“Psssssst! Hey buddy! Want brand-new, shrink-wrapped, first-run DVDs for only $7.79? Come on, the first five are free!”
No, it’s not a drug dealer or gangster selling DVDs that “fell off a truck”. It’s just Columbia House. It seems as if everyone in America has been a member of Columbia House (hereafter referred to as “CH”) at some point in their lives. Many of you might have taped a penny to a postcard that had “stamps” for the vinyl albums you wanted – or maybe cassettes or even 8-tracks! Many of you might have a bad taste in your mouth from those days, and I can’t say that I blame you. As Homer Simpson once said, “the first five were only a penny… then they jacked up the price!!”
But times have changed and so has Columbia House. Although they still send out the dreaded postcards once a month or so, you don’t have to reply via mail – you can just do it online. You can browse their catalogue online and order whatever you want, 24 hours a day. You don’t have to buy 15 DVDs to get out of the club – just 3 or 4. You can even join or cancel online. And this is where the fun comes in… You see, some of the folks at DVDTalk have put their heads together, run the numbers and figured out how to work CH’s system to get the most out of your DVD dollars! Some of these “schemes” can get you an unlimited number of DVDs for as little as $7.79 each – other plans are slightly higher but still offer a substantial savings over what you’d pay in any brick and mortar (B&M) store! And although the folks at CH can’t be happy about this, nothing that follows in this article is illegal, unethical or immoral. It’s all done by the book – so read on!
How It Works
NOTE: Please the entire article before signing up with the club!
Well, the first thing you have to do is join the club! Simply click here and then click on the “Join the DVD Club!” link on the first page. CH allows anyone to have two accounts per physical address, so you you can actually create as many accounts as you have places to get mail – home, work, school, your parent’s house, etc. My advice is to not abuse the system and just start with two accounts. Once you’ve got the hang of the club, you can always add more later.
The first thing you might notice once you begin the sign-up process is the lack of selection with what CH calls “enrollment titles”. At the time this article was written, CH only offered 100 titles to new joiners on the “Join the DVD Club!” page. But the truth of the matter is that just about their entire catalogue is available for enrollment, regardless of the selections offered on their site. If you look on the upper left part of “Join Now!” page, you’ll notice the ability to search the CH catalogue by title, actor, director or selection number. Use it! You might also find this thread from DVDtalk helpful – scroll down to the sections called “Maximizing Your Enrollment Selections” and/or “DTS Titles” and\or “Special Interest Genres” (anime, IMAX, Hitchcock, Kubrick).
The current deal is “5 DVDs for 49¢ with free shipping”. You will also notice that you can get a sixth disc for $14.95 with free shipping as well. Typically, you do want to go ahead and get this sixth DVD as it will decrease the number of titles you’re required to purchase in the next two years from three to two. With free shipping thrown in, this will save you about $10 when all is said and done. The current deal also allows you to get a seventh DVD for $14.95 as well. Although it’s a pretty good deal with free shipping, the seventh disc will not apply to your membership commitment, so I say skip it. Unless you find some disc you simply must have right now.
Now… a brief word about disc selection. You’re free to pick any DVDs you want – I won’t stop you! – but it makes more sense for you to get the most expensive discs as enrollment selections. Just think about it:
Cost of enrollment package = $17.40
6 DVDs at $9.95 retail = $59.70 70% savings!
6 DVDs at $19.95 retail = $119.70 85% savings!
6 DVDs at $29.95 retail = $179.70 90% savings!
You can now clearly see how the savings ramp up if you pick the right titles. While there’s nothing preventing you from picking $9.95 MSRP DVDs as your selections, good sense dictates that you don’t. Of course, you’d have to be a DVD junkie to know what the MSRP is for most DVDs. Thankfully the folks at DVDTalk have done the hard work for you! To find out what titles get you the best bang for the buck, see the previously mentioned thread at dvdtalk.com.
After you sign up online, you will get an email from CH in one or two business days. This email will welcome you to the club and will also have your account number in it. Once you have your account number, you can then create an account with CH’s online system using your account number as a username and zip code as a password After you’ve created your account, you can browse the catalogue and order your two required DVDs if you’d like. That’s right – you can sign up for the club, get the welcome email, buy your required DVDs and cancel your membership within the space of three business days! Now I don’t recommend doing this – at least wait a month or so before canceling your account. CH does have a blacklist and you don’t wanna be on it!
OK, so Christmas has come early and you’re now sitting on a pile of cheap DVDs. What to do next? Well, as I mentioned, you can order your two required titles as soon as one business day after you sign up and be done with it. You can then cancel your membership online (search CH’s “online help” for the phrase “cancel membership” to find out exactly how) or you can cancel by calling their customer service number (888-242-3837). Simply tell them you want to cancel and it will be done. Many of the folks at DVDTalk are quite brazen with their cycles of joining and canceling. Many folks there go through 10 or more memberships in a single month. While you can certainly do that, I don’t recommend that you do. It’s a good way to get blacklisted and unless you’re converting a huge VHS collection to DVD, there’s just no reason that any sane person needs to buy 120 DVDs a month, regardless of price. Here’s one important thing to remember though, regardless of when you do cancel: retain all your membership information, especially your membership number! I’ll explain why in a bit.
Now, as far as buying the two DVDs you need to fulfill your commitment, know that the the DVDs must sell for $19.95 or higher to count towards your obligation to the club. You can buy all the $9.95 or $14,95 DVDs you want, but they won’t count towards the two you need to cancel your membership. So it just makes sense to buy the cheapest DVDs you can to get out of the club – $19.95 each and no higher! It’s important to note that many of the DVDs CH sells for $19.95 have an MSRP of $19.95, but not all do. Many of the $19.95 CH discs have an MSRP of up to $26.95, so it’s important to check this out if you have a short list of discs you want to purchase. Also know that most of the DVD box sets count as two purchases for fulfillment purposes, so you can also get out of the club by simply buying one box set. It’s up to you.
So let’s now pretend that two or three months have passed. You’ve bought your required DVDs and you’re now a “preferred member” of the club. What now? Cancel your membership and start over again! But before you go willy-nilly into the cold night, check the DVDTalk thread for “enrollment codes”. What are these you ask? Well, CH usually offers former members better deals for signing up again than it does to brand-new customers. If you were ever a member of CH in the past (or BMG for that matter), you probably received a “we want you back!” mailing with a deal that was better than what you got when you first signed up. CH and BMG also offer enrollment codes to certain demographic types (music-hungry college students for example) that might be “sweeter” than the deals the Average Joe gets.
Instead of waiting around for the mailing to come, the DVDTalk thread lists all the codes that come in those mailings. There is just one catch to these offers – you need to have what CH calls a “PSN” – a “preferred service number” – which, in normal people’s vernacular is your former account number. That’s why I asked you to retain your membership number a few paragraphs ago. To sign up for most of these deals, you’ll need a PSN. It’s no big deal – just an extra text box on the application page where you type in your 11-digit account number – but if you lose your PSN you’ll miss out on some of the better deals. It’s a hassle I know, but the good news about PSNs is that they have an unlimited “shelf life”, that is, you can use your first PSN to sign up again and again. Having said that, it’s a good idea to mix it up though and *not* use the same PSN over and over – as always, you don’t wanna end up on CH’s blacklist.
What If I Want To Stay?
While getting piles of inexpensive DVDs in your mailbox is definitely cool and lots of fun, you will probably find that the passion wanes after a few accounts. After all, most “blockbuster” DVDs can be had quite cheaply at Wal-Mart or Best Buy during their “release week”. And besides, who wants to wait ten days for a disc that you want to see right now? This is why CH’s initial offer is good for filling out your collection – you can load up on inexpensive discs that you want but don’t have to see right now. So why stay in CH?
Well, once you buy your required discs and become a “preferred member”, you get access to CH’s sales. And they can be pretty good. “3 DVDs for $30” are not uncommon – and these are $19.95-$26.95 MSRP discs mind you, not $9.95 discs. More common sales – like “Buy 1 at full-price, get unlimited DVDs for 50% off!” are good too, but obviously require you to have a few discs in mind to make it worth your while. Every so often, CH will have a “killer sale” – like “40% off on box sets” that are really good deals! Any day you can get a season of The Sopranos for under $50 is a good day to me!
Q: Does CH still have a “monthly selection” that I have to respond to?
A: Yes. In the DVD Club, it’s called the “Director’s Selection” and you may confirm or deny shipment of this monthly disc online. It takes about 2 minutes to do this on the web, although you can still send the postcard in via USPS if you wish.
Q: What’s CH’s turnaround time? How do they ship?
A: You can expect most orders in a little over a week, unless you live out in the sticks. They usually ship USPS First Class mail, although sometimes you’ll get a shipment via Priority Mail. UPDATE: I received my first order today (04/29). It took 6 days to get this order, and my other order should show up tomorrow (it shipped a day later for some reason).
Q: Does it still take CH months to get new titles?
A: Nope! Most “blockbuster” titles ship on or around their release date in stores, so you can be enjoying a CH version of The Matrix Revolutions just a few days after it comes out in the stores. For other releases – for example, “non-blockbuster” movies, movies being released on DVD for the first time or movies that are being re-released in a new version of the DVD – CH might actually be faster than a major retailer like Wal-Mart or Blockbuster. To pick just one example, a “non-blockbuster” movie like Valley Girl that’s just been released on DVD might take weeks to get to your nearby retailer. Wal-Mart in particular only gets huge movies like Finding Nemo or Pirates of the Caribbean in on opening day – other releases trickle in whenever Wally World’s buyers get around to it. The same goes for Best Buy and Blockbuster. I found this out the hard way looking for Valley Girl myself.
Q: Do CH DVDs have “funky covers” like their albums used to?
A: No. Albums and cassettes purchased from CH used to have plain white covers with the album’s graphic shrunk down just a bit so that even Mr. Magoo could spot a record club release from across the room. CH CDs used to (and still might) have MANUFACTURED UNDER LICENSE FOR COLUMBIA HOUSE in huge letters on the back. Presumably, all this was done to keep you from buying CH media at a cheap price and returning it to a B&M store for credit or refund. However, the DVDs do not have the “funky” covers. As far as I can tell, they are identical to DVDs in the store in every way. They have the same “security tape” on the top (and\or sides\and\or bottom) and the same promotional stickers that the ones in store do. But since you asked, the next question might help clear the air even more.
Q: What do I do if I get a DVD I don’t want?
A: There are two things you can do. If you haven’t opened the disc, you can take a black marker and “black out” your name and address, write “return to sender” on it and drop it in a mailbox. Hint: You can find out what the disc is by checking your “account history” online or by gently moving the invoice around in the box’s “window”, finding the selection number and looking it up online. If you’ve already opened the box, you can either repackage it and send it back on your own dime or you can return it to any B&M store claiming it was a “gift” and trade it for a new DVD. Note that DVDTalk regards this as fraud – even though the store is getting a perfectly good DVD from you in return – so don’t talk about doing it in their forums.
Q: Does CH carry titles from every studio?
A: Alas, no. As far as I know (and please don’t use take this as gospel), CH does not carry Buena Vista or Miramax titles. If I remember correctly, they have an “on again-off again” relationship with Criterion; Criterion Collection titles were listed recently in their catalogue but are absent right now. This doesn’t mean that they won’t ever have those titles, but to me CH is all about quantity.
Q: Does CH carry [insert genre here] movies?
A: Look, CH is in business to make money. To that end, they have to appeal to the largest number of people. This means that they specialize the movies that most people want to see. However, this doesn’t mean that they only carry movies like Top Gun – in fact, I think you’d be pleasantly surprised at CH’s selection. Having said that, if you have to buy your anime DVDs directly from Japan or if you consider Jean Cocteau’s The Blood of a Poet to be “your thing”, then maybe CH isn’t for you.
Q: What’s “MSRP”?
A: Live on this planet much? It stands for “Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price” and has been used for ages in the automotive, electronics and software (computer and otherwise) industries.
Q: What payment methods does CH accept?
A: For most enrollment orders, you will receive a bill in your welcome package for the 5 (or 6) DVDs – you can pay this via check, money order or credit card. I say “most” because some of the enrollment codes (usually the ones that begin with a “3”) will ask you for your credit card information during sign-up. There’s some disagreement amongst hardcore CH members over what other codes trigger the credit card screen. For your monthly selection, you can pay either via check, money order or credit card. For online orders – that is, DVDs you order on your own and not the “Director’s Selections” – credit cards only are accepted.
Q: Where can I get more info about all this before I jump in?
A: I’m glad you asked. The DVDTalk forums page has a link to a “DVD Clubs” forum. At the top of the list of current topics you’ll find a list of “sticky” threads that always stay at the top of the thread list. Those “sticky” threads have far more information than I could ever hope to give you – indeed, most of the DVDTalk links in this article are to these threads. Be sure to read all those threads before posting a new topic. While DVDTalkers are patient folks, a “newbie” post may get more “RTFM” responses than you’d like!
Q: So what did you order for your latest new membership?
A: hehehehehe!! Here ya go:
The Bourne Identity
24 Hour Party People
Streets of Fire (for the missus)
Bend It Like Beckham (for me and SHUT UP if you don’t like it!)