Such a great thread, I can echo many of the sentiments here.
I think one of the thrills of being a collector, what originally got me into it, was the fun of the search, and the waiting for the package to arrive. Then when they do arrive, the ritual of the opening of the package, opening the albums, looking at all the goodies, playing the music in a reverie. So much fun to surf the net and get into darker and obscurer corners, finding all the labels, one leading to another, drinking in the mysterious atmosphere of far away labels. Buying the music gives one the feeling of a new world opening up, an actual place to explore. And the anticipation, one's imagination of what the release will be like, where it will take you.
I've never reached the collecting heights that many here have, my max collection was probably in the hundreds (maybe 300-500). But compared to my original intent of collecting, that is a massive amount. I originally thought I could get a "self sustaining" collection, a set number of classics that would allow me to rotate, not get bored, and come back around. Hermetically sealed, no new albums need to be bought. I thought this could be achieved in maybe 30-60 albums. But the thrill of the search drove me on.
There was a time a couple years ago when I realized I liked the search more than the finding, and wasn't actually listening or getting full enjoyment out of my collection. I would usually have a set of classics that I returned to again and again, the music I truly enjoyed. The rest would get those first few listens then go to sleep on the shelf. Of course there is the awesome sensation when you replay one that was almost lost deep in the collection and realize that it enters the classic cannon. But I ended up needing a cash infusion, which coincided with disillusion with the music, and the carefully amassed ambient and electronic collection got sold, virtually the whole thing, only a few being held back, and some strays which had been put to the computer. I held on to my world music collection (maybe 100 albums) because it has excellent replayability.
Now after some years I find myself missing the electronic and ambient, and a few releases trickle back in. Got some albums from Warp, which I never thought I would do again. Relatively recent ones from Autechre and Plaid. They are good beyond just the nostalgia trip I wanted to take.
One thing great (and possibly detrimental in some respects) about the current climate is the ability to get legitimate and free good music. I can have those same fun surfing sessions, explore the websites of labels, and bandcamp etc. And listen to a ton of stuff streaming. Then maybe download a token free track offered up by the labels/artists. Which takes the place of when I previously had to order the release, and have the exciting waiting period for the mail to come. In effect, the new way helps me to diffuse my music and collecting addiction. It's easier to be more discerning with purchases, but it also takes out the mystery and thrill, and chance taking, that made buying the physical album fun. And maybe I'm a more reserved music enjoyer now, not wide-eyed and expecting that next mind-blowing release. More jaded? I can agree that there needs to be more to please me these days than business as usual. The past few years have seen me buy 1-2 albums a year. But in the past few weeks I've got 3 albums by Autechre and 2 by Plaid. The collector daemon returns, however weakly. This time I think I can enjoy the thrill of the search without having to buy every time.
But just writing about it here makes me want to go on a music search and surf...damnit.