The End of Columbia House

I got a letter last week saying the Columbia House Music Club was no more. I have been an off-and-on member since high school. It was a great way to get albums, and later CD’s, at good prices (on the average) and probably half of my collection came from them.

As a teenager it was one of those great lessons in consumerism that if you didn’t play by their rules you would be very, very unhappy. I was always good about sending their monthly card back so that I wouldn’t automatically get whatever horrible album they were making available to their members that month (“If you want the selection of the month, do nothing! It will automatically be shipped to you”). I still managed to make some impulse buys and order some pretty lousy albums, but it was always fun getting that brown cardboard box in the mail (or a moment filled with dread if you knew you hadn’t ordered anything and hadn’t sent back a card in a while). With LP’s they came in a great big flat box, but the CD’s came in a brick. I learned to open the box carefully so that I could re-use the box if I needed to send it back. They would send you a nasty letter if you just wrote “Return to Sender” on the box and didn’t pay the postage yourself to send it back.

I would run the math and figure out that if I got 10 CD’s free plus one at half price, got one free by writing a number in the gold box, paid shipping, and bought 4 more in the next three years that the average price would be about $6 per CD. Then they would tempt you with crazy offers like Buy 1 Get 3 Free. The one you would buy would cost $20, plus you paid $2 shipping on the 4 CD’s, but that still meant you got 4 CD’s for $28.

Every now and then some class action lawsuit would be settled and you’d get a free CD for Columbia House’s misleading practices. All the better!

I signed up friends like Rich and Crispin when I told them about the average cost of the albums. They really wound up with some garbage when they didn’t send in their cards and Crispin even bequeathed his copies of The Wayne’s World Soundtrack and Queen’s A Kind of Magic to me when he moved out.

Columbia House has become part of BMG Music Service which I always thought of as a Columbia House wannabe.

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