Non-Buyer Can Be Sweepstakes Winner

Times Staff Writer

Question: I often enter sweepstakes and contests sponsored by various companies that claim “No Purchase Necessary.” They also frequently supply a box on the outside of the return envelope where I am to indicate whether my order for their merchandise is enclosed. When I check the “No” box, I have a sneaking suspicion that because I have not chosen to order from them, they devalue my envelope, and my contest or sweepstakes entry never makes it to their contest.

Is there any way to make sure that my entry is included in their sweepstakes? Is there an official agency or office that monitors the contest sponsors and keeps them honest? --F.K.

Answer: This is a question that normally comes along earlier in the year when the Reader’s Digest and Publishers Clearing House are pushing their respective sweepstakes.


Both of these sponsors are most adamant in insisting that there is no penalty, real or implied, for not buying something that they offer. And, frankly, there’s no reason to doubt them because, in the past, we have talked to several people who are almost professional sweepstakes contestants--entering virtually every one that comes along and with multiple entries in every case. Playing the averages like this, they win more prizes, naturally, than the once-in-a-while entrant, and almost invariably they never buy diddley from the sponsors.

Legally, no one can make buying something a condition of entering a sweepstakes because it then becomes a “lottery” under an entirely different set of rules. In a contest-- where the entrant has to compete in some sort of skill exercise (no matter how elemental) in order to enter--a purchase can, legally, be required. But that’s different, too.

Putting the “Yes/No” box on the outside of the envelope isn’t done to weed out the freeloaders, as you suspect, but is simply to expedite the shipment of the goods or products that have been bought. Otherwise, spokesmen for the sponsors say, the orders might go unfilled for weeks.

The normal procedure is to put all the “Yes” envelopes in barrels as they are received and after the orders have been extracted. All of the “No” entries go into similar barrels although, of course, they don’t have to be opened. Daily, X number of entries are drawn from each “No” barrel, and a similar number of entries are drawn, also daily, from each “Yes” barrel.

Both the Postal Service and the Federal Trade Commission keep an eye on these sweepstakes, but the greatest deterrent to any hanky-panky is the threat of bad publicity. There was considerable embarrassment a few years ago when it became public that although the sponsors were advertising something like "$5 Million in Prizes,” they were actually paying out only a third or a fourth of that amount--not because they hadn’t been prepared to pay it out, but simply because a large percentage of the winnings was never claimed.

After the smoke cleared, and after some stern warnings from the FTC, sponsors today make much of the fact that when they promise X dollars in prizes, they also pay X dollars in prizes, even if it means structuring some sort of run-off if all of the prizes, initially, aren’t claimed.

Q: I enjoyed your column on compact discs and agree with everything you say. However, you omitted something that I think is significant. Many compact discs are recorded from analog masters, and the reproduction, while good, is noticeably below the quality of discs recorded from digital masters. Labeling of discs is inconsistent and sometimes misleading in this respect.

Most discs are labeled “Digitally Recorded.” Some also state “from digital master” or carry a letter code of some sort (such as DDD). As far as I know, the only way you can be sure it is not from a digital master is if the cover or label shows an original recording date before 1980 or so.

I am not an expert in this field, but I feel you would be doing your readers a service if you would consult more knowledgeable people, then issue a supplement to your column. --H.M.

A: Don’t sell yourself short. I’m sure that you’ve got a far keener ear than I.

Any time you talk about anything as subjective as music and music-reproduction techniques, you’re going to have wide differences of opinion. And even the staunchest fans of the new compact discs and players, such as Federated Group’s manager for compact discs, Bob Lampkin, concede that some audiophiles just plain don’t like digital recordings--that they are “too metallic, perhaps too crisp in their sound,” and who’s to say they’re wrong?

Yes, Lampkin concedes, you are right that many--perhaps most--of the compact discs now available are recorded on the discs using the analog masters--the method of recording that utilizes a stylus. Classical music went the digital route faster than popular music. Proportionately, a higher percentage of the available discs recorded digitally is in the classical field. This is ironic because so many of the audiophiles who don’t like digital recordings in the first place also tend to be classical-music oriented.

“But with the new technology available today,” Lampkin continues, “digital recordings from an analog master are generally so good that you can’t really tell the difference--or, at least, it’s very, very difficult to tell the difference. At least that’s my experience.”

And this from a man with a musical background who has a personal library of about 400 compact discs, which he plays continually. At the same time, Lampkin concedes, there are some people out there who have gone so gung-ho on compact discs that they now look down their noses at anything not recorded digitally.

“And that’s not right either. It all depends on the type of music and the way they’ve been remastered. There’s a fair share of compact discs out there--particularly among the older rock ‘n’ roll numbers--that still sound a lot better on the old, original LPs. And, yes, the labeling of how today’s compact discs were recorded is, indeed, spotty, inconsistent and, in the majority of cases, simply non-existent.”

Your personal guideline of assuming that anything recorded “before 1980 or so” was reproduced from an analog master is probably a valid one.

The question remains, though: Does it really make that much difference in terms of quality reproduction whether it was digitally recorded or recorded from an analog master?