With 110 million buyers, sellers, collectors and lurkers roaming through Discogs every year, the 23-year-old online music marketplace’s forum threads are not exactly full of emotional support. In one of the notoriously messy threads, users complain about the May 2023 increase in selling fees from 8–9%. “What a rip off,” goes one post.
In another forum, someone advises a seller contending with a buyer demanding a full refund: “People here need to have more balls when dealing with dopes. Grow a pair.” And another user simply writes: “Discogs has gone downhill. It’s really sad. I have loved this site for so long. It feels like bots are running it. AI is just going to make it worse.”
How does Discogs turn these passionate, semi-anonymous user criticisms into upgrades? Very carefully, according to Lloyd Starr, chief operating officer since May 1: “We’ve got millions of people on the platform every month now. It’s a lot harder to find the signal in that noise.”
To improve communication between Discogs and its users, the company’s executive leadership plans to spend 2024 rolling out initiatives to solicit user suggestions and make broad changes. The Discogs community remains angry about the fee increase — which applies to shipping costs, too — and the way the company suggested the “easiest thing” for sellers to do would be to increase their prices. In a “we can do better” post last month, founder and CEO Kevin Lewandowski announced a soon-to-be-created Community Advisory Board, for users to “bring feedback and ideas to Discogs and influence how the platform evolves.”
The advisory board, Starr suggests, will be the centerpiece of Discogs’ changes. In roughly late March, Discogs will solicit applications from users and appoint representatives from the “selling, contributing and collecting” communities, as Starr calls them, by early summer. “It’s more of a dynamic conversation than a one-way post on a forum,” he says.
Lewandowski and Starr have already begun their Discogs feedback-solicitation tour. The pair traveled to New York City together in mid-January to meet with power users, including Craig Kallman, chairman and CEO of Atlantic Records, who gave them a tour of his two million LPs. Starr won’t reveal exactly what these users suggested, but he outlines a broad plan for Discogs to use surveys, polls and live contests at record-selling events. “We really want the community to feel listened to and give them advice,” he says.
In addition, Discogs will roll out “25 in ’25,” an attempt to boost the company’s online database from 17 million listed items to 25 million by its 25th anniversary in November 2025. (As of 2019, the latest year in which Discogs released sales numbers, users sold 14.6 million items on the platform, including 11.6 million vinyl LPs.)
To help achieve 25 million, the company recently hired Brent Greissle, a longtime user who has personally added 50,000 entries to Discogs’ database, as principal of discography affairs, to oversee the project. Starr also hopes to expand the database’s “richness and diversity in culture,” tapping into Brazil’s record-store community, for example, through trips to Sao Paulo, like one Lewandowski recently took to visit the world’s biggest LP collector, Zero Freitas, who by some accounts owns over six million records.
As for technological changes, Lewandowski spells out plans to improve the log-in and checkout systems and want lists. “I wrote most of the code originally back in 2000. It had a major rewrite in 2004. Some of our current software goes back that far,” he says. “This enables us to do things faster and give the community things they’ve been asking us for.” Starr elaborates that Discogs has been working for years to upgrade order management, user authentication and fraud mitigation to bring the site up to Amazon-style e-commerce standards — but it’ll take more time. “We’ve got a little technical debt to resolve here,” he says.
Several Discogs users say they’re skeptical of broad changes coming from executive leadership, which they say hasn’t listened to their concerns. Jonathan Highfield, a longtime seller near Liverpool, England, complains that Greissle, a liaison between Discogs management and user forums, is too overloaded to respond effectively about slow-loading pages or difficulty searching for releases by genre, style or label. “If they’re listening, great, but the channel is too narrow for enough information to pass through,” Highfield says. “It makes people not want to use the site.”
And like many sellers, Kurt Walling, a semi-retired optician in Streetsboro, Ohio, who has been offloading portions of his personal collection via Discogs for years, remains upset about last year’s increase in selling fees. Of the imminent changes Starr is describing, Walling says: “My inclination is to think it’s corporate stuff. I don’t think it’s sincere.”
By way of response, Starr says, the last time Discogs changed its fees was 10 years ago, and since then, the company has been “absorbing the rising cost of salaries, the rising cost of enterprise software.” Plus, competitors like Amazon and eBay take a sales percentage out of every order, and Discogs is “doing the same thing.” While Discogs could have communicated the new fees more effectively to users, according to Starr, “I don’t think removing fees makes sense.”
And for all the discontent found on the Discogs forums, one user is satisfied with his experience: Kallman, who continues to use its database to help track Atlantic’s vast catalog of releases. “Crucial, rare, out-of-print recordings that might otherwise be at risk of being forgotten in the digital era are all preserved,” he says. “The database is the most valuable asset of Discogs, and they give it away for free. It’s a constant, evolving, living, breathing organism that continues to fine-tune to maintain the completeness of the platform.”