Columbia House to Return as Vinyl Service

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Columbia House AdFormer mail-order giant Columbia House intends to relaunch as a delivery service specializing in vinyl. It’s only been a few months since the company filed for bankruptcy protection, but new owner John Lippman tells The Wall Street Journal he believes that there’s an untapped market in Millennials and others with a renewed interest in the classic medium.

Streaming services make more money than physical media these days, but even as compact disc sales continue to decline, vinyl sales are up 52 percent from last year, boasting over $222 million in revenue. Digital platforms may be more convenient, but as Lippman explains, “Convenience is not the end-all be-all in experiencing media.” In an age of Internet oversaturation, curating a physical record collection has become an art form in and of itself – a visible form of self-expression and a way to connect with music in a more meaningful and experiential way than merely via touchscreen.

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Lippman purchased Columbia House for $1.5 million in a bankruptcy sale. The exact details have yet to be ironed out, but he plans to hit the ground running with the same sort of membership model that made Columbia House a household name decades ago – with a distinctly tech-savvy upgrade, in the same vein as online companies like BirchBox and Dollar Shave Club, and bolstered by social media.

The origins of Columbia House date back to its 1955 beginnings as Columbia Record Club. Its revenue peaked in 1996 at around $1.4 billion, but earnings declined steadily after that until the company abandoned the music biz completely in 2010 in favor of a DVD club. The company’s longtime business model was based on the “negative option”: subscribers would be automatically sent – and billed for at full list price – that month’s featured titled unless they promptly returned the monthly letter with the “opt out” box checked off.

There are several other vinyl delivery services like 16-year-old online music retailer Insound, Vinyl Me, Please and Vnyl. Aside from the omnipresent Amazon, Lippman feels that the vinyl market is largely underserved online. “You can see a yearning and an interest to try a new format,” he says. “For a category that is meaningful and growing rapidly, you don’t see a whole lot of choice.”

It remains to be seen whether or not Columbia House will soon be offering 13 albums for $1 for new customers – or hunting you down at long last for all those unpaid bills.

Best Classic Bands Staff

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