Before the days of mp3s and streaming, before I lived in close proximity to a record store, there was Columbia House.
The days of mail blasts and newspaper inserts of Columbia House fliers filled with listings of CDs, cassettes, movies on tape and eventually DVD, 12 for a penny.
It sounded like a great deal, even if it probably wasn’t. 13 for a penny plus shipping with an obligation to buy 6 more within the next two years for a low low price of $18.98 each plus shipping. Though, sometimes Columbia House did offer deals like buy 1 get 3 for half price, buy 1 get 1 free, or my favourite, the rare buy 1 get 2 free.
I loved the page of stamps of album covers that sometimes arrived in the mail, pleading for our return to the club. These stamps were collectables for me, to be used only when the time was right to stick my favourite album covers to booklets or on musical-themed collages.
I also really enjoyed the monthly booklet Columbia House sent out with mini write-ups about the artists trending at that time – before trending was even a buzzword. In these booklets, I would spend an hour or so highlight the CDs I’d want to get if I was allowed to order any for the next order form. I would prioritize them with a star-system. 4 stars meant top priority. 3 stars meant yeah, I want this. 2 was sure, why not, and 1 star was, I’m mildly interested but not likely to buy this.
Once placing an order by mail, you’d wait 4 to 6 weeks, or longer, for it to be delivered. The initial order, 13 CDs for a penny, was like Christmas. Waiting for it to arrive – hoping for that big brown box to be waiting on the kitchen table after school. The other orders of 2 or 3 CDs were like the other holidays. Still exciting but not as monumental.
Such dedicated anticipation is rare these days. I still buy CDs regularly, but I don’t have to wait for them to (a)become available from Columbia House – which was usually six months or more after their release in stores anyway – and (b)wait for them to arrive in the mail. Speed and convenience rules today and while there’s no question I enjoy and appreciate music as much as or more than I did in those days, there was something pure about that simple process of waiting, anticipating, and appreciating the actual product in my hand that I miss today.
This week, Columbia House filed for bankruptcy. Like most people, I was surprised they were still around, though it seems they stopped selling music years ago and focused only on the movie side. While their business model gradually went obsolete over the last 15 years, they were once a provider of simple joy for the music lover in me, and growing up in the middle of nowhere, it was a joy that helped to contribute dozens of 90s titles to my now-dusty CD collection that I still hold on to as a way to remember a simpler time when waiting meant for something lead to a higher appreciation for it.