Some 16 years ago I managed to get hold of a number of copies of a record that I didn’t really like (U4EA – Sunshine after the rain), but that my fellow Liverpudlians loved. I knew where to get them and they didn’t, they headed to shops like 3Beat where the promo copies were being sold at 15 GBP a pop. I went to a quiet HMV and picked them up at 5.99 and sold them in the DJ booth for 10GBP as a favour to the grateful customer.
Move forward 16 years and you have access to a worldwide market through the likes of eBay, netsoundsmusic and Discogs. The arbitrage opportunity is no longer there as prices are visible and transparent. The trust levels which were previously what kept retailers in place are no longer there. Two many bootlegs from ‘reputable’ companies, ‘promo copies’ label being used on a retail release to wind up the price with false exclusivity and the ability to get most tracks digitally by hook, or by crook means that pricing is now much less elastic.
This isn’t only about records any more though, it is a similar story with many other products. Arbitrage in consumer goods is pretty much at an end.