Taking a Comparative Look with Joseph Gregory
Half the fun of receiving a present is opening it, and the same ideology applies to vinyl. Let’s say you just bought an anxiously awaited new release. You take it home and stealthily sneak into your study to give it that first listen through. You carefully pull the record out of the bag; it’s pristinely packaged like a gift on Christmas morning—what do you do next?
Are you a serious collector, who meticulously etches a fine line separating just enough of the packaging to free the record from its jacket, while simultaneously preserving the integrity of all exterior facets like an ancient artifact? Or are you an erratic fan so intoxicated by the thought of having your favorite band’s new record at your fingertips that you attack the packaging like a four-year-old child on his birthday?
Despite whatever methodology you prefer, the “record opening experience” raises a few issues for both avid collectors and crazed fans. The most salient question being:
What is preferable, shrink wrap or poly bags?
For those who have never had the privilege of liberating a freshly pressed vinyl record from its captive exterior, here’s an intro to the anatomy of record packaging:
Shrink wrap is a very thin, clingy plastic film used to coat a record jacket in order to ensure that the jacket remains unscathed throughout the distribution process, and it’s similar to the household plastic wrap you use to heat up your leftovers. The alternative is poly bags, a highly respected convention of European style, also known as “disco bags”. These are almost identical to the bags comic book collectors use to protect their most prized copies, and they are a much more durable, clear plastic jacket in which the record jacket is placed.
So the question remains, which is to be preferred?
Well, from a manufacturing perspective, the bags are more expensive, but not by much; the typical price per bag is usually about 3 cents more than its shrink-wrapped counterpart. For penny-pinching bands releasing their debut record, shrink wrap may be a necessity. But, if your band has has some cash to spare, then why not indulge?
In fact, many devout collectors see poly bags as a courtesy item to which they are entitled. In almost all cases, a record is worth considerably more if its jacket is in close-to-mint condition, and many times the jacket artwork is actually worth more than the record itself. Poly bags, being the more durable option offer significantly more protection from dirt, dust, mold, and harmful sharp objects.
One of the biggest “value killers” is the dreadful jacket ring, resulting from the impression of the record on to the jacket from within—this is almost always a consequence of stacking. Poly bags, in addition to careful record shelving, will hinder this epidemic more so than thinly layered shrink wrap. Not to mention, you need a knife, fangs, or really sharp fingernails to open shrink wrap; there is a lot of room for error there.
Ultimately, I think most collectors would agree that if recording artists can afford the extra few cents per record, they should go with the poly bags. This way records will be worth more in the long run as both a musical contribution and a piece of tangible art.