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Billion Dollar TV Shopping Network Embraced Barter

The home shopping channels on TV are a $9 billion-dollar business these days. But did you know the roots of home shopping are actually in radio? In 1977, radio entrepreneur Bud Paxson accepted 112 electronic can openers from an appliance-store owner who couldn’t pay his advertising bill. ( Bob Meyer’s barter tenant #8: “When you can’t get the blood out of a turnip, take the turnip!”)

Paxson, figuring they were better than nothing, went on the air. the next morning and started an auction. It took 15 minutes to sell them all. Next, Paxson tried hairdryers and jewelry. The only market research Paxson ever did was to offer something on the air...if it didn’t sell, he never offered it again.

The success led Paxson and partner Roy Speer to launch Home Shopping Network, or HSN, in 1981 as a local cable channel, which they took national in 1985. It was an immediate success. One year later, rival channel QVC arrived on the scene. Both used a simple formula that proved to be extremely profitable: Host displays a product; a phone number appears at the bottom of the screen; people dial in and buy the product.

Paxon’s HSN did a plenty of barter—acquired large inventories which they resold—through their good friend Robert Murley. Known to many within the barter industry, Murley was a media trader as well as the publisher of Barter Communiqué in the early 1980s...when BarterNews was just getting off the ground.