Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Columbia... Software... Club?

Believe it or not, the Columbia Record Club and its indentured-consumer marketing approach once took a swing at this new videogame thing all the kids seemed to be into:

The game lineup featured here is a veritable who's-who of software publishers of the day -- Broderbund, Infocom, Datasoft, Epyx, Sega, Activision, and Coleco are prominently featured.

It operated on very much the same principle as the Columbia Record Club and its arch-rival, the RCA Record Club.  You were invited to pick up a couple of games cheap, after which you were obligated to buy four additional games at retail price during the next two years.  In fact, you were forced to do so up to nine times a year if you habitually forgot to return the "PLEASE DON'T SEND ME THIS!" postcards in a timely fashion.

I imagine logistics were a bit complicated -- customers picked their platform of choice from four supported hardware systems, and Atari and Commodore users further indicated their preference for cartridges or disks.  This went far beyond the LP, cassette or 8-track basis of the record clubs, and most titles were only available for some subset of the six possible options.  But there was a bigger problem -- as with so many videogame industry bandwagon-jumpers circa 1984, the Columba Software Club debuted just as the Big Crash was looming.

I wonder whether the club survived long enough, or could find sufficient new product, to encourage its customers to make good on their promises.  I imagine by 1986 it was becoming pretty difficult to come up with nine Pick-Hit Selections a year for the Apple II or the Colecovision/Adam, though the Commodore 64 and Atari computers were still viable.

I also wonder whether the "10-Day Free Trial" offer resulted in certain eyepatched, beparroted parties signing up, "trying out" two games, then returning them for a full refund.

Actually, my favorite part of this ad, chock-full as it is with operational and legal fine print, turns up at the very bottom:

BRUCE LEE is a trademark of Linda Lee.

Movie star, husband, and registered marketing symbol.

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