fair though, much of what these short-haired humanoids pour over our undeserving heads has been caused by that many-tentacled monster which goes by the name of “European Union”. Protectionism, a thing we believed to have gone the way of the world and died is not only alive and well in said Union, it’s thriving by the minute. I am what could be called a staunch defender of European unity, but my wallet thinks it sucks. Although the minimum amount after which a sales tax is imposed on imported goods is supposed to be raised in the near future, these past two decades the various member governments have earned themselves golden toilet bowls by taxing everything bigger than a stamp and more expensive than a stiff tequila. As is customary, the amount due is calculated from the payment total plus (!) the cost of shipping, and I don’t know how much money I’ve thrown into the gaping mouths of insatiable ministers and vultures of finance and/or trade.
On top of that, the various governments have made it so damn complicated to actually get your stuff out of those iron-fisted grips of customs officials that the fun of actually scoring a good bargain abroad is completely removed from the equation.
Let’s have a look at an example: The other day I ordered three boxed sets from a forum member in the US, an excellent offer he had for members there and which became even better at the current exchange rate. So, I jumped on it, sent him the money – including airmail postage – and he sent it off straight away. Six (!) weeks later I have to find out myself from the local customs office that because of the backlog experienced in and around their cushy cages, the shipment had been lying around there for weeks. Additionally, I was allowed a mere seven days (including two offical holidays) to contact them via mail with proof of purchase (two copies), a letter explaining the transaction, and 15 sets of fingerprints. The latter is, of course, a joke, but not far removed from the printed gibberish (torn by hand, by the way, from a long roll of forms they must have hanging around their offices like toilet paper) we are regularly submitted to over here. “We”, in this case, are the people outside of the bigger cities, the ones who cannot just “hop over” into said cages to pick something up.
So, now I had to locate a PayPal receipt, compose an accompanying letter, fill out a more than confusing form, send it off at my expense … only to be told that because I did not show up personally, I have to probably wait another 4 to 6 weeks until the package is delivered to my house. Of course, should I not be at home when the package is delivered at 10 in the morning (naturally, nobody is assumed to be working in this country here), it will land in another office 20 km away from which I then have to try to somehow extract it. You know, the Monopoly game: “Do not pass GO, …”. Same procedure as every year.
It was ten years ago that I, together with a large number of others – including a load of bookshop owners who have to go through the same procedure for every darn book they order for a customer abroad – filed an official complaint with the federal parliament (they have a committee that has to deal with citizen complaints and requests). We were – almost immediately – informed that we had a case … but: “Do not pass GO, …”
10 years later we are still dealing with the same old same old, although improvements are in sight. I’ll give it another ten to twenty years and then start complaining again.
So, at the end, I actually have to get shopping fits within the confinements of the usually rather small “Zweitausendeins” stores to compensate for all that frustration.
Yeah, it’s a tough life.