Who remembers Columbia House Music Club?

Originally published at: Who remembers Columbia House Music Club? | Boing Boing


My first album from them was Allman Brothers Band Live at Fillmore East.

Some stickers and a kind of bingo-like card were involved IIRC.


i joined the book of the month club which employed a similar strategy. i got a compact edition of the oxford english dictionary which had its own rectangular magnifying glass, necessitated by the fact that what made it “compact” was printing four miniaturized copies of each page of the original on one page of the edition i got. even though there’s a newer edition and the online version, i still refer to it from time to time.


My ex-wife joined. It was nightmare to stop.


I think I still owe them money.


Did it on college and it worked out great. I was diligent about returning the order forms, and every three weeks or so they’d give you a 3-for-1 offer and I’d get a bunch of CDs. Discovered some good electronica that way, though their selection generally wasn’t too exciting.

BMG also did a service, and i did that for a while too.

Actually not, they were regular store prices, plus shipping. And if you were patient you got two free CDs with each one.

I don’t know how many people remember the other side of music shopping in the early '90s, which was CDs (at least in small rural towns) cost close to $20 in '90s money. Basically, if you were a kid you could afford a small handful a year at best. There was no internet, and radio was shit, and there’s an old joke about a record collection of exclusively Rolling Stone 5-star albums. To find music you just had to buy it and listen to it. Eight dollar albums made that possible.


BMG was the lesser of the two evils for sure. I joined in college, and stayed in it for about 5 years, dutifully sending back the “no thanks” card until around the mid 90s across four moves. Many of our Christmas albums have the magic/missing barcode from the club packaging.

It was a great deal in pre-streaming/starving student days.


I briefly joined Columbia House, but I thought BMG cd club was a better deal. You only had to buy one cd to fulfill your membership obligation, and you could game it so instead of eight cds for the price of one, you could get ten or twelve. They charged shipping and handling for each, but the final math came out to like $3.50 per cd so it was a bargain. The key was to quit the club as soon as you’d completed your end then sign up again with a different music style as your preference, and save all the catalogs. That way you could get deep into their inventory (which wasnt as big as Columbia House) and find odder stuff they didn’t push, like Fela or Blue Note rarities. When they had an online database near the end you could find all kinds of good stuff: Motorhead, Django, George Jones, Curtis Mayfield. I even joined their separate classical club to raid it for all the more outre stuff like complete Bartok string quartets. (Edited to add: in other words you didnt need to use a fake name. You were doing it by the rules and still coming out with cheap cds.)

Columbia needed you to buy several LPs or cds to fulfill the agreement so it was harder to come out on top. The vinyl covers did seem to be flimsier. I still have club copy of Sabbaths “Paranoid” somewhere.


Maybe it was BMG I did in college and Columbia House later?


Not to brag, but I have the entire run of Lost in Space on VHS through a similar deal.


Oh, I may have taken undue advantage of moving around a lot when I was a mere youngster. I wonder if they’re still looking for me, and that check…


On Discogs.com, they often separate the Columbia releases into their own Club Edition entries to distinguish them from the other official releases. Sometimes they get quite difficult to identify, only unique due to one character in the matrix/runout or other hard-to-spot identifier.


Won’t fault you for experimenting in college. :smirk:

I forget the exact reasons why BMG was “better” but something about a comment upthread tickled memories: paying shipping and buying 1 album in BMG vs. lower(?) shipping and buying several albums in Columbia, maybe? And I forgot about the “genre” catalogs, too. Or when they would send out a larger “bonus” catalog with multiple genres to choose from.

It was surely a racket, but for someone building up a music collection with more obscure/older selections, the record clubs were ideal.


When I left for the Army my younger brother signed up for a Columbia House account in my name, collected his opt-out movies for an undetermined amount of time, then proceeded to ignore the bills. I only found out when I went to buy my first beater car and was refused financing.


Of course I remember. It’s how I got my first albums as a teen. I’m pretty sure that included such luminaries as Aldo Nova and Men At Work (the second one is at least a band I still enjoy). Also joined the various book clubs from time to time over the years, and I would have recommended those as a better deal. I discovered some fabulous authors that way, like Connie Willis.


I too did the BMG route. Later I heard that the artists got nothing from the sales as they were considered promotional CDs.


A music label screwing over their artists?


The club albums are for sure printed differently, often without the full CD booklet. I would completely believe that a savvy label-lawyer would figure out how to sell direct to the public without paying a dime to the creators, especially for the people who didn’t check the “don’t send this to me” microscopic box on the monthly mailer.

They never made a penny on me! Well, aside from that first penny, of course.


It was the 3-for-1 deals: the artist in the “1” got paid, but the other two didn’t.

It was kind of a Napster lottery: I got to try out a bunch of music i never would have and thus found some artists that I would then spent straight up money on.


A friend of mine who was actively building his CD collection did the math and concluded it was actually cheaper to stay in the club a while. (I don’t recall if it was Columbia House or a different club.) In fact, my friend had two subscriptions. One under his actual name and another as “Steve Austin” (after the Six-Million Dollar Man).

A couple years later, Steve Austin started receiving “pre-approved” credit card offers in the mail.


Citation needed for U.S. states.

Under federal law in the U.S., you cannot be billed for something you received in the mail that you did not order. But I don’t think that applies to these clubs, since you entered into a contract that is effectively a set of future orders.

I’d be surprised if a state could impose legislation regulating interstate trade that is more restrictive than federal law.