The Rise & Fall of the Columbia House Record Club — and How We Learned to Steal Music

An article about the decline of mail-order record clubs claims that it was the “12 for a $0.01” record clubs that conditioned consumers to pay little to nothing for music (and though they don’t phrase it this way, the related joy of having a large “download” of music provide (relatively) instant gratification too.)

There’s probably some truth to this but I know I was copying my friend’s cassettes before I ever joined Columbia House and I was also dubbing records & cassettes from the library before that time as well.  (Maybe the library, with its constant “free, free, free” mantra is the cause of all piracy in the world???)

At any rate, the MetaFilter thread where I found this article  has lots of stories of people’s various scams and shenanigans with these record clubs.

The one I heard about at the dorms I lived in during undergrad was that the Residence Assistants, who had keys to the entire college building (eg. not just the dorms but also the academic/administrative wing) for security purposes or something, would sign up for Columbia House accounts under false names.  Then they’d monitor the mail room to see if a parcel was delivered for that false name (I think the mailboxes we had were too small for parcels so the trusting admin staff just left them out on the counter – ah, those halcyon pre-9/11 days!)

When the RA noticed the parcel had arrived, they’d do a “security check” of the mail room late at night and pick it up on behalf of  “Gainer Rider” or whichever false name they’d used that month.

(My memory here is foggy and reading what I’ve written, a lot of questions occur – why bother doing the late night retrieval if parcels were just left out in the open?  Why did the Admin staff not notice the false names used on these parcels?  And why did people go to such desperate measures to get Corey Hart CD’s, even for free, in the first place?)

I suspect the answers are probably a bit more towards “criminal”  and further away from “harmless fun at the expense of The Man” than I’m remembering so I better stop there before the police end up breaking down the door of my old college RA from 1991!

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