The Farmer and his Roadside Stall

In this wonderful post by Michael A. Stackpole, he compares self published authors to farmers who sell their produce from roadside stalls. Those who have traditional publishing deals are the farmers who sell their products in the grocery store.

Stackpole used the comparison to point out: “Many authors are resisting or denigrating the idea of digital self-publishing. This is like a farmer saying that the produce sold from his roadside stand just isn’t as good as the stuff you buy in the grocery store. It’s nonsense.”

This metaphor really stuck with me, because it is fitting in so many ways. Imagine a farmer spending weeks and months growing his produce, lovingly tending to it, picking it right when it’s ripe to be eaten, loading it into his truck and driving to a busy motorway to set up his roadside stand. We will need to assume at this point that there are reasons why the farmer chooses this method of distribution. He’s obviously decided not to sell his goods through a traditional grocery store for any number of reasons:

  • Perhaps the grocery store already had enough other farmers supplying them with produce, and there was no room for our farmer’s stock.
  • Maybe the grocery store manager only lets his friends stock him with goods, friends he’s had for years who he doesn’t want to upset by introducing more competition.
  • Perhaps the farmer grows a particularly rare and special fruit, such as Tangelo, a mix between grapefruit and tangerine. The grocery store might not think there is any demand for Tangelo, so rejects the farmer’s innovative marketing proposal, in preference for the fruit people have been buying for hundreds of years.

Either way, the farmer is happy, because people are stopping by his roadside stall and love his fresh produce. The Tangelo is particularly popular. ‘Why can’t we buy this in the grocery store?’, one enthused buyer asks. The farmer starts to realise he is making more money now than he would by selling his fruit at a far cheaper price to the grocery store. He gets to keep all the profits, he mixes directly with his customers and by the time they get to the grocery store, they’ve bought enough fruit and vegetables already, so don’t even need to visit the grocer. They start to tell their friends about this wonderful little road side stall, and soon demand gets so high, the farmer opens his own market at his farm, where queues of cars line up every Saturday morning….. Ahem. I’m getting ahead of myself.

It is clear there are two important factors in the farmer’s success.

  1. He supplies produce that, once trialled, is instantly popular and worthy of word of mouth promotion. A author who self-publishes MUST provide work that is absolutely spot on brilliant. If someone buys a rotten apple from the farmer, his reputation is ruined. He’s no longer the popular alternative to the grocery store; he’s just the weird little man on the side of the road who marks down his fruit until he has to give it away for free. You must reward those consumers who take the time to pull over and check out your produce. Your work must be sensational.
  2. You have to set up your stand on a busy highway, where consumers have ample time and opportunity to pull over and purchase your product. Are you advertising your book in a place readers can find it? Or have you just plonked it on Amazon and you’re waiting for a consumer to scroll through a thousand other books before they accidently come across yours? This would be like the farmer putting his roadside stall on a road travelled by only three locals a day. Get it out there people! Find that traffic and then sell, sell, sell!

That’s all from me for now. I have to go and water my crops. I’ll be inviting you trial my Tangelos soon.

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2 Comments on “The Farmer and his Roadside Stall”

  1. Kirsty says:

    Love this post!!!!! Great analogy.

  2. […] for traditional book publishers. How do they make profit when there are authors bypassing them and going direct to the market? Previously a few big publishing companies owned and controlled the market. But now self-published […]


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