There are many rites of passage for a given generation some common to all (like having a photo taken of you as kid where it looks like you're drinking a beer) and some which are more specific (trekking across the dust bowl so pa can find honest work.) Our generation had a significant one, and one that nobody brings up- even though it explains everything. What is this magic commonality?
I'm talking about ripping off Columbia House and/or BMG. You fill out the little 12 CDs for a dollar card, you send it in, get your 12 CDs and then ignore everything else you ever get from them. Based on an informal survey I recently conducted, 100% of people in the US between 20-30 have done this. 98% have done it more than once and 45% have used a fake name to do it a second or third time. I mean, how could you not? 12 Cds for 1 cent? Add that to the fact that you've got a nice little checklist that's demographically targeted to you (based on the magazine you found it in) and all you have to do is check the box and drop it in the mail. I remember filling out those checklists for fun sometimes- it was like rehearsing your fully paid shopping spree.
Well first let's acknowledge that however BMG and Columbia House thought they were going to make money, they had the stupidest business model outside of rent-a-sex-toy. Let's set aside for a minute the millions that BMG has been losing and focus on what in the hell they could've been thinking. Can you imagine walking into a furniture store and having the guy go "well you can have 12 free pieces of furniture- go ahead and pick them out and you can take them home today. BUT I gotta tell you that we're going keep shipping random furniture items to your house, and it's up to you to send them back. Eventually we're going to ask that you pay for one of the items." It'd be amazing! You pick out all 12 items and you're about to leave but suddenly the guy stops you and says "Woah woah wait a sec. We can't just let you walk out of here- do you think we're stupid? We're going to need you to write your name down on this here piece of paper. No no, don't worry we don't need to check ID. But we're gonna need that name. And WRITTEN."
That's Columbia House/BMG's (they are the same company now actually) entire business model. Of all of the people who got the CDs, didn't send back the CDs they got in the mail every month, and never paid a single dime (i.e. 100% of the 100% of the people I talked to) nothing ever happened to them*. I don't even remember a threatening letter!
Between you, me, and everyone reading this we probably owe Columbia House and BMG $100,000. Don't worry though, I won't tell. Do you feel like you got away with something though? Don't be so sure. I think a good case can be made that our formative experiences with Columbia House/BMG has had a lasting effect on our collective generational psyches, as follows:
- Our generation has bad credit. What else would you expect from a generation who's first experience in Corporate credit (because that's what it was, if you think about it) was a company that just handed out your favorite stuff, kept sending you other stuff it thought you'd like and never asked for anything in return? Is it any wonder that we think that ignoring credit card bills will just make them go away?
- Our generation has a music downloading addiction. At a young age we were conditioned to just expect that we could get our favorite CDs for free (or more accurately 1/12th of one cent.) Is it a big mystery that we've created large peer-based networks to ensure we keep getting free music?
- Our generation has a deep ambivalence toward corporations. On the one hand they seemed to give you free stuff, but on the other hand there was still an aftertaste of opportunistic evil. Why was it so easy to throw the Columbia House letters in the trash? Why was it so easy to sign up with BMG after you'd already ripped off Columbia House? Thinking back, I remember kind of disliking the companies because they seemed to be trying to trick you- why else would they send you a CD you didn't ask for and ask you to pay for it? That's not a good excuse I know, but it's true.
Commenter Leah: Ropin' the Wind
Commenter Morgen: Ropin the Wind too! o/
Hey speaking of free stuff. I've got a little reward for your people who check this blog frequently (because this link won't be up forever) and who've continued to check it, despite a little dry spell (it's hard to follow up a post as long-in-the-making and popular as Wet Wipe Manifesto was.) Since you've made it this far, you can download the new Al Gore book "The Assault on Reason" for free here (pt 1) and here (pt 2).
And for those who don't like Al Gore (hey, that's understandable I think) here's a leaked Kanye West track from his forthcoming album graduation that samples Daft Punk's "Harder Better Faster Stronger" (which makes it awesome.)
Kanye West- Stronger
*And I mean nothing- they have all led blessed, problem free lives thanks to the divine guardianship of the BMG rip-off angel. Okay, no.