From the Braver Institute
Since I seem to be on a roll with the whole record store thing (see the last two columns if what I just said makes less sense to you than I normally make) I figured that I might as well stick with the theme for one more week. Well, not exactly with the theme of record stores. More like another way to buy music aside from a record store—the record club.
I am not sure when I first became aware of record clubs but I know that when I did discover them a whole new world of musical possibilities opened up for me. If you are not familiar with record clubs or have completely forgotten about them I’ll give you a quick rundown on how they worked. These clubs offered you four-hundred gazillion records, cassettes or 8-track tapes for the low, low price of only ONE PENNY. All you had to do is buy a small quantity of records or tapes at regular club prices within the next year or two. It was as easy as that and the regular club prices were reasonable. It was a great deal …
… but there was a catch.
Every month the club would send you a new catalog to choose from and they would also let you know about the record of the month. If you wanted the record of the month you had to do nothing, it would be sent to you and you would be billed for it. If you didn’t want it, you had to send back a card indicating that you had no desire to own the record of the month and you had to send the card back in a limited amount of time. It all sounded too easy. As it turned out, life would get in the way of remembering to send cards in to tell the record club that you didn’t want the record of the month and two to four weeks later you would find the latest offering of some musician that you have never heard of sitting in your mailbox and a bill for $7.98 plus shipping and handling.
Columbia Record and Tape Club was my ticket to finally owning the music collection of my dreams. At the time I had no income to speak of, I was just a kid, and while I had already purchased a few albums in record stores, I didn’t have the revenue to buy all I wanted. The beautiful thing about Columbia was that I only needed to fill out a card indicating the music I wanted and include a penny. I didn’t need to have a credit card, I didn’t need to send a check, I didn’t even need to sign anything. It couldn’t be easier.
On a side note—it was too easy. I know that on at least one occasion a few of my friends and I had signed up another “friend” for the club and had sent him the wonderful gift of crappy music and the obligation to buy more or at least send the card back every month. We were rotten.
My music arrived and I was on top of the world—until I had to constantly send back the selection of the month cards which was a much bigger hassle than I had imagined.
I am not sure of the exact chain of events that led to the ending of my membership in the club but I am pretty sure that it had to do with threatening letters requiring me to make a few full price purchases. I do know that Ma Braver sent off a letter to Columbia Record and Tape Club informing them that I was a minor and they (as well as I) had no business entering into a contract with a minor and basically chastised them for taking advantage of the stupidity of kids. I am not sure if she paid them off or told them to buzz-off. I do know that I heard nothing more from Columbia Record and Tape Club.
Years later when the world of recorded music had made the switch to compact disc I signed up with yet another club. I am pretty sure it was BMG Music. This club worked a little differently than Columbia. With BMG you could get five or ten CDs for the price of one CD with no obligation to purchase anything more. You still had to accept or decline the selection of the month, but you could opt out at any time.
Once again the selection of the month business proved more of a hassle than anticipated and the next thing I knew, Eric Clapton’s Unplugged was sitting in my mailbox. While I like and respect Clapton, I have never wanted to listen to this CD.
I sent off a check to pay for Unplugged along with whatever was required to cancel my membership. It still sits on my music shelf in its original packaging, as unwanted now as the day it came in the mail.
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Waye Braver can be contacted on Facebook or by e-mail at email@example.com.