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A few days ago a customer asked about renewing a license on a piece of Internet equipment they bought from me last year. No, I'm not going to be more specific than that: we need to protect the guilty.

I of course shot off an email to my distributor asking for a quote. My distributor replied that he wasn't sure they could renew it, but he'd let me know "in a few days".

In a few days? The heck with that - I told the customer to just go ahead and buy it directly from the manufacturer's web site. It would cost a little more that way, but at least he could get it now..

Then this morning the distributor sent me new email - yes, they could handle this.. oh great, a little late, but just in case I shot off another email to the client telling him that I could get his renewal. As it happened, he had not yet had a chance to visit the manufacturer, and my price was much better, so he gave me the go-ahead and I in turn placed my order with the distributor..

The distributor now wanted everything to be known about the ultimate customer: SSN, IQ, hat size, list of relatives.. no, I'm kidding, but they did want contact info, phone numbers and email.

Well, OK. Actually, the email part is good, because this is just a license number that plugs into the equipment and since they said it would "go out today", I assumed it would be emailed..

Silly me.

No, no no. The services of the United States Government will be required to put this license into my customers eager hands. Yes, that's right: a license for a piece of Internet equipment has to be delivered in paper form. The distributor will send my invoice electronically, and I'll bet good money that they will place their order the same way and will be invoiced themselves without killing any trees, but that license itself apparently must have a physical manifestation.

What's really amazing about this is that it isn't an isolated case. I bet that every reseller reading here can tell similar stories of dealing with obviously Internet savvy companies who revert back to the 70's at the drop of a hat..

Let me ask one more question before I go: why do we need distributors? In the olden days, it made sense for manufacturers to deal with a few large companies rather than fooling around with thousands of small resellers. It can still make sense when the manufacturer is shipping truckloads of product - the distributor provides a "distribution point" - duh! But in today's world, the manufacturer is often shipping nothing physical, and frankly the distribution chain just gets in the way. Setting up a web site for dealers to enter orders electronically is trivial and allows more profit and less expense for everyone: manufacturer, dealer and customer.. some companies understand this, but too many haven't caught on yet..

Am I wrong?

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