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When vinyl was king: Remembering Record Club of America

Note from Joan: My wonderful my husband, who we all know loves books and ephemera, found something cool and, rather than me stealing it to write about, I asked him to expound. Enjoy!

I stumbled across a neat piece of ephemera earlier this summer inside on an old book — a four-page advertisement/catalog for Record Club of America from the early 1970s.

Record Club of America was based in Manchester Township. And, in fact, the building is still sitting there, unused and possibly full of old vinyl albums.

The 1970s advertisement features hip albums of the time, including:

I’m no expert on the history of Record Club of America, but I’m sure there are plenty of former employees (and sons and daughters of former employees) out there who can pass along history and stories about this notable York County business.

A few more tidbits:

1. According to the advertisement, Record Club of America was “a record and tape club with no ‘obligations’ — only benefits! … Ordinary record and tape clubs make you choose from a few labels — usually their own! They make you buy up to 12 records or tapes a year — usually at list price — to fulfill your obligation. … We’re the largest all-label record and tape club in the world. … Discounts are GUARANTEED AS HIGH AS 79% OFF! … You get best sellers for as low at 99 cents.”

2. The music website Both Sides Now Publications featured an interesting discussion of Record Club of America in its forums a few years ago. A poster named FredPovey wrote, in part:

Record Club of America was based in York, Pa., and operated from the late ’60s to mid ’70s. It was basically a discount mail-order record retailer — it wasn’t affiliated with any label, but offered everything that was in the (late, lamented) Schwann Record Catalog. If you “joined,” you got circulars in the mail every few weeks, but there were no monthly selections or cards to send back.

Through the end of the ’60s they were great. Albums that listed for $4.98 usually sold for $2.99 and often for $2.49 or even $1.99. You’d sometimes see prices like that on a few sale items at Sears or Woolworth’s, but this was on a much broader range of albums. The shipping and handling fees were very cheap, especially compared to the regular record clubs. At first, these were the exact same pressings you’d find in record stores.

The “Manufactured by Record Club of America” apparently is what led to their downfall. After achieving a certain amount of success, the company started cutting deals with the big labels to buy these custom pressings so they could get better wholesale prices. The “Manufactured by …” indicated that the records weren’t returnable to the record label, which lowered the label’s cost (in those days, regular pressings were 100% returnable if they didn’t sell — big cost to the label). They’d also forgo the shrink wrap and maybe use cheaper vinyl to shave the cost some more. But, if the records didn’t sell, Record Club of America was stuck with them.

There’s plenty more discussion about Record Club of America in that forum, if you want to go check it out. (Of course, don’t take everything on there as 100 percent verified or reliable.)

Be sure to post your memories and thoughts about RCA in the Comments section below.