At the very least, Hootie owes them a "Thank You"
June 10, 2015 7:43 AM   Subscribe

As part of their "1995 Week", AV Club has published a special edition of their Expert Witness series focused on the late Columbia House (previously) and their inner workings: Four Columbia House insiders explain the shady math behind “8 CDs for a penny”.
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI (73 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
 
When my parents would sign up they'd let my siblings and I choose three albums each, and oh my the time I spent pouring over the listings. This was back when I didn't really have any disposable income of my own, and three free tapes seemed like a gift from the heavens that you didn't want to waste by choosing a dud.

By the time BMG came along my friends and I had figured out how easy it was to game their system...between my three housemates and I in my last year of university we probably had 12 accounts. The tricky part was finding enough CDs in their listings that were actually worth owning, and by the end we were sending away for stuff like Jingle Cats.
posted by The Card Cheat at 7:53 AM on June 10, 2015 [4 favorites]


After all, gaming the system by joining under fake name(s)

What is the statute of limitations on this? Because I, uh, hear that this was one of the best parts of living in a different place each year of college. Fresh addresses to join BMG and Columbia House with under new names.
posted by The Gooch at 7:59 AM on June 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


I started to get disillusioned with Columbia House when the "hidden track" trend picked up steam in the 90s and their versions of the albums consistently omitted these songs.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:05 AM on June 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


DirtyOldTown, that's weird. Over on Discogs, I was part of a discussion of how to catalog BMG versions, because they were different from regular editions in their labeling, if nothing else, but I don't recall anyone mentioning that the hidden tracks were omitted.

Anyway, everyone who signed up for a few accounts was in the bush leagues compared to Joseph Parvin and David Russo:
For the second time since November, a New Jersey man has pleaded guilty to defrauding mail-order music clubs of thousands of compact discs by using false names and addresses to exploit the clubs' introductory offers.

The man, Joseph Parvin, 60, said that from 1993 to 1998 he received 26,554 compact discs addressed to 2,417 customer accounts at 16 post office boxes and slight variations on the address of his house in Lawrenceville. He got the discs from BMG Music Services and Columbia House Music Club, both based in Manhattan.
...
In November, David Russo, 33, of Aberdeen Township, pleaded guilty to cheating the same two mail-order companies out of more than 22,000 CD's valued at $350,000.

Mr. Russo, who is to be sentenced by Judge Joseph A. Greenaway of Federal District Court in Newark, sold the discs at flea markets.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:10 AM on June 10, 2015 [6 favorites]


1400 N. Fruitridge Avenue. Forever burned into my memory.
posted by jbickers at 8:12 AM on June 10, 2015 [11 favorites]


...and their versions of the albums consistently omitted these songs.

Not just omitted, but oddly mastered tracks would be on there as well. Tracks that were in mono. Tracks that were only the left channel. The biggest difference I remember (and I think I've posted about this before) was when my friend heard my disc's version of Spider and was like "Whoa! On my CD that song is a capella!".
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 8:12 AM on June 10, 2015 [7 favorites]


And if, in the early days of the much cooler looking clear cassette cases and tapes, you were buying an album that had been released in that style, you would ineviatbly open your BMG version to find it was crappy beige with the old-school, black-bottomed case.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:14 AM on June 10, 2015 [5 favorites]


The documentary discussed in the fpp, The Target Shoots First, is on Vimeo.
posted by zabuni at 8:18 AM on June 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


The Columbia House album club is the source of one of the great ongoing arguments between my parents.

Shortly after they were married (so this would be the late 70s) my mom signed up for one of these things to get a bunch of cassettes for just a penny (!!!!!). Apparently my dad found out and canceled her club subscription, saying it was a scam. My mom swears she had a handful of free albums due her and then of course she was going to cancel, but by my dad canceling when he did she missed out. This argument (along with "what happened to the polaroid camera") is one of The Great Arguments that gets dredged up in the middle of every other argument. My brother and I have heard both sides of it enough times we could recite it in our sleep. It's unclear which of them was right. (Obviously no one is at this point.) But seriously every damn time they get to arguing (which is frequently) mom's cassette club somehow becomes the focus. ("It's not the cassettes, it's the principle of thing, and by the way what happened to the polaroid camera?!")

But my parents are both from Terre Haute for a few generations back, where Columbia's distribution is headquartered, so maybe the record club is part of my mom's birthright and this is a bigger deal than I realize.


Appropriately, when we got the internet at our house in 2000 my mom got really into Napster, and whenever my dad would rail about the phone line being constantly tied up my mom would remind him that she's just trying to make up for all the albums he canceled on her back in 1970-whatever and that maybe she wouldn't have to spend so much time finding them to download if she had gotten them way back then.
posted by phunniemee at 8:18 AM on June 10, 2015 [85 favorites]


I knew I was destined for law school when child-me sent Columbia House a letter (after receiving my 8 CDs for a penny, natch) informing them that our contract was void because I was a minor. They stopped demanding payment. I kept my shitty glam metal CDs. Win-win?

IANYL
posted by Xavier Xavier at 8:19 AM on June 10, 2015 [60 favorites]


The nationalist, consumerist, downright creepy Columbia House commercial embedded in that article has been stuck in my head for twenty years. But I never joined, so advertising is still a wash, I guess.

The music you love
The movies you share
The things that make you caaaare
With value high we'll serve you so
Our relationship will grow and growwwwwww
COLUMBIA HOUSE®
Big enough to bring you all the best in entertainment...
Big enough to entertain Amerrrricaaaaaa
One person at a time

posted by infinitewindow at 8:23 AM on June 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


infinitewindow that commercial & song literally made me cry when I heard it. WHY! Also the tv families looked so happy together.
posted by brainwane at 8:26 AM on June 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


After all, gaming the system by joining under fake name(s) or addresses—or sending back unwanted albums or accidental orders by scrawling “return to sender” on the box in which they arrived—was a snap.

I guess I didn't realize how prevalent this was? My dad did this, and at one point was ordering CDs under my name, and my brother's, and his ex-wife's. This also explains the bizarre set of CDs he had--lots of inferior follow-up albums from bands that had just had a big hit (e.g. Elastica's second album, Hootie and the Blowfish's second album, the referenced Van Halen album, the Chili Peppers album with Dave Navarro).
posted by almostmanda at 8:27 AM on June 10, 2015


I knew I was destined for law school when child-me sent Columbia House a letter (after receiving my 8 CDs for a penny, natch) informing them that our contract was void because I was a minor. They stopped demanding payment.

Dude! Yes! Me too! I didn't go to law school, but now I'm a contract administrator who spends her days (and nights... and weekends...) reviewing infinite piles of documents to ensure the holes and gaps that might let crafty jerks like me weasel out of otherwise legally binding agreements are all plugged up.

Props to all of my fellow record nerds whose burgeoning collections began with submitting slight variations on your name and address to CH/BMG to get those first eight for one cent, followed shortly thereafter by "sorry y'all, I'm a minor" letters that somehow managed to make them stop asking me for money every single time. I might have been a poor kid living in the projects, but there was no fuckin' way that inconvenient fact was gonna stop me from hoarding alt-rock albums by any means necessary.
posted by divined by radio at 8:37 AM on June 10, 2015 [8 favorites]


"I didn't ask for Santana Abraxas, I didn't listen to Santana Abraxas, I didn't do anything!"
posted by komara at 8:38 AM on June 10, 2015 [12 favorites]


Wasn't there a version of this for books? I remember pouring over a science fiction and fantasy book catalog as a child to get the 8 free books (not knowing the commitment I was getting into to buy overpriced books on the backend). After picking the two books I had heard of at the time I ended up picking books entirely by their arbitrarily assigned price tag to maximize my value out of the free books.
That copy of battlefield earth was priced at 368 dollars! IT MUST BE GREAT.
posted by Karaage at 8:43 AM on June 10, 2015 [7 favorites]


This article brought up some random memories. I had (have?) a Muze shirt, back before it became AllMusic, thanks to the peak CMJ (College Music Journal) festival in New York, pre 9/11. There were so many auxiliary music-related companies with so much schwag.

And I have had a job where people were mad at us for laughing too much, except it was a government job, and we were at lunch. Then again, I also heard people complain about us going out to get coffee (while the complainers themselves were sitting at the coffee shop, natch).

I actually listened to one of my old BMG Music Club albums yesterday: Rammstein's Sehnsucht . Sadly, no unexpected a cappella versions. (I wonder, are those mis-presses of any value now? I know some people hunt down a cappellas).

Somehow I hadn't put together the fact that overpriced CDs were the time bomb that would kill the industry they fattened.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:44 AM on June 10, 2015 [4 favorites]


Again, all these things are precursors to how business is being done on the internet.

Yuppity yup yup
posted by Melismata at 8:50 AM on June 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


I would love to read an article comparing the shift to CD discussed in that article with the days of Columbia House when I was a wee record-collector and the shift was from 8-tracks to cassette.
posted by immlass at 8:55 AM on June 10, 2015


I was a BMG member at various times during my college years ('95-'99), and felt like I got my money's worth. I was already buying mass quantities of CDs at the shops in town, and the intro offer (which I did at least twice at different addresses) was a nice way to experiment with stuff I probably wouldn't have tried at full or used prices normally. IIRC, it was a pretty good way of getting a hold of the Rykodisc Zappa reissues and certain classic punk and '80s/'90s alternative stuff (I got my first Talking Heads, Devo, Clash, and Ween CDs through them) for relatively cheap. I'd buy the occasional full-price CD from them just to keep it going, and rarely took them up on the official club picks, which were uniformly horrible.
posted by Strange Interlude at 8:58 AM on June 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


The next time some a hole goes on about those pirates stealing music, remind them of Columbia House, and how much of what they sold was remaindered and not one of those pennies made it to artists.
posted by clvrmnky at 9:04 AM on June 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


I had Columbia House all backwards, and they eventually dumped me.

I signed up in 1993, but my CDs never arrived. I suspected my hoodlum roommates had stolen the package and simply discarded it because they were awful people. (I'd spent a lot of time picking out those discs, and I was pissed.) I wrote a polite letter (!) to Columba House, and they said they would send me replacement CDs. These, too, never arrived, and I became certain that said hoodlum roomies were involved. I wrote another letter to Columbia House, who ignored it and never sent me another catalog bill, or other correspondence.

So when I got a sublet for the summer, I joined BMG.
posted by wenestvedt at 9:04 AM on June 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


Aye, 'twas a sad day indeed when the used records stores in my college town stopped buying CDs with a BMG label on the insert. A lost revenue stream.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:15 AM on June 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


I had my dog signed up.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:19 AM on June 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


I had my dog signed up.

Tangential - but in Canada, there used to be these hockey pools where the results would go in the paper and the winner would get a prize. The scam was - you'd fill out versions for your dad, mom, sisters, etc. so you could increase your bragging rights with everyone you knew.

We got cute in our house - dead relatives and pets were also playing until the year my cat won $500. I called the newspaper and found out that you'd need to show photo ID to claim the prize. I weighed the cost/benefit of getting a fake ID made but we ended up just letting it go. We never played for others again.

For years after, every Rusty and Hortence climbing on the leaderboard made me think some poor bastard was going to find out the hard way the scam wasn't worth it in the end.
posted by buoys in the hood at 9:25 AM on June 10, 2015 [6 favorites]


I had my dog signed up.

That likely explains the success of Smash Mouth, you bastard.
posted by Atom Eyes at 9:27 AM on June 10, 2015 [18 favorites]


I signed up a couple of acquaintances who were my age, even picked 8 random records for each of them. (I would get even more cheap stuff for myself if I signed up others.) I hardly ever saw them (they lived a few cities away, long before the internet), and I have no idea how they reacted when they received the packages. They never confronted me about it, so I'm guessing they had no way of knowing it was me.
posted by Melismata at 9:28 AM on June 10, 2015


What has always bewildered me (and still does, even after R'ing TFA) is: sure, you can make up for a bunch of free CDs by selling a few discs for $19 a pop, but who was actually spending that $19? Every time I discuss this with anyone, I get the same answers that are being repeated here: I figured out how to game the system, and got the 9 CDs for a dollar or whatever, and then [wrote 'return to sender' on the next box/moved and changed my name/sent them a letter saying I was 12/etc.]. Across the dozens of people who joined these clubs, I have never actually met anyone who copped to paying list price for a CD. Not one. Where were they getting their money?
posted by Mayor West at 9:28 AM on June 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


I always steered clear of Columbia House, but did the BMG thing a couple of times and thought it was a pretty fair deal; not quite scammy as Columbia house and as long as you were vigilant about declining the crappy selection of the month it was OK. They'd keep you hooked for a while by doing "Buy another full-price CD and get two free" type promos but I always ran out of stuff that I wanted pretty quickly.
posted by usonian at 9:31 AM on June 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


Both clubs are guilty of perpetuating the tyranny of the Skynyrd and deserved ruin.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:32 AM on June 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


> Aye, 'twas a sad day indeed when the used records stores in my college town stopped buying CDs with a BMG label on the insert. A lost revenue stream.

For a brief period in the mid-'90s you could get $7 or maybe even $8 for good used CDs in my neck of the woods, which was pretty good beer money in a pinch. The last time I even tried carting them into a store (about ten years ago) to see what I could get they were offering basically a quarter each.
posted by The Card Cheat at 9:33 AM on June 10, 2015


Mayor West: I paid for the requisite tapes/CDs, so here's one.

I did take full advantage of the various discounts that applied if you bought in various combinations, working out the math at the time to make sure I wasn't getting ripped off. If I remember correctly, I got an average price of something like half what I'd pay at Camelot Music, the only music store I could get to, even including shipping. A few of those were discs that I probably would never have chosen to pay full price for, but even if I regarded those as complete losses (which I didn't at the time), I think I still came out slightly ahead.
posted by Four Ds at 9:40 AM on June 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


I also paid for the tapes and albums after the free ones (this was the 80s for me) because some of what they offered was genuinely unavailable in my area.

I only subscribed once but I did have a good friend who ordered several hundred free records under names is strangers in the phone book and then would submit change of address cards so further mailings would go to those strangers. That shouldn't have worked but it did.
posted by Joey Michaels at 9:50 AM on June 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


I had my dog signed up.

Is that you, Santos L. Halper?
posted by Ratio at 10:00 AM on June 10, 2015 [10 favorites]


I will also add that’s why when Napster came along, and everybody essentially had a digital master in their home—or hundreds of digital masters in their home—that they could upload very, very easily, I cried not a single tear for those motherfuckers. All of a sudden, by thinking, “Shitty format, we’re going to mark it up 180 percent, and everybody’s going to buy them.” Well, yeah, they did, and they ripped them and decided to share those files.

BOOM, headshot!
posted by Renoroc at 10:00 AM on June 10, 2015 [4 favorites]


An amazing read - fantastic post!

Capitalism pre or post web - same as it ever was.
posted by AGameOfMoans at 10:01 AM on June 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


Count me as another person who felt they got their money's worth from the BMG club thanks to carefully selecting a combination of multi-disc best-of sets plus regular albums to get the best value out of those buy 3 get 2 free deals or whatever they were. When I was a teenager, back when the shift to digital was just getting started, the BMG club thing was the most convenient way for me to get new CDs. Best Buy and the stores in the mall didn't exactly have the best selection and had crazy mark ups too, so might as well order from BMG.

Sure some of the CDs I got were...terrible, to put it charitably with the benefit of hindsight. I mean, even teenage me knew it was a devil's bargain I was making when I picked a Nickelback CD to get to the required number of CDs for whatever that month's bargain was. But that best of TMBG box set was worth it! And so was the Flaming Lips CD! And the Bjork, and Tori Amos, and...anyway, I have no regrets.
posted by yasaman at 10:19 AM on June 10, 2015


Me too. I tried to get out of it but my parents made me honour my obligation. Which, as a parent now myself, I can see why they did it, but at the time made me irate.

And I think taught me some wrong lessons for today's economy.

I never re-signed up though, because even as a naive 15 year old, I knew that getting remaindered CD's, missing artwork, and on more than one occasion the wrong CD's packed in the right cases meant that something wasn't totally on the up and up. They also didn't have a great selection of the weird music I was starting to listen to.

That, and spending real money on 100's of CD's , at least gave me a bogus justification for downloading stuff instead of buying for a while.
posted by sauril at 10:23 AM on June 10, 2015


Across the dozens of people who joined these clubs, I have never actually met anyone who copped to paying list price for a CD. Not one. Where were they getting their money?

I joined both, fully intending to pull the "I'm 13, leave me alone" card. However my parents realized what was going on and made me fulfill my obligation. I think I averaged the cost out to $12 per disc.

For the rest of my adolescence I bought CDs from Best Buy (which had thankfully transitioned its CD section to loss-leader for the rest of the store) and sent away for catalogs from Sub-Pop and Matador. I spent thousands of law-mowing/camp counselling dollars on CDs. What do kids spend their money on these days?
posted by the christopher hundreds at 10:25 AM on June 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


I started to get disillusioned with Columbia House when the "hidden track" trend picked up steam in the 90s and their versions of the albums consistently omitted these songs.

I remember from all the Columbia House CDs I bought from flea markets that whenever there was one of those jewel cases with the clear back part (the part that's usually black), instead of being clear and glassy-smooth -- you know, so you could see the liner through it, which was the point -- it'd have that pearly matte finish (same as the black ones) that fogged everything up.

That's the thing I never understood about Columbia House: They obviously manufactured their own product. The packaging was different, the liner notes were different (the distribution credit would be lazily blacked out and "Columbia House" typed out in a mismatched font), sometimes the recording itself was different. How is that cost effective? Their runs must have been smaller than the real thing, so it's not like they'd have a better profit margin.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:29 AM on June 10, 2015


> What do kids spend their money on these days?

A new shiny pocket slab every year to play the music on.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:55 AM on June 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


And it wasn't like the clubs vetted individual human or pet names. You could make up any old name on the form and send it in and get product back as long as the street address wasn't flagged, I think.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:56 AM on June 10, 2015


Ah, Columbia House. I love this scene from A Serious Man. (On preview, komara beat me to it!)
posted by naju at 10:58 AM on June 10, 2015


That's the thing I never understood about Columbia House: They obviously manufactured their own product. The packaging was different, the liner notes were different (the distribution credit would be lazily blacked out and "Columbia House" typed out in a mismatched font), sometimes the recording itself was different. How is that cost effective? Their runs must have been smaller than the real thing, so it's not like they'd have a better profit margin.

I imagine they cut costs everywhere they could (not sure about the different masters - I would love to hear about that process from an industry insider). Everything else makes sense - the cheapest plastic for the case, basic printing for the cover and rear insert without any liner notes. But as noted in the article, Hootie and the Blowfish sold 13 million copies of one of Cracked Rear View, and 3 million were through Colombia House. That's definitely at the thick end of the long tail, but the article also states "In 1994, 15 percent of all discs in the U.S. sold because of these clubs."

The article also notes that the markup was quite significant for CDs in this era, so with cut materials costs, cut the royalty rates, and get people hooked on an "opt-out" payment model, and I could see how this might be more lucrative than in-store CD sales, on a per-unit level.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:10 AM on June 10, 2015


So wait, were CD's a "shitty format" or worthy of being a "digital master" because they were described as both in the same paragraph?
posted by thecjm at 11:17 AM on June 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


The article mentions the huge mistake recod companies made by only seeing the immediate dollars when everyone was busy upgrading from vinyl to CDs, and failing to realize that they had unleashed the monster that would eventually bring them down... So it begs the question why didn't record companies make it so CDs couldn't be copied? I imagine they had the technology, and it would have been easy to get Phillips (or whoever invented the CD player) to add a chip. You'd think it would have been well worth it even if the record company had to pay for the chips.
posted by Gungho at 11:34 AM on June 10, 2015


Home taping had already won by that point.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:49 AM on June 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


//Wasn't there a version of this for books?//

Science Fiction Book Club?

Shocked they are still around. I was a member from my teens through probably mid 30s.
posted by COD at 11:53 AM on June 10, 2015


Until p2p filesharing and direct paid downloads rapidly torpedoed CD sales, most big name publishers were deep in the black and anti-piracy measures might not have really been cost effective anyway.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:56 AM on June 10, 2015


So it begs the question why didn't record companies make it so CDs couldn't be copied? I imagine they had the technology, and it would have been easy to get Phillips (or whoever invented the CD player) to add a chip.

CDs came into vogue in the late 80's to early 90's. At that point, CD writers were not consumer-grade products; they were mostly the purview of software manufacturers or recording studios. Rewritable CDs didn't become affordable until the mid to late 90's, by which time the cat was out of the bag.

Why yes I did spend $200 on a 1x writer in 1997, and charged my seventh-grade classmates $1 apiece to copy CDs for people
posted by Mayor West at 12:20 PM on June 10, 2015 [7 favorites]


When discussing CD copying prevention attempts, it's worth remembering this bullshit.
posted by Dr-Baa at 12:35 PM on June 10, 2015 [4 favorites]


True story, circa 1993: several friends of mine were sharing a house in college town, and had been through several iterations of signing up with BMG or Columbia House under fake names. One day my friend met the mailman at the door, and he was looking skeptically at the cardboard box. "'Nathan Arizona'...is that a real person?" my friend, collecting himself quickly, said "Oh...yeah!" The mailman shrugged and moved on.
posted by polecat at 12:42 PM on June 10, 2015 [4 favorites]


Wow, I was quite the rule-follower as a kid because it never even occurred to me to sign up with a different name or address. I didn't even know people did that until literally right now.
posted by desjardins at 12:46 PM on June 10, 2015 [5 favorites]


Wow, I was quite the rule-follower as a kid because it never even occurred to me to sign up with a different name or address. I didn't even know people did that until literally right now.

I never did this with a company like Columbia House, but back in college me and my roommates mailed in two dozen tear off postcards good for a free introductory issue of "PC Magazine". All of the postcards had the address of a friends of ours and two dozen different iterations of his name.
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 12:59 PM on June 10, 2015


Yeah, pre-internet late 80s-early 90s it was easy to get massive amounts of free, glossy media in the mail.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:07 PM on June 10, 2015


I still have shrink wrapped CDs from BMG. You know the ones that you pad out your order with, but they suck?
posted by Splunge at 1:20 PM on June 10, 2015


I never tried Columbia, but the BMG Classical Music version was always a great deal. You'd get 8 cds free, pay for one at full price, then cancel your subscription and end up with 9 (mostly) good cds for $2 - 4 dollars each. Then they'd send me another offer within a few months of canceling and I'd do it again.
posted by straight at 2:24 PM on June 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


I loved the hell out of my (various) CH accounts. During the several years I milked their system I believe I got something like 150-200 CDs, and this was when they were loaded with things like Foetus and KMFDM and, well, God Lives Underwater but I was 14 so that's fine. Turns out, once you get your 12 for a penny, if you wait for the good combo deals you can fulfil your addition 8 album purchase or whatever for about 40 bucks with shipping. Then you sign up your sister through a referral process that nets you another 4-5 CDs as I recall, and then close your account. Go through the same process with sis's account, right about the time that they send you requests to rejoin the fold with the original account and get another 8 cds for a buck and only 3 more to buy to fulfil the deal! Wait for sales, close out account and keep bouncing back and forth between the two... it was great.

Not just omitted, but oddly mastered tracks would be on there as well. Tracks that were in mono. Tracks that were only the left channel. The biggest difference I remember (and I think I've posted about this before) was when my friend heard my disc's version of Spider yt and was like "Whoa! On my CD that song is a capella!".

You know, I got a copy of Skinny Puppy's 'Remix Dystemper' and cracked it open excitedly on my CD player. The first mix sounded like a *very* radical change from the original track, and I listened through with a look of puzzlement etched on my face. Okay, weird industrial music, it is your prerogative to mess with genre expectations and the like, I'll work with it. Then the next track by a different mixer sounded very similar.. I started to grok what happened, took the disc to my computer and checked out the CDDB lookup to see what would happen. Turns out the actual tracks on the disc were from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the Vienna Boy's Choir. I think I actually did end up selling that disc for a few bucks more than the standard rate on a music trading board as well..
posted by FatherDagon at 2:53 PM on June 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


So it begs the question why didn't record companies make it so CDs couldn't be copied? I imagine they had the technology, and it would have been easy to get Phillips (or whoever invented the CD player) to add a chip.

A combination of reasons, I suspect. One, they were focused on profit, not on preventing copying (which at the outset wasn't really possible). Two, they're not very competent (see the Sony rootkit thing linked upthread). Three, and this is really the big problem, it's a LOT harder to do this than you think. The problem is that in order for the CD to be of value to the end-user, they have to be able to, you know, listen to it. Which basically means that at some point whatever encryption is being employed has to be decrypted and turned into raw data and finally sound waves that go into said end-user's ears. Push comes to shove, all said end-user has to do is re-record the audio, and bingo your DRM is defeated (there is the issue of sound quality, but this is a worst-case scenario from the point of view of the person trying to circumvent your DRM; better case is that the raw data gets intercepted and copied out then replicated endlessly on the internet).
posted by axiom at 3:26 PM on June 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


You also have to consider the state of tech when the CD was invented. CDs were super high tech for the time -- 800 whole megabytes worth of data! On a 5-cm disc! In 1982! It would be 15 years before it was even plausible to copy that amount of data to your average home computer.

Encryption would have made the format much more complicated and expensive (for the players -- of course it doesn't really matter how much it would cost for the labels to master a disc), and it would have failed in the market.
posted by neckro23 at 3:45 PM on June 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


'Nathan Arizona'...is that a real person?

His name actually ain't Nathan Arizona, its Nathan Huffheim.
posted by kirkaracha at 3:57 PM on June 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


His name actually ain't Nathan Arizona, its Nathan Huffheim.

A hipper mailman would come back with that line, and then winked with a sly grin
posted by polecat at 4:08 PM on June 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


So it begs the question why didn't record companies make it so CDs couldn't be copied? I imagine they had the technology, and it would have been easy to get Phillips (or whoever invented the CD player) to add a chip.

Despite the histrionics of some of the music industry, home taping was never really a threat to their business model. It was only when the internet came along that it was really deadly. And even Microsoft didn't really predict the internet, so it's not surprising Sony wasn't ready for it.

And once you have the internet, copy protection is pointless. Copy protection might deter casual copying and sharing, but on the internet all it takes is one hacker to break your scheme and it's broken for everybody.
posted by straight at 4:26 PM on June 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


neckro23: "You also have to consider the state of tech when the CD was invented. CDs were super high tech for the time -- 800 whole megabytes worth of data! On a 5-cm disc! In 1982! It would be 15 years before it was even plausible to copy that amount of data to your average home computer."

Yes. Consider this:

The CD came out in 1982.
A full decade later, in 1992, my friend showed me how you could copy a song from the CD to the hard disk of your computer, and then play it back without needing the CD. We were amazed, but also considered it a novelty, because the song took up 60MB of hard disk space, and my friend's computer's entire hard disk only held 80MB. Basically, he had Windows, Office, a few games, and a single song which took up 75% of the hard drive. The MP3 compression format wouldn't even exist for another 3 years, let alone become popular enough for regular folks like us to be aware of it.
posted by Bugbread at 4:33 PM on June 10, 2015 [9 favorites]


Another Columbia House user here. As I've mentioned before on the blue, I have very thorough personal financial records going back to 1996.

I did a search and found four payments to Columbia House in my history:

3/13/1998 $31.39
7/18/1998 $25.85
1/21/2001 $48.63
4/16/2001 $20.57

I looked through my old email and found one email from 6/14/98 telling me that I'd declined that month's selection and the three CDs I'd ordered.

So, it would appear that I joined them twice and took care of my obligation as soon as reasonably possible. I vaguely remember "Buy 8 for a penny, buy a few more right now at normal price, and then only be obligated to buy a few more", and that both times I took care of the obligation as quickly as I could.

So, it looks like I got at least 25 CDs for a total of $126.44. Not a bad deal, really. Similar to buying a bunch of $5 MP3 albums on Amazon today.
posted by Hatashran at 5:41 PM on June 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


Of course these plans were a scam, but if nothing else, it is how I got into Ray Charles.
posted by 4ster at 5:44 PM on June 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


I don't know what it says about me that I never knew the mail-order CDs were (uniformly? often?) subpar.

I also abided by the contract. I sent back anything I didn't order, but I'm pretty sure I bought full-price CDs too.
posted by persona au gratin at 5:46 PM on June 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


Karaage maybe thinking of the Quality Paperback Book Club, where somehow they took hardcovers and put soft covers on them and thus saved you money?
posted by stevil at 7:18 PM on June 10, 2015


Muze never became AllMusic. AllMusic's parent company (Rovi) bought Muze and merged the databases.
posted by mmb5 at 7:21 AM on June 11, 2015


What do kids spend their money on these days?

A new shiny pocket slab every year to play the music.


Also, bandwidth. I was a teenager/college kid who spent a lot of my money on records, but data plans and Internet connections cost more per month than I ever spent on music per month. It's not that Kids These Days won't pay for music, it's that Comcast and Verizon are charging them out the wazoo for bandwidth, and they want something for their money. ISPs are killing the music industry.
posted by vibrotronica at 8:44 AM on June 11, 2015 [4 favorites]


If you ever look at someone's music collection and they have the terrible sophomore album by a certain artist, you can almost guarantee they were a member of Columbia House at one point.
posted by tommasz at 1:05 PM on June 11, 2015


Or they're Patrick Bateman.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:56 PM on June 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


> What do kids spend their money on these days?

A new shiny pocket slab every year to play the music on.


and shiny headphones.

There was no "shady math" involved - they made all their money based on the fact that you had to reject the spotlight LP/CS/CD each month and if you didn't you paid.

Again, all these things are precursors to how business is being done on the internet.

It's a little like the en vogue subscription model, but those things (Apple/Adobe/MS) at least seem easier to cancel.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:09 PM on June 11, 2015


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