Updated on December 10, 2021
Once upon a time, Columbia House was a mail-order subscription music service. Columbia House ran ads in Sunday newspaper supplements like “Parade,” or in various magazines; said ads stated Columbia House would send “12 records/CDs/cassettes for a penny!” or something similar. You’d pick out a dozen free/nearly-free albums, then promise to buy a set number of records/tapes/CDs over the next year; after that, you’d qualify for various further discounts on future purchases. Of course, back in the 90s, the cost of CDs ran upwards of $15-$20 each, and Columbia House also required paying for shipping and handling.
Needless to say, this model of music selling had problems. And of course, once the big music changes in the late 90s and 2000s came along, it spelled doom for Columbia House. While they tried closing the CD side and moving to DVDs awhile ago under a similar business model, that too has dried up with the rise of digital and streaming video. So I guess it’s not a surprise to hear they’re finally filing for bankruptcy. Apparently their music business peaked in 1996, which about fits the height of the CD era, and just before Napster (and computers powerful enough to play MP3s without problems) came along. What’s surprising is that the company’s held out for this long.
Like others back then, I too also used Columbia House to help build my early CD collection. Eventually, the 2000s came, and my CD buying dwindled, especially from places like Columbia House; Amazon being cheaper to buy CDs/DVDs from also didn’t help Columbia House’s fortunes. Nowadays, my music comes from Google Play, Spotify, and similar. Still, Columbia House served a purpose pre-Internet, as did its also-now-deceased then-rival service, BMG, which went under back in 2009.
Do any of you have memories of using Columbia House?
Anthony Dean is the owner of Diverse Tech Geek and Diverse Media Notes.