Man, I just heard a news flash that hit me like a bolt of lightening.
After a run of 244 years (longer than the United States has existed as a nation), Encyclopedia Britannica will cease to exist as a printed publication.
With that, two and a half centuries of history is over. For $70 a year, customers might still buy this service via the internet. That will be an uphill challenge with Wikipedia offering its services for nada.
Why am I shedding a tear because of this announcement?
Because, way back when, I sold Collier’s Encyclopedias door to door working my way through college.
When I was in college, finding summer work was just as hard, or even harder than it is now in a down economy. I drove the ice cream truck, painted houses and sold books door to door. I did it all.
Let me tell you, that is one of the hardest jobs known to man.
Colliers had a St. Louis operation with a handful of adults (They were called team leaders) and a bunch of college kids trying to pick up some quick cash.
The team leader would drive us out into the country, drop us off and tell us he’d be back at a predesignated spot at midnight to pick us up.
We were supposed to wear dress shirts and ties. When you are in Vandalia or Effingham, Illinois or Moberly, Missouri, the last thing you need is a neck tie. People would say: “Here comes the salesman from the city.”
I quickly put my tie into my case.
Folks in those small towns were unbelievably friendly. You have no idea how many left their front doors unlocked.
If the college student sold a set or two of the books in a given night, they were walking in tall cotton. Seems like we’d pick up commissions around $200 or so per set. I remember walking around one night in DeSoto, MO with an uncashed check for $500 in my brief case. I thought I was almost a millionaire.
We had no lists or leads. We’d just knocked on doors, cold calling. Some would let us in the door, others not.
Sometimes the sledding got very tough. One night, I was working a subdivision in Columbia, Missouri. My standard line was: “Hi, I’m Jim Baer, a college student at the University of Missouri, and I’m doing marketing research in the area.”
I wasn’t exactly fibbing, just telling a little white lie. My research was to find out if they (the consumer) wanted to buy a set of my encyclopedias?
I got turned away in Columbia by some homeowner who was employed by the university. He called the cops on me. Trudging up the hill, I was bit by a dog. The cop pulled up and said he had to take me in for “selling without a license.”
In those days, that was called a violation of Green River laws.
I forced the officer to first take me to the University Health Center to deal with the dog bite. When I told the nurse my story behind closed doors, she stalled the officer for more than three hours, treating both my wound and my badly bruised ego.
At dawn, finally, I got to bunk over a few hours in the gray bar hotel. That morning, I went before a judge, and naturally, he dismissed the case.
Selling had its moments. When you got down to the color selection of the book case (ma’m, you want walnut, cherry or oak), you knew the sale was complete.
So Brittanica’s will no longer be sold in book form through the internet, in retail stores or I suppose door to door.
It sure helped to pay for a lot of college tuition, a long time ago.