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Mark Simonson

January 19, 2013

Phinneys of Cooperstown used unique marketing methods


In “A History of Printing in Cooperstown,” Stephen R. Wiist explains that the Phinneys greatly expanded their production of books in 1820 with the introduction of the process of stereotyping. This was done by producing a solid plate of type-metal, saving a printer’s recompositing expense and labor.

By 1825 the Phinneys’ business had prospered to a point that they were able to open a branch office in Utica.

“The success enjoyed by the Phinneys,” Wiist wrote, “was due in large measure to innovative and, indeed, for their time and place, unique marketing techniques. It had long been a standard practice for those engaged in the business of publishing newspapers to hire post riders to seek out new customers and to act as agents in the distribution of their wares.

“One was the construction of large wagons equipped with movable tops and counters. These ‘portable’ bookstores stocked with ‘hundreds of varieties of books’ transversed the upstate area of New York from Albany in the east and Buffalo in the west, seeking out customers in many remote areas where books were difficult to obtain. Another method of distribution, employed after 1825, was the fitting out of a ‘floating’ bookstore which carried a ‘variety beyond that found in ordinary village bookstores, anchoring in winter at one of the largest towns on the Erie Canal.’”

The Phinneys also established a chain of regional bookstores, placed in strategic locations such as Utica, Buffalo and Detroit.

The moving and floating bookstore operations lasted awhile, but times changed, as villages began establishing their own public libraries in the 1830s. Peterborough, N.H., claims to be the first publicly funded library in the U.S. in 1833. The Buffalo and Utica free libraries began in 1836 and 1838, respectively.

The Phinneys conducted their publishing business in Cooperstown until 1849, when a fire destroyed their operations. It was then moved to Buffalo.

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Mark Simonson

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