The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that Columbia House, the once billion-dollar mail order music club, is planning on relaunching and is setting its sights on vinyl.
It’s a smart move, given that vinyl has been dusted off and deemed inexplicably cool again by Very Hip Millennials along with Polaroid cameras, overalls, and Jimmy Fallon. LP sales shot up 52 percent in the first half of 2015 (even though this vinyl revival has created strains on the limited pressing plants and essentially crushed independent record labels but whatevz! Totes shruggie emoji!). But while Columbia House was a household name during the original vinyl era all the way through the CD boom, a huge chunk of millennials today have never heard of the company—two thirds of those age 18 to 34, according to a survey. For those too young or generally unfamiliar with Columbia House, please allow me, someone who once built up a substantial and free collection of CDs to explain how you, the next generation of music hoarders, can also get a ton of gratis music.
First and foremost, Columbia House is a scam. The company drew people in by offering dozens of CDs for a dollar or sometimes just pennies. But of course, nothing in life costs a penny (not even a penny), especially not CDs, which were huge financial investments in the 90s, akin to buying a really nice car or a timeshare in Florida. Once the company had your information, they would bill you again and again and again. The bills would just keep coming. And it wasn’t just for a penny. They wanted you to pay full price for this stack of albums you’d already taken the shrink-wrap off of.
But if you knew how to navigate Columbia House’s contractual legal loopholes just right, there was a way to get a whole pile of music out of them completely for free. So, dear next gen music fans, follow these steps and you’ll be spinning your new LP collection on your Crosley in no time, courtesy of Columbia House.
Step 1: Order a Bunch of Records without Paying for Them
Go through Columbia House’s catalog and choose the dozen LPs that you’d like mailed to you. I’d recommend ordering them using a fake name as you are about to get A LOT of mail sent to you. Make a name up, use your cat’s name, whatever you’ve got to do. Since the mail will often say things like “PAST DUE,” “PAYMENT NEEDED,” and “WE’LL SET YOUR FUCKING HOUSE ON FIRE,” it’s best to have it addressed to an alias to not raise suspicion with your mom. That reminds me, try to get to the mailbox everyday before your mom does so that she doesn’t find a huge box of records followed by months of Columbia House thugs’ death threats written in blood.
Step 2: Don’t Pay for The Records
Once they’ve got you hooked, Columbia House will try to bill you for the records they’ve shipped you. This step is critical: Don’t do it.
Step 3: Don’t Pay Again
After you’ve not paid your first invoice, they will undoubtedly follow up with a second invoice. Don’t pay that one either.
Step 4: Keep Not Paying
At this point, Columbia House will be pretty adamant about you paying in their next statement. What’s important is that you don’t do it.
Step 5: Continue to Not Pay
The third and fourth notices get pretty aggressive about you paying. They will threaten to turn you over to a collection agency, which is just another person who will ask you to pay. But don’t worry, we’ve got a plan for them as well...
Step 6: Don’t Pay Some More
The collection agency will start writing you to tell you how much you owe and what will happen to you if you don’t pay. Something about it affecting your credit score blah blah blah you don’t have to read that part because you won’t be paying.
Step 7: Still Don’t Pay
At this point, the collection agency will realize you are not reading their threats re: you paying. So their letters will begin coming in printed on oddly colored paper like yellow and light pink. It’s as if they’re saying, “We know you’re not reading but maybe you’ll be curious as to why we’re sending you this letter on this weird orange paper.” But you shouldn’t be curious. All it says is that they want you to pay money. Which you won’t do.
Step 8: The Temptation to Pay Will Be Great but You Mustn't Do It
The letters will pile up pretty high. I’d recommend throwing them in the garbage right away so that they don’t seem overwhelming and tempt you to pay them.
Step 9: You’re in the Home Stretch of Not Paying, Keep It Up!
By now, Columbia House will have been chasing you for over a full decade. You’ve had time to meet the love of your life and settle down into a steady job. You could easily afford the records at this point but it’s important to remember that even now you must not pay.
Step 10: Don’t Pay for Just a Little Bit Longer
Around the birth of your first child, you’ll look down at the tiny, perfect human you’ve brought into this world and your perspective on human life will broaden for you. You’ll start to see the bigger picture of the universe and wonder if something as trivial as this Columbia House endeavor is worthwhile in the grand scheme of things. Trust me, IT IS.
Step 11: Do Not Pay
You’ll wave goodbye to your youngest child as they leave your home for college and you’ll realize that you’ve witnessed a full generation pass. You’ll know deep down that the flame of your own life will soon grow dim while that of your kin’s grows brighter and stronger, as yours once did. You will finally understand what it means to exist as a small part of a greater power, to contribute to humanity. Then you’ll read about how Columbia House filed for bankruptcy and you’ll be glad you didn’t give those fuckers a cent.
Dan Ozzi is on Twitter and is full of good advice - @danozzi