Doug Blackburn
The Noisy Audiophile

January 1997

New CDs for the Price of Used CDs
How I Learned to Buy Almost Twice as Many CDs for the Same Money

Here's how you do it: join one of the CD clubs (or 2 or 3 or 4 of them). These are unequivocally NOT rip-offs. Unless you are not paying attention. I have to assume they have 10s of thousands of members who are NOT paying attention and therefore wasting money. The 4 "CD Clubs" I am familiar with are: BMG Music Service (most types of music are available); BMG Classical Music Service (focuses on classical with some music from other categories); Columbia House (most types of music); CD Warehouse (rock, country, rap/dance/r&b, alternative, no other types). There are other mail order CD sources, but none even comes CLOSE to the prices you can get from these 4 clubs.

I'm not going to get into the totally gory details about the clubs. I do have a preference for BMG's pricing and introductory offers though. Joining a CD club is the first step. Find one of the big ads in the Sunday newspaper or in a magazine, fill out the card and send it in. During late December and January the best introductory offers begin appearing. The best intro offers will net you 10 or more CDs for less than $20. 10 CDs free - no shipping charges - is one of the best offers ever though you might even catch "11 free" offers. Shipping and Handling for the BMG Clubs are roughly $2.50 for the 1st CD, $2.40 for the 2nd CD, and $2.30 for each additional CD in the order. Add sales tax to purchase prices and to the shipping/handling charges.

People tend to get scared away from CD clubs because of the high list prices of CDs. The trick with CD Clubs is that you NEVER NEVER NEVER pay the list price for CDs . In fact, if you pay attention, your average price for CDs will be about $7.50 (US$) or less including shipping handling and sales tax (I am in a state with 8% sales tax). How do you do that? Pay attention. Every 3 to 4 weeks you'll get a booklet with "special sales". The "selection of the month" is often set up to cost you more than other CDs in the brochure so pay close attention to what you get if you buy the "selection of the month". If this selection is not as cheap as the better offers don't order it because it will be available in the next brochures at whatever sale price is in effect then.

Every time you buy a CD for full price ($16.98 or $15.98 usually) you will get a 50% off coupon for another CD. Never Never Never use the 50% off coupons, they are not a good deal. Average CD prices at 50% off are around $10 (the club adds about $2.50 shipping for the 1st CD plus sales tax). Remember I said you were going to AVERAGE $7.50 or less per CD, so $10 is too much to pay. Throw away the "50% off" coupons.

Sales come in 4 flavors: bad, good, excellent and really excellent. If you only buy during an excellent or really excellent sale you will average even less than $7.50 per CD.

Here are examples of bad offers from the clubs:

Don't even read the booklet - throw it away immediately and return the selection card marked "send nothing at this time".

Here are examples of good sales:

There is a subtle difference. When all are 66% off, if you want only 2 CDs from that brochure each one is 66% off. During a buy 1 get 2 free sale, you buy CDs only in 3s. Furthermore, when you buy in 3s the prices of the groups of 3 should be the same. Example: if you buy 1 @ $16.98 and 2 more at $12.98, you'll be billed for the most expensive CD. To maximize savings, buy only 3 @ $16.98 and you save $8 compared to the $16.98+$12.98+$12.98 scenario. If you want $12.98 CDs , buy 3 of them in a group. Be sure to fill out the order card this way, no guarantee the club will bill you the lowest price if you mix and match prices within groups of 3. This level of sale is pretty common, maybe 6 times a year.

The Excellent sales are:

This is when you order whatever you want. This will only happen about 4 or 5 times a year so be ready for them. This sale price will get you CDs for about $6.75 each including shipping, handling and sales tax (8%) if you order 2 or more at a time, Same notes apply to the buy 1 get 3 free offer... buy in groups of same-price CDs because you will over pay for CDs if you buy one at $16.98, two at $14,98, one at $12.98. Do the math, it isn't that hard. Maybe the deal is still good enough with a mixed-price batch of 4 CDs to entice you to buy... just know what you will pay compared to the all-one-price group of 4.

The REALLY Excellent Sales are:

I've only seen this offer from BMG. It is not all that common, maybe 1 or 2 times a year. But this is your best deal after joining. CD prices will be $6.36 (1st CD), $6.26 (2nd CD) and $6.16 (3rd, 4th, 5th, etc.) if the CD was $16.98 list. $12.98 CDs would be $5.51, $5.41, and $5.31. These prices include shipping/handling and 8% sales tax! Keep in mind that $12.98 Club CDs are often $7.99 or $8.99 at stores and you will pay $5 to $6 if you shop carefully with the Clubs. $15.98 and $16.98 Club List CDs are usually $10.99, $11.99 or $12.99 on sale at stores. You will pay $5.86 up to maybe $7.50 for the same CDs if you shop carefully with the Clubs. Used CDs in my area are priced from $5 to $9 for single CDs depending on demand for the titles. So you can indeed buy new CDs for the price of used through the CD Clubs, even cheaper than the more desirable used CD titles.

"Special Clearance Sales"

Occasionally you'll get additional flyers with monthly brochures touting "clearance sales" of limited stock items. The CD prices will typically be $3.99, $2.99 or $1.99. Use care when shopping these clearances. Many of the CDs will be those formerly $12.98 or $14.98 list. At 80% off these would be $2.60 or $3.00, so these are no bargain till they are $1.99. I purchased 3 copies of the amazingly incredible 2 CD mini-box Los Lobos "Just Another Band From East L.A." during one of these clearances for $4 each (about $8.75 with shipping and tax)! This sells for $22 in stores ($23.76 with tax). The 3 people that received these as gifts were MOST appreciative. Since the CDs in the clearance sales tend to be older titles you need to shop carefully to insure the clearance price is lower than the non-clearance sale price.

Audiophiles have speculated that CDs made/sold by the clubs are somehow inferior. I have quite a few examples of club CDs vs, the commercial CD bought in a store (don't ask!) and there is no consensus. Some sound the same, sometimes the store CD sounds better, sometimes the club CD sounds better. You will see the same variation in store bought CDs because CDs are often manufactured at several different plants. There are mechanisms in the coding of the pits and in the decoding of the retrieved EFM signal from the CD that SHOULD make all CDs of the same digital master sound identical. Audiophiles believe there are sonic differences where it should not be possible. There are CD cleaners and coatings and green edge pens and mats and discs that go on top of the CD and bands that go around the edges of the CD. Furthermore, people claim that using a powerful bulk tape eraser on a CD improves the sound quality. There are motorized CD spinning devices that spin the CDs in ! a magnetic field. All of this should not be possible to affect the sound you hear when you play back the CD. CDs made at different plants should all sound the same.

These things are no more or less of an issue for club CDs than for store-bought CDs . Most club CDs have the bar code UPC replaced with the name and address of the club - that's about the only way you can tell a club CD from a store CD (except some CDs sold in cardboard sleeves in stores will come from the clubs in plastic jewel cases). I've gotten 100s of CDs from the 4 clubs mentioned. Only 1 had to be returned for a replacement because of a defect.

What kind of music can you get from the clubs? Quite a range, but not always every title you might want. I've gotten Celtic music, rock, big band (new recordings and re-issues of classics), modern and classic jazz, easy listening, world music, alternative, country & western, classical, New Orleans. Some of my best bargains have been box sets. The circa $55 (store price) Beach Boys, Moody Blues, and Emerson, Lake & Palmer box sets (5 CDs each) ended up at my house for about $25 each. The 4 CD Led Zep box was about $24 and it is usually priced in stores at over $60. I just saw a Led Zep box at a used CD store a couple of weeks ago, the price was $36. Other boxes purchased include Lou Reed, Atlantic Blues (a compilation from Atlantic Records), Harry Nilsson (2 CDs ), Al Kooper (2 CDs ) and others. You cannot buy Beatles or Rolling Stones or Pink Floyd CDs from any of the Clubs. Some other groups/artists limit selections to only Greatest Hits CDs. So there are limits to ! what is available from the clubs .

When you get tired of returning the selection card every 3 to 4 weeks, just write "PLEASE CANCEL MY MEMBERSHIP NOW" in big bold letters across one of the selection cards you have to return. The club will stop mailing you selection cards every 3 to 4 weeks. After a respectable period of mourning for your canceled membership, they will send you offers to re-join. Sometimes these offers are very good indeed and you just might want to rejoin to get another 10 or so CDs for almost nothing. Do not overlook the opportunity to take advantage of these re-join offers. Remember, CDs from a good re-join or introductory offer should average about $2 each (maybe less!).

Summary of "The Rules" for CD Clubs:

Read the sale details when contemplating CD Box Set purchases. Sometimes there is a disclaimer on 75% off or 80% off sales that Box Set prices are slightly higher - your idea and the Club's idea of "slightly higher" may not match very well! If there is NO Box Set price disclaimer, buy Boxes with impunity. If you get billed incorrectly, copy the brochure and highlight the appropriate sections proving your point. You will get your expected price. I bought the Led Zep box during an unusual sale (buy 1 for $5.99, 1 for $4.99, 1 for $3.99 and unlimited additional CDs for $2.99 each). I felt I was overbilled about $10 for the box set in that brochure. They sent a snooty reply, but I DID get the refund! They hate it when you're right and they're wrong! Don't hesitate to complain if there is a price dispute (save the brochures till after you get the invoices in case you have to make copies to prove your point). You will have an occasional dispute with the Clubs, it's inevitable. I've received maybe 2 or 3 "selections of the month" I didn't order or want, not sure why. You just write "refused - return to sender" on the unopened box and it goes back with no additional postage. If you open the box you have to pay postage but the boxes have cutouts that permit you to figure out what is inside without opening the box. I ordered a number, got that number, but it was the wrong title, possible mis-print I guess. But considering the 300+ CDs purchased this way, the number of problems has not been that bad.

...Doug Blackburn