Why I Stopped Editing Discogs (Article)
According to my Discogs profile, I joined on January 19, 2010. Shortly after that, I started occasionally submitting new items to the database, and then around 2016, I began submitting many, many country 45s and LPs to the database. At the current count, I’ve submitted 2,320 new items to the database and done hundreds, if not thousands, of edits.
All of this is to say that I’ve spent hundreds, if not thousands, of hours on discogs as a database editor, buyer, and seller. In late 2022, I decided that I wouldn’t be working on the database anymore. Here’s why.
Disclaimer: This isn’t a piece of journalism; these are my personal experiences and observations. Mileage may vary.
As an editor:
The first rule of discogs is “You must have the exact release in your possession when you make a release submission.”
I take this rule very seriously because having an accurate database is more important than having a big database. The nature of something this large is that there will be holes in the information. Some records are incredibly rare, and relying on people to find them and then add them creates the possibility that the person who finds them and the person who can submit them may never be the same person.
From approximately 2010 to 2020, this wasn’t a huge problem. Sometimes I’d come across a user doing websubs (this is what it is called when you submit something that you don’t have in hand but see exists online). IE someone sees it on YouTube and takes the data from there), and I would either correct it, call attention to it, or if I saw a user making a habit of it, I would submit a support request with admin. It’s literally the first rule in the guidelines. Slightly before the pandemic, I started to see a couple super users submitting a lot of stuff I had a strong suspicion they didn’t have in hand. Specifically someone who made two drastically different types of submissions. In one, they would have well-made subtitles with excellent and accurate data, great pictures, and complete information. In the others, they seemed to contain a lot of stuff with no pictures and sparse information, and I came to find on many occasions inaccurate information. I learned this because I had stuff they had submitted, and when I went to add it to my collection, there would be very obvious mistakes that anyone looking at the disc in hand couldn’t make, especially given their history of well-done subs. The person making the good submissions wouldn’t have made the bad submissions unless there was something missing. I actually even caught a few users taking pictures and data from blogs online. I submitted a support request, and a few days later I would get a note saying that they had messaged the user and essentially asked them not to do that. The users all continued to do this, and nothing happened, driving me slightly insane. These releases were not taken off the database either. Essentially, they were saying that if you broke the rules, nothing would happen, and they didn’t even mind having the submissions there.
Other users I noticed started doing mass edits of labels or pressing plants without mentioning it in the forums. While not explicitly against the rules, there is an understanding that the database involves many people, so doing a large edit to sometimes hundreds of items without asking anyone seems brash. Imagine if a random coworker reorganized the break room without mentioning they were doing it. Sure, maybe most of it is fine, but then there’s plenty of things that they put in odd spots or didn’t know what to do with, etc. You get the idea. In short, these users would say they had some kind of information in hand that allowed them to know their edits were accurate. I never personally saw the proof of this.
For what it’s worth, most of the edits were correct, from what I can tell, but maybe 5% wouldn’t be. As a database that many people use for research, I think having incorrect data is a serious problem. But the bigger issue is that once you allow people to make edits and submissions against the guidelines with no checks or balances, you allow a crack for a flood of bad information to make it through. This is how I saw it happen.
Soon it seemed like most of the items I was adding to my collection either had blatant bad edits I had to fix or were just lazily done. What used to be fun and joyful became janitorial work at a kindergarten.
Discogs as a marketplace:
Now it’s important to bring up a large piece of this puzzle. Nearly all of the discogs database (submissions and edits) is provided by volunteers. For many years, I was OK with this because I felt that I was contributing to something greater than myself and important to our community of collectors and music nerds. Discogs, to me, always felt like a positive place. Sure, there were problems, but overall, their hearts were in the right place. I still generally feel this way; I don’t hate discogs.
However, once I started to think about the possibility of discogs selling to a bigger company, I realized that my labor was making someone else rich. I still think the database is important, but it’s private. It is not communally owned. For a long time, it seemed like discogs was making due but not really getting rich off of it. My view was that the fees were for operating costs, like any large database would have. Once that idea entered my head, it didn’t leave; I just couldn’t really stop thinking about it.
If Amazon bought discogs, had my labor just helped the ultra-rich become more wealthy?
This aspect of a marketplace making money off of a large database gets cloudy ethically. Did I volunteer for my work? Yes. Do I wish I could take it back? No. I chose to do it, knowing I didn’t own the company. But at this point, all the late service requests, not enforcing literally the first rule, and other things started to add up for me. The nature of having to submit an item before you can sell it means that you are putting someone who wants money in the role of a database editor. In the country world, this mostly ended up with people adding very plain and uninteresting country singles framed as “Killer Rockabilly” or some other eBay-style buzz word. At best, they made a fine submission; at worst, it was a submission that someone else then had to spend 10–30 minutes editing to get correct. With the influx of new editors and sellers doing bad submissions, you then started to have to have a huge portion of editors doing damage control on these. It became a headache. Instead of submitting my own things, I found myself having to edit poorly done submissions instead. It sucked.
Then the fees went up. If you are reading this, I bet you have already heard about it. I won’t get deep into the weeds here, but the jist is that discogs used to have a modest fee on the price of the record being sold. They then increased the fee by 1% but also applied it to the cost of shipping, which it wasn’t before. A $5 record with $5 shipping went from being 40 cents to 90 cents in fees. What was a significant increase on most orders was disguised as 1%.
This didn’t sit well with nearly everybody. On one hand, it does cost something to sell online; everyone knows this. Infrastructure costs something. On the other hand, the way it was done just felt underhanded. There was much backlash.
Discogs as a seller:
My first interactions with discogs as a seller were when I worked at a record store. When I started in 2012, the store sold sparsely online, but in the next few years, we grew the online side of the business a lot. I’ve listed, packed, and shipped hundreds of orders on Discogs. At the store and privately.
At first, it was fairly easy; people were nice, and the jerks who were hard to deal with were few. This is how it worked back then:
1. A seller lists an item for sale
2. A buyer buys it, which creates an order for the item.
3. The seller has to send an invoice, which means that they look at what was bought and where it’s going, then add the correct shipping and handling amount. For domestic orders, this was almost always a flat fee; for international orders, this could take 5 minutes to correctly figure out.
4. The buyer pays
5. The seller packs and ships the order.
A few years ago, Discogs took away this system and added automatic shipping. For most orders, this isn’t a big problem. If you charge $5 for any domestic order, then that’s perfectly fine. If you have an international order with 3 LPs, 1 45, 2 CDs, and 2 tapes, then the automatic shipping calculator can really screw you over. I don’t understand why they got rid of the above system; it took a bit longer, but it was thoughtful and allowed you to send the correct amount. It was just a step in the wrong direction.
This is a theme; discogs would make sweeping changes to fix issues that only affected a minority of the users. The increase in fees was presumably to combat people charging $1 for a record and then $20 for shipping so they could skirt the correct amount of fees. As of October 2023, I have over 500 purchase orders on Discogs and have never experienced this. I’m sure it happens, but there are other ways of fixing that problem.
Discogs as a buyer:
This is very basic. As a buyer, I have seen significantly less good stuff up for reasonable prices on discogs. I used to order at least once a week for close to 10 years, and now I don’t because there’s just a lack of reasonably priced records.
Part of it is because of the rise in vinyl popularity that’s been steady for 10+ years, and part of it is because there’s no point in posting a $3 record with $5 shipping if the fees end up being 25% of that $3.
If you’re going to charge nearly the same fees as eBay, then why would anyone post on your site when eBay has a significantly larger user base?
Why am I writing this?
I’ve seen the writing on the wall, and I’ve seen more people bringing it up. It feels like public opinion on discogs is changing. I saw they made the guy from Vinyl Me Please, a money-grabbing company that makes fetishized vinyl pressings and forces you to buy into their framework to have access to records that should just be available, their COO. The database I used to feel was a fun spot for music nerds to do data entry is now a place where the rich will try to extract all the goodness in search of their own growing bank accounts. I don’t want to hate discogs. I always loved it, and I still use it daily. But, well, I just couldn’t do it anymore.
I started my own database for my own collection. I thought that if someone was going to make money off of my work, it should be me or no one. Discogs doesn’t seem to advertise that its database was built by volunteers; they don’t thank you for helping. Multiple items I’ve added to the database have sold for hundreds of dollars. I’ve made them money. It used to feel like working in a community garden, and now it feels like shoveling dirt on a factory farm.
You can visit my much smaller database at dollarcountry.org.
Addendum: Discogs and data ownership
One more aspect of the discogs database is that it isn’t just media, but also the pages for the artists, engineers, labels, and other entities involved in making media. It is not uncommon for me to come upon an artist page with a biography that is taken word for word from another source. Sometimes it is wikipedia and sometimes it is from a private blog or printed material. Except for my own additions I have never seen these sources cited. In that way the discogs database acts a bootleg information pipeline taking write-ups done by other people and putting them into the public domain against their wishes. I have never personally seen anyone bring this aspect up, but I always think about it and it just doesn’t feel OK to me that there is no citation system for that.
In the discogs terms of service they say:
You grant a non-exclusive, non-revocable, transferable right to Us to use Your user-generated content, unrestricted in time and territory, for the purpose of rendering the Service.
So even if you didn’t write the biography of the artist it is now assumed by all browsers that it is either free use or owned by discogs and the work of proving who owns it lands on the original writer to discover it through happenstance. Obviously we live in the internet age and this is rampant, but these are the rules that will be looked at regarding legality.
I have come upon youtube videos, other marketplaces, and instagram accounts using pictures of my records that I uploaded to the discogs database. Regarding images discogs says that when you upload images to it’s website you are agreeing to “make it available via a CC0 ‘No Rights Reserved’ license.”
I guess all this is to say that discogs is a privately owned business. We may convince ourselves that it is an ethical business or an unethical business, but it is a business and we are creating its product for free.
PS. this was kind of in response to seeing these two pieces, although I've had these thoughts for years it took seeing these to spur me into writing them into something worth sharing.
Twitter thread by Mike Simonetti