He would, of course, never accept "traveling salesman" as a description of his position; just the same, that's what he was, and he was making the rounds in the neighborhood earlier this week. I spotted him apparently making no headway with a neighbor several doors down, and I wasn't particularly surprised to hear the banging on the door — the doorbell works, but he wasn't taking any chances — within thirty seconds of the moment I pulled into the garage. I hadn't even closed the garage door yet.

Of course, I was already wise to him. In case you were wondering if Nextdoor, a social network for neighborhoods, had any redeeming social value, let me tell you, this incident demonstrates pretty clearly that they do. The first neighbor signing on to the service that day described him as "very temperamental," and that he was: when I turned the cold shoulder to him about twenty percent (I estimated) of the way through his pitch, his eyeballs turned to some weird fusion of cannonball and dagger. In a previous life, I reckoned, he'd probably have put a fist through a window.

Or perhaps worse, I was to discover: he'd apparently disclosed, earlier on the route, that he had a felony on his record and was supposedly trying to restructure his life with the help of this direct-sales operation. And if you're inherently suspicious of door-to-door magazine sales, well, you probably should be:

The object is to push subscriptions, and it scarcely matters how.

A customer is a "Jones." A sales pitch is a "spiel," and there are all kinds of spiels — a school-spiel, cancer-spiel, you name it. These lies are known as a dirty canvass, and they're quite successful. Of course, there are natural salespeople who don't have to dirty canvass and can write ten or 12 sales a day, but the agents who can't snow a Jones and who come back empty-handed are known as WABs, weak-ass bitches. A WAB occupies a stratum in the caste system right below circus freak and just above whore. No one wants to be a WAB, so sometimes you have to dirty canvass.

If the [Magazine Publishers Association] is unaware of dirty canvassing, then its only other choice is to somehow believe that door-to-door companies are the country's single-biggest employer of college athletes in the marching band whose parents are dying of cancer and who are competing for a scholarship to study theater in London.

Perhaps we should give this guy credit for being a tad more honest than the general run of spielers. And if he was ready to cut one of us bitches for not buying his spiel, well, admittedly, some people's temperaments are not well suited to direct sales. I know mine isn't; I can't stay on a script to save my life.

Still, as I told the Nextdoor folks, this is a business model that needs to die, and soon. And the rapid displacement of print magazines by digital versions, I fear, isn't going to deal it the death blow.

The Vent

  9 October 2015

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 Copyright © 2015 by Charles G. Hill