12 For the Price of 1 (With Nothing More to Buy, EVER!)

We've all seen the CD club ads in Spin or Rolling Stone, promising a too-good-to-be-true deal on our favorite music. Gaudy paperboard inserts tempt us with a dozen FREE! CDs, as long as we promise to buy a half-dozen or less CDs at regular club prices before the earth falls into the sun. Suddenly, CDs that we wouldn't have paid full price for become must-haves, and we rationalize that we'll have the cash by the time the CDs arrive, with years to fulfill the club obligation, so we Mail the Postage-Paid Card Today!Then, of course, the CDs arrive with a healthy shipping fee attached, and what was once "free" is now just expensive enough to be annoying. We forget to send back the monthly postcard and wind up with Phil Collins' Serious Hits -- Live! Finally, we order six CDs, just to fulfill the membership obligation. Four weeks later, when they finally arrive, we find out that because the club was offering a Buy-One-Get-Another-For-Half-Price Sale, only three of our CDs count towards membership obligation. In disgust, we throw the bill aside, and a month later, our credit rating is destroyed by the music club's financial bully-boys. We spend the rest of our lives unable to get bank loans or mortgages and wind up eating franks 'n' beans in a tar paper shack.As I sit in my tar paper shack, contemplating my ruined and useless life, I realize that I can still be of some good to humanity by passing on the knowledge I have painfully acquired through years of music club trial-and-error. So here, at no cost to you, is "How To Rip Off The Rip Offs."The two major CD clubs are BMG and Columbia House, with a third, CDHQ, which is Columbia House under a different name. The best deal? CDHQ, without a doubt. Columbia House has a terrific selection, but their membership obligation usually involves purchasing more than one CD at full price. BMG sends a bunch of free discs and only insists you buy one someday, but their selection leaves something to be desired. CDHQ combines BMG's "10 for the price of 1" with Columbia House's catalog, making it the obvious choice. You are not limited to the CD selection in the advertisement. You can order any CD from any recent CDHQ or Columbia House catalog; the numbers are the same in each.Lest we forget BMG altogether, though, I must point out that it does have one redeeming value: you can order boxed sets as part of your initial free selections. I've done this twice with no problems. Instead of ordering eight free CDs, take a boxed set and four other discs, or two boxed sets, or whatever. Go nuts.Now, you wait for a long time for them to arrive. Wait times fluctuate drastically, from three weeks to as many months. When the CDs finally arrive, pay the shipping charge (usually about $2 per CD) and return the bill. A few weeks later, you'll get some coupons for free CDs. Fill out the coupons and write CANCEL MEMBERSHIP across the envelope in big bold letters. Your relationship with them is at an end (for now, at least). No deal they will ever offer will be more advantageous than quitting after buying one CD and re-joining again for ten more.After another four weeks, your CDs will arrive with a bill. If you don't have the cash, just forget about it for a while; they won't bug you for three months. Once you pay them, BMG will never bother you again. CDHQ/Columbia House, however, will keep trying to get you to rejoin once you've left, like an ex-lover who keeps coming over to your apartment when drunk for sex. Don't give in to either one of them; remember: there was a reason you left both in the first place.Now you're free of commitment, and you have a bunch of new CDs, which reinforces the music-club-as-sexual-relationship analogy. The logical thing to do now is, of course, to join up again and repeat the cycle. Most people will be able to find thirty or forty CDs that they wouldn't mind having in their collection, which necessitates multiple memberships.And, while on the subject of multiple memberships, the question of, "How many memberships can I have at once?" arises. The answer: how badly can you spell? The clubs allow one membership for each name, but any spelling changes (like a "Y" instead of an "I") create new names in the computers and, therefore, new memberships. But don't get greedy. I once had six memberships simultaneously, and it took me almost nine months to sort them out. Remember that each membership will wind up costing at least $35-40, after shipping and the one paid CD, so be careful not to overextend your finances.If you follow these rules and don't get sloppy, you will be rewarded with a well-rounded music selection, as well as a cheap resource for Christmas presents. And if you feel guilty about taking advantage of the clubs, remember that they profit by figuring that you will forget to return the monthly postcard and wind up having to purchase CDs you don't want. Of course, if everyone who reads this article passes along the advice to their friends, and their friends pass it along to their friends, the economic stability of Columbia House and its ilk may be in doubt. All the more reason to get on the stick and send those Postage Paid Cards Today!

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