Add this to the, “I had no idea that was even still around” file. Mail-order media company Columbia House is finally shutting down for good. I guess this is another win for digital media and another loss for lovers of physical media. I’m also guessing that a person’s familiarity with Columbia House and its ubiquitous “12 Records or Tapes for $1.00” will have a direct connection to that person’s age. Regardless, Columbia House billed itself as a “music club.” Customers would get reeled in by an initial offer that seemed too good to be true. From there, they’d be obligated to remain a member of the club for a couple years. During that period, they were required to buy a certain number of albums in order to fulfill their obligation to the club. Alternatively, they could just let Columbia House mail them one album per month, chosen by Columbia House, based on its understanding of that customer’s music preferences. If customers were happy with Columbia House’s monthly selections, they could then mail back a voucher with payment enclosed. If they didn’t want the record/tape/CD Columbia House chose, they could write “Return to Sender” on the cardboard mailer and return it to the company’s Terre Haute, IN processing center.
Considering the proliferation of monthly subscription services now dominating the Internet, Columbia House was arguably ahead of its time. Of course, this business model leads to some consternation among consumers, as it’s really predicated on getting them to sign up once and then forget about those monthly charges as they rack up. In its time, I knew plenty of people who’d signed up for Columbia House and they’d always be frustrated when that next piece of media came in the mail and they had to decide what to do with it.
Columbia House was best known for its role as a music seller. But over the years, it had also gotten into a similar monthly service for DVD’s. And it was that iconic music division that went first, having been shuttered in 2010. The company managed to hang on for another five years in the movie/TV show selling business. But the increased adoption of digital audio and video streaming ultimately sent Columbia House’s parent company into bankruptcy. Looks like it’s time to say goodbye to another relic of the pre-digital era.