For the unsuspecting, the gullible, the none-too-saavy, The Columbia Record Club, and its varying offshoots and competitors, became an unshakable bane in the lives of many a young music lover. For some, it was our juvenile selves’ first brush with a world of “financial commitments” and “”contractual obligations,” which, more often than not, would later culminate in hair-pulling encounters with mortgage lenders, car leasers, business defaults, and some form of inevitably predictable legal adjudication. But, for the serious record buyer, I repeat… the serious record buyer, Columbia House, The Columbia Record Club, The RCA Record Club, BMG Direct, and a host of similarly named blood-smelling sharks, turned out to be the smartest way to get cheap records, tapes and CDs, especially as prices began to escalate in the CD years. By religiously returning the monthly or bi-weekly rube cards, waiting for quarterly 2-for-1 (or 3-for-1) sales, dutifully doing the math on postage and plastic for multi-unit box sets, and just being patient, it was possible – in fact, easy – to take the record companies to the cleaners on a regular basis… and not just when you got your first 8, 10, 12 or 13 for a penny (+ postage) up front. But those days are now officially gone, as Columbia House has (in August) filed for bankruptcy. I know what you’re thinking… Didn’t that happen decades ago? Not really. Turns out that Columbia and BMG combined forces in 2005 to continue selling DVDs in that old familiar way, up until 2012, when the operations were sold to some adult rubes, who apparently fell for the same record company bait-and-switch tactics we all fell for. Then the business bottomed out and the coffers ran dry in 2015. The whole sordid story broke in the Wall St. Journal last month (read a synopsis HERE).
I had my own teenage run-in with the RCA Victor Record Club back in the late-60s, when – realizing I was in over my head, financially and intellectually – I concocted a scheme to get out of my obligations by telling my creditors that I had died. Yep… a ploy far older that the clueless punk desperately trying to employ it. It was obvious that I didn’t even bother to think this tomfoolery though, because when the powers-that-be got ahold of my crayonic scrawl of a death notice, they immediately responded with a polite, sighing, head-sadly-shaking letter shrewdly addressed “To The Estate Of…,” which my mother not-so-lovingly greeted me with at the door as I returned from school one day in 1969. Live and learn. I would eventually get my revenge (as if I was actually due any). Once I wised-up to the ways of the world (or, more specifically, the Record Clubs), I took advantage of the small-print rules to routinely score compact discs for less than $5 apiece… back when they were going for $15, in the pre-option, pre-internet years. In effect, fleecing multiple record clubs for product barely over cost. Call it The Wrath Of Con. But… I have often wondered whatever became of Nancy Bennett, who knew me (and my ilk) better than we knew ourselves. Those were the days.