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Saturday, April 01, 2006

Those Stinking Greedy Merchants

Today's pic is a little something I found in an archive folder tagged "Paul Keene Visit". My system of photo archiving is complex, detailed, and unknowable - especially to myself. I don't know why Paul's photo folder ended up full of pictures of last year's Halloween pipes, but c'est la vie. At least it gives me more pipe pics to choose from! Paul, however, might be unnerved to know that Halloween pipe pictures seem to be migrating to his proximity.

The title of today's post refers to a thread that recently popped up in Alt.Smokers.Pipes. It consists of a lot of outright attacks and insults leveled at those merchants (pipemakers, tobacco blenders, and retailers) who occasionally post advertisements on ASP but do not regularly participate there. From some of the invective hurled, I got the idea that many view this as despicable greed on the part of the advertisers - How dare they post ads without even coming here to chat with us regularly? This sort of attitude rankles, and I thought I would post an explanation of sorts here. I write this because I'm sure that many of ASP's newbies probably view me as one of those evil "Ad-Only" merchants, having no knowledge of the history of the newsgroup and my participation in it through years past. In short, I was a regular poster there for nine years, and am one of only a handful left today who can count our participation all the way back to the early nineties, in the heady days when Greg Pease was Skydog and no one had yet seen a "What are you smoking right now?" thread. I have faded out recently, and don't post anymore except for advertisements and a very occasional comment if something offbeat catches my eye.

Does this make me a greedy selfish merchant?

Before anyone answers, let me explain why many professionals don't turn up as regular participants in online forums. I'm sure nearly everyone reading this has been to a business dinner. Are they fun? Are they relaxed occasions to socialize and really "be yourself"? Of course not. Business dinners and parties can be enjoyable and genuinely entertaining on occasion, but there is always an underlying feeling of comportment - Namely, that you are chatting with people you do business with and must always maintain a certain sense of decorum. For those of us "in the business", I've just described online pipe forums. We can chat there, we can certainly have fun and make some friends there, but at the end of the day these forums are places where we are interacting with customers and clients, not pubs. After a while, it can get stressful and frustrating - vendors must bite their tongues a lot at some of the comments that pop up, and especially some of the mythology that gets promoted. It isn't relaxation when you're in the biz.

A second reason for these 'Ad-Only' posts is the sheer number of pipe message boards today. In the nineties when I regularly posted and chatted on ASP, ASP was pretty much it. There were boards on Compuserve and AOL, but nothing like the plethora of pipe forums today. Offhand, I can think of a dozen easily and twice that with consideration, and I'm sure there are many more than I'm aware of... not counting all the boards in other languages (There are two in French). What was once a central discussion forum for all has now splintered into multiple forums with specific individual focus - Some on pipemaking, some on casual chat, some on high grade pipes, some for beginners, and others for professionals. No one has the time to participate in all of these but anyone attempting to advertise their wares needs to hit all of them. Where once a single ASP ad post would reach most of the online pipe community, now one has to post ads all over the place and in far more venues than anyone has time to actively participate in. I hate this, because I personally enjoy interacting with customers and potential customers in these forums, but there is only one of me and I just don't have time to build ongoing relations in ASP, Pipes, Pipes.org, #Pipes chat, #ASP chat, Pipemakers' Forum, etc. If a vendor posts regularly in one forum, participants elsewhere accuse him of "just using their forum for advertising" because he doesn't post there too. Something to think about before jumping to the conclusion that a vendor is a greedy aloof bastard because he doesn't sit around for a couple of hours each day chattering with the regulars!

Which brings me to a third point - Most vendors don't post in online pipe forums because we are working. After spending ten or twelve hours a day making pipes, answering pipe emails, discussing pipemaking, packing pipes, shipping pipes, and entertaining pipe collector visitors... forgive me, but I don't want to sit down in the evening and "relax" by spending more time talking pipes! I don't go to ASP after hours for relaxation, I go elsewhere, to the Urban Dead forums or the Horror Channel forums or Message from Cyberspace or a dozen other places where I can kick back and relax and not think about business.. and especially not have to worry about watching what I say or behaving in a professional manner. While ASP is the place that office managers go to forget about their daily grind, pipes are what these vendors are getting away from! So, perhaps there can be a little more understanding for those vendors and pipe business people who advertise, but don't spend a lot of time personally chatting in one's favorite pipe forum.

Finally, on a personal note, yes, I have dropped out of ASP after many, many years. I did not depart in a huff, and did not announce my departure because A) I'm not looking for attention and pleas to stay, B) probably no one there today will even notice I'm gone, and C) I just really didn't feel like making a "deal" out of it. I bear no ill will and wish everyone there the best, but I don't feel I know anyone there today very well, and often sense a sort of " cold shoulder" effect directed towards those like myself who just don't have time to post regularly. I also didn't announce I was "leaving" because one does not really "leave" a newsgroup, one simply stops regularly reading it and posting in it. I'm sure I'll post the occasional odd remark in future as events and threads warrant, and of course I'll still post occasional advertisements there to reach the broad pipe community, but that will probably be the extent of my involvement.