June 18, 2007


About ten years ago, I went to a conference on web development. Everyone was talking about 'disintermediation' and how "brick and mortar stores" would get crushed. Consumers would be able to go straight to the manufacturer's web site, or to a shopping web site of some kind, and order their products directly. All of the supply chains and middlemen (intermediaries) were going to vanish, leaving only producers of goods and their warehousing and delivery. Or something like that.

That hasn't really happened, except in a few categories of items where the Web turned out to be especially effective. Computer geeks, maybe because they heard this story enough times, often buy computer products online. It's easy for an online bookstore to maintain the tremendous inventory some book buyers dream of, and for some reason a lot of people seem to like making travel reservations online.

Even when it sort of works, though, this "disintermediation" is kind of perverse, sending goods all over the place from all over the place. Large online sellers, like Amazon, end up with hugely complicated supply chain management systems and warehouses all over to manage this process. Importers, wholesalers, and web site managers still act as 'intermediaries'. Is it really that much less mediated than going to a store?

You can also explore this locally, without UPS or FedEx getting involved.

At Dryden Dairy Day, they've had posters illustrating what share of the price of milk you buy at a store goes to a farmer - it isn't much! They sell to a processor, who sells to a distributor (maybe), who sells to a store, who sells to a customer. Once in a while, say at Dairy Day, you can buy tasty cheese curds directly, but usually there are a lot of layers in between. I know that if I buy Organic Valley milk at Ludgate Farms, I'll have probably purchased at least some Dryden-farmed milk from a Dryden store, because there's an Organic Valley sign on Route 13.

I know, I know - no one wants to think about where their milk comes from, and whatever system is functioning today must be the best system possible because of economics.

Or not. Look around, and think about the ways you can buy things that you know are actually made in Dryden. Lots of things are still made here - but where can you find them?

Posted by simon at June 18, 2007 12:10 AM in
Note on photos


georg said:

When I lived in Oriskany, I bought my milk from Gram's cousin Pete who happened to live 5 houses up the road on a farm. While he no longer was able to maintain cows due to age, they still processed milk daily (bottling) that arrived via truck from local farmers. This was sold honor system from his barn and in the store in downtown Whitesboro. That's the closest I ever got to drinking local milk on a regular basis. They still sell milk in glass bottles. Holland Dairy Farms.

Disintermediation is very misunderstood. You may want to check out my essay "Internet truths that are often wrong" at http://mathoda.com/archives/195