Scott Simon reported for NPR's Weekend Edition
about an Iowa company called "Doug Be'net" that sold only descriptions of items, rather than physical items.
Customers dialed a toll-free number and chose from 24 monthly selections ranging from under $16 to nearly $40. A Doug Be'net operator presented the list: "Item No. 1: Cajun Jubilee — pungent, romantic, savory. The spirit of the bayous can be yours for just $24.95. Item No. 2..."
Simon reported, "All that exists of the items are those words. Doug Be'net is an inventory of ideas and adjectives rather than products. The company stocks no actual merchandise, and therefore, spends no money on manufacturing, consumer warranties or product maintenance."
The company was said to have made $1.5 million in sales the previous year. Its primary market was "the same professionals who rent art movie videos and get gourmet food to go. Consumers with limited time but expansive tastes."
CBS economic correspondent Robert Krulwich noted, "it's really a very sensible, and in many ways, it's really a brilliant idea and really you have to think, 'Thank God, we got it before Japan!'"
NPR subsequently received numerous calls from listeners interested in contacting the company, including one from a Federal Trade Commission employee who wasn't sure if it was a joke and wanted more information.
The president of NPR at the time was Douglas J. Bennet.