Mail-order music company Columbia House goes bankrupt

Written by

The world of getting music is very different from how it used to be. And there’s news this week that one of the main ways you used to get music is on the outs.

One of the music clubs that would send you hit albums for extra cheap – with one caveat – has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Columbia House offered a dozen albums or more for only one dollar when you join the Columbia Record and Tape Club. At its peak in 1996, the club had an annual profit of $1.4 billion. By comparison, in 2014 the company earned just $17 million, excluding shipping and handling.

The company’s director, Glenn Landberg, wrote this in the bankruptcy filing:

“This decline is directly attributable to a confluence of market factors that substantially altered the manner in which consumers purchase and listen to music, as well as the way consumers purchase and watch movies and television series at home.”

There were other music clubs, like BMG Music Service. But the business model that drove them has been replaced. And this week’s bankruptcy puts a big, fat period on that.

Eric J. Lawrence is KCRW Music Librarian and DJ, and a recovering music club member. He spoke to KCRW’s Steve Chiotakis.