Columbia House is the latest victim of optical media’s irrelevance

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After years of steady sales declines, the mail-order music and movie giant Columbia House is filing for bankruptcy.

The company was once known for its music club service, which hooked in subscribers by offering a stack of CDs for as little as a penny. The catch was that users couldn’t quit the service until they purchased several more CDs at full price—usually higher than most record stores—with inflated shipping and handling charges on top. In the meantime, users had to regularly refuse offers of new music by mail, or else they’d be automatically charged for those CDs as well.

It was a twisted system, but it could work in your favor with a certain degree of vigilance. Shrewd users know that even cancelling the service was a type of bargaining tactic; Columbia House (and rival BMG Music Service, =”http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/12-for-one-cd-deals-no-more-bmg-music-service-ends-in-june-20090310″>which shut down in 2009), had a reputation of offering more lucrative deals to former subscribers over the phone.

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