The door to door salesman has never been a welcome visitor, but somewhere around 1963, a knock on my family's door changed my life. Whoever and wherever he is, I thank that salesman for selling and my parents for being either too easy, very astute, or both, and for buying.
He was selling the World Book Encyclopedia - a big thing for a family with essentially no books and little money. I have no recollection of the event, really, only the result. As a promotion, we were given a mechanical learning device. This is how I learned to play chess, a game I still enjoy to this day.
I devoured those books as a child. There were, of course, school books and an occasional jaunt to the public library. But nothing could compare to that mountain of information. It felt that I had all the world's knowledge at my fingertips.
As an adult around 1980, living in New York City, I made a phone call and invited a Britannica salesman to my home. I had no idea that unless you are ready to buy, that man is not leaving your house. It was quite an evening. I did eventually buy a copy - the cost for the 30 volumes was nearly $1000, a major investment. But I did love those books, and until the Internet became commonly used, the Britannica was my primary source for research. I also purchased the CD-ROM version. I recently gave the printed set away.
Until recently, at most trade shows, somewhere in the last rows where fees were cheapest, there was typically a nondescript booth, a spartan table and a hungry Britannica salesman with no prospects. Who would voluntarily subject themselves to an encyclopedia salesman or even walk closely enough to be ensnared? Whether the show theme was conducive to selling encyclopedias was no matter. There was always a Britannica booth - an outpost in the far reaches of the trade show tundra.
I now see the same phenomena with The New York Times. Their booths can be found at trade shows and street festivals all over the city. The Internet boom has had an expected impact on all print media. Many are worried about the survival of the New York Times. This would be quite sad to lose them. They also have a special place for me - see my story here. The publisher, Arthur Sulzberger, announced in September: "We will stop printing the New York Times sometime in the future, date TBD." Revenue will come from their online version. In 2011, the Times will begin charging for some content based on a metered model.
On a recent visit to the Madison Square outdoor market, I came across a New York Times booth. It was a beautiful day and the other vendors were quite busy with shoppers (lower photo). Transfixed with his smartphone, the lone salesman did not notice that before him stood his best hope for the day. A dinosaur. A man with a love of print, just waiting to be sold :)