Back in the summer, we were shocked to learn that the venerable Columbia Record Club had gone out of business. The surprise didn’t come from the company’s closure; it came from the fact that it had still been in operation in 2015. We’d assume that it had died long ago.
“Oh, well,” we thought, “to everything there is a season. Columbia Record House had a good run. Let’s move on.”
But wait. What’s this? A resurrection?
Last night, I was bombarded with emails from readers (thank you all!) with news of the return of the Columbia Record Club as a vinyl-only mail service. In other words, for their next act, they’ve got back to 1981.
Cue up the sound of a record rewinding: Columbia House, the once-famous mail-order business that sold CDs for a penny, is looking to relaunch by selling vinyl records.
John Lippman, who bought the brand out of bankruptcy this month, revealed the plan in an interview with the Wall Street Journal. Citing millennials’ enthusiasm for vinyl, he said, “You can see a yearning and an interest to try a new format.”
Lippman, a former Lehman Brothers exec, bought the company at auction for about $1.5 million. He’s hoping to use social media to get millennials interested in buying big stacks of vinyl via mail. He doesn’t think there are enough online retailers offering it: “For a category that is meaningful and growing rapidly, you don’t see a whole lot of choice.” He probably won’t offer 12 LPs for a penny. But the mere fact that Columbia House will continue to exist, in any form, is crazy.
“Brilliant!” you might say. “Vinyl continues to be hot! What a great way to get more it to the people!” But let’s go back to the vinyl days of the CH
RC. Record club records were not like the ones you bought in the store. The vinyl was thinner, cheaper. The packaging wasn’t as good. And most artists had a clause in their recording contracts that stipulated that they received reduced royalties (often none at all) from sales of recordings through record clubs. In other words, record clubs were the Spotify complaints of their day.
Before subscribing, let’s just see what will be offered.