The Porch

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Me, Paul Simon and Columbia House Music Club

“Well, I’m on my way
I don’t know where I’m going, But I’m on my way
I’m takin’ my time but I don’t know where
Good-bye to Rosie the Queen of Corona
See you, me and Julio down by the schoolyard
See you, me and Julio down by the schoolyard”
Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard, Paul Simon

12 albums for a penny?! Unbelievable.

12 albums for a penny?! Unbelievable.

In the 70’s, the Columbia House Music Club delivered ads for “12 albums for 1¢” in Sunday papers, magazines and via direct mail, all of which were easy to find in my rural Louisiana home thanks to my grandmother who was an avid reader. At around 11 years old I saw the first ad and I went through that list choosing first the five or six hot artists I knew by name and then randomly selecting albums to make up the 12. With my new cassette player, I was in heaven. To be clear, I had no idea that trying them out meant I had to pay for shipping, handling and other tapes at full price. Technically, it’s known as the negative billing option – one which depends on consumers forgetting to mail in the cancellation notice or forget to return the unwanted product automatically mailed to them each month.

One of the albums I ordered was Paul Simon’s Greatest Hits (1977). KYEA, Monroe’s black radio station, didn’t play Paul Simon. Maybe you’d hear 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover, but that’s about it. My dad, uncles and cousins who lived in the big cities of Las Vegas, Oakland and Saginaw listened to everything. During our annual visits to these cities, I would sit and play albums over and over, falling more deeply in love with music. Finally, thanks to Columbia House Music, I planned to have my own extensive, eclectic collection.

Paul Simon's Greatest Hits, 1977

Paul Simon’s Greatest Hits, 1977

Thus began my love affair with Paul Simon and other “different” artists that most of my classmates didn’t/wouldn’t listen to. On his greatest hits album, Side 1 was my favorite, the one I’d rewind and replay. Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard was my song on that side and to this day, I couldn’t tell you why.  What I am certain of, is that listening to Paul Simon and other artists such as jazz singers sparked my interest in art and cultures, expanded my vocabulary and helped my creative writing. Most great artists write lyrics with back stories or facts that can expand thinking.

Music by mail proved critical for folks like me who lived in rural areas with no access to a Tower Records. It was a profitable marketing technique that lasted for decades. Direct-to-consumer strategies can expand a customer base exponentially. Research will help identify the most favorable markets, and then businesses – even small and medium ones – can each customers like my rural, music-starved demographic. Today’s online marketing tools make it even easier.

On Valentine’s Day, the funky classic hip-hop group De La Soul made their entire catalog of music available to fans for free. It only costs an email address. They skipped the middlemen of Amazon™ and iTunes™, choosing to make their collection available for immediate download for a couple of hours. The response was phenomenal.

The numbers were “insane, I’m afraid to say it,” [Dave] Jolicouer said. “I’m not really allowed to, but I’ll say I was expecting it to be somewhere between 15,000 and 25,000 people. Man, you can multiply that by whatever number you can throw in the air, so it was ridiculous.” Chris Talbot, De La Soul talks free downloads, new music at SXSW, thegriot.com

Whenever a business can design a simple, direct path to customers, the business has the chance to create lifelong relationships and loyalty.  Because the Columbia House Music Club fed my interests in ways that no other company did at the time, I was a fierce believer and ambassador for the brand.  It’s often lifelong, too. That’s why today, when I see his tour dates at nearby venues, I’ll buy a Paul Simon concert ticket and sing along loudly.

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This entry was posted on 03/17/2014 by in Cup of Coffee.
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