Up until a year or so ago, if you wanted to use this newspaper to find a car repairman or an exterminator or a house painter we would have referred you to the Consumer Bureau ad on the inside back cover of the paper.
The ad listed dozens of small businesses and referred to a panel of consumers who would review complaints against any of them (or any other businesses registered with the bureau even if they did not pay extra to have their ad appear in the paper) and then work to resolve the complaint to the customers’ satisfaction. The implicit promise was that if you feared getting ripped off by some fly-by-night home improvement man, the Consumer Bureau could exert public pressure on any offender.
In fact, those of us in the ad sales business knew, this was also a clever way to organize a category of businesses otherwise never organized enough to advertise on a consistent basis. The Consumer Bureau bought space at the lowest possible, long-term rate, and then resold it to the building trades people in smaller but relatively more expensive chunks.
Every once in a blue moon some U.S. 1 staffer would suggest that we circumvent the Consumer Bureau and sell the space directly. But it would never happen – newspaper salespeople don’t generally meet clients at 6:30 in the morning to discuss an ad of any size, let alone one that by itself was not much bigger than a classified.
The person who chose to do just that and turn it into a long-term viable venture was Joe Boyd, an indefatigable entrepreneur who died August 9 at the age of 92.
Boyd lived a lifetime in innovation. Back in the late 1930s, when newspapers made money off circulation and advertising, Boyd left Harvard and started a small paper in Brookline, MA, that was – get this crazy idea – free of charge, supported only by advertising.
In the 1940s, living in Bristol, PA, Boyd devised a billing system that would enable subscribers to make purchases all over town and then receive one monthly bill to pay. Think Mastercard or Visa.
In the 1950s, by now on Alexander Street in Princeton, Boyd devised a better telephone book – the Princeton Community Phone Book. It had a street map and index of streets and – most clever for its day – it listed the wife as well as the man of the house.
The Consumer Bureau idea came along 40 years ago. More recently Boyd was writing a business book. We recall a conversation in which he referred to a new kind of barter system, but he acknowledged that it was complicated and that we should probably just read the book.
Boyd is survived by two sons, John of Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Joe of London. If you Google Joe Boyd, you will discover the son has had a career in record and film production that is as eclectic as his father’s. What will he be doing in his 70s, 80s, or 90s?