The idea of the book, cont’d: The coverless era


Among other changes heralded by the e-book era, digital editions are bumping book covers off the subway, the coffee table and the beach. That is a loss for publishers and authors, who enjoy some free advertising for their books in printed form: if you notice the jackets on the books people are reading on a plane or in the park, you might decide to check out “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” or “The Help,” too.


Some readers expect makers of electronic devices to add functions that allow users to broadcast what they’re reading. “People like to show off what they’re doing and what they like,” said Maud Newton, a popular book blogger. “So eventually there will be a way for people to do that with e-readers.”

Perhaps what will happen with e-readers will be an option for displaying the cover of the book you want people to think you’re reading — a mobile version of the digital “bookshelf” I proposed here.

See also: “Destroyed Copy of ‘Buying In’ as Kindle Holder.”

This post is part of an occasional series.

Book spines as wallpaper

Book-walls are just aesthetic now, just an unusually dense wallpaper: We don’t really need them for consultation. I can probably find the complete text of most of them online within an hour.

That’s from a Globe & Mail essay, A Lament For The Bookshelf. And of course when I read it I thought: Now there‘s an idea — a book-spine wallpaper pattern! [IMPORTANT UPDATE: Please see after the jump — it exists! Sort of!]

I can easily imagine a variety of choices for different consumer segments, based on what identity each one wants to project. Old-school classics? Dense philosophy? Hip contemporary fiction? Art tomes? Hilariously ironic “bad” books? Etc.

Or how about this: A flat screen that hangs on the wall and is about the size of a bookshelf, or even a book case, that displays a rotating assortment of book spines? It could be tied to what’s actually in your Kindle or whatever, or it could be a complete fantasy. There could be a subscription service so your virtual shelf is always displaying whatever got the best reviews in the Times in the past few months.

Moreover, the book spines don’t even have to be photorealistic, they could be executed in various visual styles, like this. Or, again, a subscription service so a different artist rendered the idea of the books you would like have on display, if you actually had a bookshelf.

C’mon. That could happen.

[Update: Or has it happened already? More after the jump.]

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Idea for street-art project: Signs advertising fanciful future-use development plans


There’s a little building around the corner from me with this sign posted on it — a rendering of its supposed future. It’s been there for years, and it’s pretty obvious that it’s at best a hypothetical future, and arguably a fictitious one. The actual building remains vacant, and in fact is for sale. Any development that may take place some day depends on someone buying it, and what they might want to do. Till then, it’s just another empty building.

Here’s how it really looks:


As you can see, the disparity between the rendering and reality is considerable. In the rendering, in fact, the actual extant structure is a mere add-on, complementing a bigger building. Which in point of fact exists nowhere besides that rendering. IRL, it’s a vacant lot.

So as I walked past this spot for the zillionth time recently, it occurred to me that there are vacant buildings with no discernible future all over town — all over lots of towns. Wouldn’t it be cool to create completely fictional, but imaginative and exciting, “artist renderings” of their hypothetical futures, too? And post those renderings on the actual vacant buildings? (Disclaimer: Maybe someone is already doing what I’m proposing here and I’ve missed it. If so, sorry!)

Consider this, another empty building not far from Murketing HQ:


Seems ripe for an imaginary re-use, doesn’t it? And taking a cue from the above rendering, this structure is really just a starting point — imagine it tacked on to a thrilling Gehry-like complex, let’s say. Or supporting an immense waterslide, a re-creation of the Unisphere, a heliport, an Oldenburg-esque sculpture of colossal banana. It could make for a great rendering!

Mount that rendering on the building, and you have a happy imaginary future to contemplate, brightening an otherwise moribund presence on the urban landscape that currently does little more than remind the passerby that the economy stinks.

Sadly I have none of the skills or personality traits necessary to make such a scheme into reality. But maybe you do! Somebody out there — start rendering the theoretical futures of our nation’s unused commercial real estate!

Warhol Denied.

The New York Review has a quite interesting writeup about controversy over whether certain works attributed to Warhol are or are not authentic. One set of images in particular is at the center of a lawsuit because a board of the Warhol Foundation, which passes judgment on such matters, has ruled negatively. The piece says:

When a work is deemed not to be by Warhol, it is mutilated by stamping it in ink on the reverse with the word “DENIED”—thereby rendering the picture unsaleable even if the board later changes its mind. Although a lawyer for the board has said that no one forces applicants to submit works for authentication, no auction house or dealer will handle a work whose authenticity the board has questioned. A painting stamped DENIED is worthless.

My initial reaction to this was: Really? I’ll take them all! Give you a hundred bucks, even.

But I suppose “worthless” is relative. Probably the owner paid a lot and couldn’t get that amount again.

So my second reaction was that if I had the wherewithal, I’d mount a show called “WARHOL DENIED,” made up of works the board has “mutilated” with that “Denied” stamp.

For starters, I’d actually like to see them. With the series at the center of the lawsuit, the issue appears to boil down to whether or not Warhol’s hand was in any way involved in the work. But of course Warhol devoted a lot of clever thinking to the ambiguity of what the artist’s hand really meant. The NYR piece spells all this out so I won’t rehash it. I’m more just curious to see what else the board has thumbs-downed.

Moreover, I think the show could actually be profitable — by converting the “DENIED” into a status marker of sorts: Yes, this an Official Denied Warhol.

I happen to think Warhol himself would endorse that idea.

Food stamps: Is there an app for that?

Over on the Consumed Facebook page, I floated my interest in the line in the interesting story in this weekend’s Times Magazine about “free agent” types fallen on hard times in this downturn — the line in which the strugging yoga instructor informs the reporter that she’s in line for food stamps, by way of a message sent from her iPhone.

Thoughtful responses from readers on the FB page, and I’m still pondering the weird dissonance of food stamps and an iPhone.

But meanwhile, it occurs to me that maybe here is an opportunity: An iPhone app that allows you to somehow download your food stamps.

Perfect for depression 2.0, no?

Memo to the ad biz…

I have something in The Big Money today: A call to commercial persuasion pros to use their skills on behalf of causes and ideas they believe in — not nonprofit client causes, and not the ideas of socially-responsible-business clients. Their own causes, their own ideas. The piece is here.

It’s pleasing to have something the extended realm of Slate again, after many years.

Planning your digital afterlife

Let’s say that right after I post this item, I keel over, dead.

Who would approve whatever pithy comments you might submit? Aside from this site, I have two other unrelated blogs, a Facebook profile and page, a Flickr account, a personal website, an Etsy store, etc. What happens to all that stuff?

I know that there are policies in place at the companies that ultimately control my digital expressions of my (living) self — I just read this NYT column in which the writer relates some the death-related policies of Facebook, which she looked into after being notified of the pending birthday of a deceased friend.

But the column made me wonder what the dead friend would have wanted. And how I would want my digital afterlife to be handled: What should disappear along with me, what I would prefer to persist and with what adjustments and caveats.

Morbid! But still. Maybe such a business already exists, but if it doesn’t: Perhaps one of the bright, young business-school things who read this site can found a digital-afterlife-management service.

The product/service would be sort of analogous to a will. It would store and manage all the necessary passwords for one’s appointed digital-life executor, but would also spell out the wishes, preferences, and instructions of the relevant individual: Wipe out X account; put up an announcement on Y blog and close the comments; renew the domain registration on Z site for as long as possible, etc. Unlike a traditional will, this would have to be some kind of regularly updatable service, to keep pace with the digital venues, as they come and they go.

At the very least, I’d like to know, for the sake of accuracy, that somebody would be making sure my Twitter feed finally showed a second tweet.

Resolution time: The challenge to commercial persuaders for 2009

I’ve just belatedly read a bit in Ad Age declaring the importance of values such as sustainability and social responsibility in the year ahead, and offering various resolutions for 2009 to its readership of commercial persuasion pros. Number 3 is:

Pick a local, entrepreneurial company that has a business model with social or envieronmental responsibility at its core, and go and work for them — pro-bono if there’s no other way.

That strikes me as pretty lame and unimaginative.

Why? Because the basic paradigm offered is that all agencies do is “go and work for” somebody. They don’t have their own ideas, they don’t have their own beliefs. They’re willing to “work for” someone who stands for something — but they themselves stand for nothing. And are (or so this “resolution” suggests) essentially incapable of standing for anything.

So I would say a better resolution might be:

Pick an idea that you believe in — with social or environmental responsibility at its core.

Now go out there and use your persuasion talents to advance that idea in the public sphere. Change behavior in ways that do not involve buying your clients’ stuff, that do not involve the profit motive at all.

Do it because you  — yes, you; not an entrepreneur or a brand that you work for; you — actually believe in something, and you stand for something, and you have ideas, and you care.

Don’t look for a client, pro bono or otherwise, who has values. Just have values.

In fact, I hereby issue the Murketing Challenge to all commercial persuasion pros (in advertising, marketing, PR, “ideation,” whatever) for 2009: If you do a project like this, of any kind, something where you, the commercial persuader, or your agency, does work to advance an idea that you believe in, tell me about it and I will happily publicize it here. And if anybody really does anything, maybe I’ll even give out a prize. (If so I would base it on the reactions of readers, etc., not just my personal reaction.)

This is not work on behalf of a client of any kind — company, nonprofit, politician, political group, or charity — it’s work on behalf of you, and something you believe in.

It can be as big as unconsumption, and as small as making a positive change in the neighborhood where you are based.

If you like this idea, then spread this post, and tell me what you come up with at

If you don’t like this idea, then don’t.

Branded entertainment about branded entertainment

Via Commercial Alert, here is an article from Ad Age about something called “The Style Series, presented by Diet Coke.” Sounds like yet another example of “branded entertainment” — ho hum! — with the mild but lately run-of-the-mill twist that “the first event streamed live via the internet, outdoor electronic billboards and mobile phones.” Ooooh! Post-television! Whatever.

Anyway, here’s the thing that caught my attention: The debut episode includes “the exclusive premiere of Rihanna’s new e-film for Gucci.”

So, let’s just get this straight. One of the featured guests on the branded entertainment post-TV program was there to tell us about her latest post-TV branded-entertainment deal?

Maybe there’s a clue in here of what Leno’s new show ought to be, or what the future of talk shows in general might look like: How about a branded show that is exclusively devoted to the touting and discussion of the latest exciting new developments in branded entertainment? Instead of stars flacking their new movies, they’ll simply discuss their latest endorsements. Indie directors will premiere the latest commercial work they’re doing to pay the bills. Reality-show stars will talk about products placed in whatever series has made them “famous.” And so on.

Very exciting to live in the “post-advertising era,” no?

AntiFriday Bonus: Apocalyptic political smear?

This Wall Street Journal article sums up the “controversy” over a McCain Web ad (on YouTube, here) that some say suggests Obama is not just aloof and full of himself and naive … he’s the antichrist! A highlight is expert commentary from Left Behind * co-author Tim LaHaye:

[He] said in an interview that he recognized allusions to his work in the ad but comparisons between Sen. Obama and the antichrist are incorrect.

“The antichrist isn’t going to be an American, so it can’t possibly be Obama. The Bible makes it clear he will be from an obscure place, like Romania.”

The story also notes that “suggestions that Sen. Obama is the antichrist have been circulating for months in Bible-study meetings” in some towns, and also that the ad’s imagery is suggestive in ways that will be obvious to anyone versed in what an expert calls “apocalyptic popular culture.”

I’m hoping that this draws a Paris Hilton-style response video from the actual antichrist.

UPDATE: Here is “Hello. You have stumbled upon this site by searching ‘Barack Obama Antichrist’ which was in the back of your mind, you were curious if anyone else had thought about it, so you gave it a google. Welcome. You are not alone, explore the site.” Be sure to view the poll results. [Thx to extra-special adviser E for that.]

[If you’re not a big apocalyptic pop culture follower, Left Behind was discussed in the November 13, 2005 Consumed.]

Uconsumption: Tentative project proposal regarding old cellphones

Recently I had to buy a new cell phone. I don’t mean that I wanted a new one with cooler features, I mean the “0” button on my old one stopped working, and it turns out you pretty much need all ten digits to use a phone, even if you’re a minimal cell phone user, as I am.

This happened to coincide with a fresh round of attention to the much-discussed problem of e-waste. (See this earlier post.) I assumed that Sprint would simply take my old phone and get rid of it for me appropriately. They didn’t. But when I got home, I noticed that they’d given me a special envelope, the one pictured here. So I guess I just pop it in there and put it in the mail and it gets taken care of for me.

Seems better to just take it from me at the store. But …

… assuming that this is on the up-and-up — and the disposal really is responsible — this envelope approach is kind of interesting. If it’s true, as this article mentioned, that there are hundreds of millions of cell phones just sitting in desk drawers, maybe somebody should come up with a way to distribute envelopes like these – or really even just distribute the mailing address. (I’ve obscured the address here because I guess there might be some kind of parameters about what phones they accept, and I don’t want the upshot of this post to be Sprint coming after me if a bunch of other providers’ phones start showing up, or whatever.)

I see that on the site of Recellular, the famous wireless recycling company, they list “use a pre-paid envelope” as a way to send them an old phone, noting that such envelopes are “available from most wireless retailers or packaged with your new cell phone.” (Does that mean all new cell phones come with an envelope? I don’t know.) I’m not sure if there’s some reason why they wouldn’t just publicize the address, for those who have an old cell phone sitting around and might be willing to spring for postage if it meant they didn’t have to drive somewhere to drop their old phone off or pick up a special envelope.

So it all got me thinking: Wouldn’t spreading the address or addresses to send your old cell phone to be a pretty easy online word-of-mouth (unconsumption) project for somebody? I mean spread them in a way that was fun and caught on and got people to take action? Good project for an agency looking to do something good? Clever student project that sparked thousands to properly unconsumed their outdated mobiles?

Is this already happening? If it is, could it be done better?

Or am I missing something obvious? About why it wouldn’t work?

Want to buy a napkin?

Back during the original 1990s Internet boom, when every billion-dollar idea had supposedly started with a sketch on the back of an envelope and/or in a garage, I used to joke that I was going to go into business selling envelopes and renting out space in huge office parks that consisted of acres of garages. Want be a Net millionaire? Rent a space in one of our garages, sit in in jotting ideas on the back of one of our envelopes, and riches are sure to follow. Etc.

I was reminded of this by an interview on Marketplace last night with a guy touting the power of napkins as the key to business creativity:

Why are napkins interesting? Because when you take a napkin and you just start drawing on it and start imagining what an idea that’s in your own mind looks like, all of the sudden, you’re opening up all kinds of channels in your own mind that, if you’re just working on a computer screen or just working with the shapes that are available, say, in PowerPoint, do not happen.


What he’s doing is selling a book on this subject, but I think he should be selling the napkins. In fact I think this is a great idea for some Etsy seller: Really cool napkins to use in solving problems or dreaming up new business models. Or maybe that will be my next move for, maybe I’ll start making and selling branded napkins. If anybody wants to invest, let me know.

It’s been pointed out to me in the comments and via email that there is already a napkin-idea product on the market. And a napkin-marketing product, too.

Blame Gwyneth

Anya Hindmarch, designer of the cotton tote with the words “I am not a plastic bag” printed on it, which has inspired some consumers to stand in line and in a few cases knock each other down to acquire it, is sticking with her story that if the fabulous people in her customer base blare their eco-concern, the rest of us will fall in line. “There was a time when what was cool was drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes,” she tells Time Magazine. “Now it’s all healthy living, and I think fashion had a part in that–people seeing photos of models and celebrities–Gwyneth Paltrow walking around carrying yoga mats and bottled water.”

Bottled water? Wait a minute. I thought that the taste-maker set was against bottled water these days, having figured out that, among other things, discarded water bottles clog up landfills and take ages to degrade. (Just like plastic bags!) In San Francisco, ground zero of anti-plastic government efforts, the mayor has moved from banning plastic bags to barring the use of city funds to buy water in plastic bottles. And according to something I read, some restaurants there no longer sell bottled water, etc. Various articles in the press — such as this much-linked Fast Company piece — have railed against the foolishness of plastic water bottles. And so on.

Despite this, bottled water sales are robust, and now I know why. Because of Gwyneth Paltrow! Those of us down in here in, you know, the herd, we’re looking for signals from her, and last time we saw her she was loaded down with all those yoga mats and — I remember now — bottled water! She looked great, too. That’s when I gave up coffee and cigarettes and decided to get healthy. I bet you did, too.

Anyway, I guess the problem is that there’s nobody like Anya Hindmarch making really fashionable alternatives to bottled water. The Time piece mentions that Stella McCartney has a $495 cotton shopping bag on offer, and LV has one for a little over $1,700.

But who is making the high-end Nalgene alternative that celebrities can brandish? Apparently nobody.

One of these trend-leading designers needs to get it together and offer reusable water bottle that’s made of, say, platinum, and get it into some award-show goodie bags ASAP. To make sure the rest of us get the message, make sure it says, “I Am Not a Plastic Water Bottle,” on the side. Preferably in diamonds.

Related (and possibly useful, as opposed to a mere rant like the above) links:

1. Greener Penny overview of reusable plastic bottles.

2. post on things to do with plastic bags.

[Time story via Agenda Inc.]

Second thoughts

Okay, that last post was a little cranky. I better repent, before someone says I’m a dinosaur who doesn’t get it.

How about this. Let’s embrace this exciting new showcase for citizen creativity — and simultaneously devise a way of sustaining (or even starting) widespread interest in the race for the presidency. Let’s have a parallel competition, a sort of talent show of candidate questioning. Let America vote (via text message obviously) for their favorite YouTube question-videos in each debate, judging them on creativity, production values, originality, and, if you like, substance. The top vote getters get to ask another question in the next debate — although of course they’ll also continue to compete against others who have advanced, in an ongoing, elimination-style tournament.

As the number of questioners gets whittled down, more of each debate broadcast will be devoted to learning about them — who they are, what their aspirations are, how much their new branded T-shirts cost and where we can buy them, etc. At some point, all the remaining questioners should probably have to live together in a loft-style apartment, maybe in Ohio. As their fame grows, the candidates will be expected to ask them questions.

Then the final showdown: After the primaries, we have not only two presidential candidates going through the motions of the familiar leader-of-the-free-world thing, but two YouTube question-video makers, squaring off to be America’s Next Top Citizen-Celebrity! (If Bloomberg or another independent gets involved, we could bring back some of the more annoying eliminated questioners in some kind of sudden-death YouTube press conference format.)

Fun, right? See, I get it!

Burdens of Wealth, Part 2: Watch out

Following up on yesterday’s post about Robert Frank’s book Richistan: I mentioned my favorite example of how wealthy consumers feel compelled to move on from anything that gets too widely adapted was in the category of watches. I have been interested in the watch market for some time, without ever really coming up with a good way to write about it.
Frank cites data from an organization called The Luxury Institute; in 2006, it conducted a poll of people with a net worth of $5 million or more, to learn what the most prestigious wristwatch might be. Cartier came in 13th. Rolex made the top 10, but “barely,” Frank writes. First place went to Franck Mueller, “a newcomer from Switzerland that sells fewer than 4,500 watches a year in the United States.” The brand’s cheapest offering costs $4,800. The most expensive: $600,000-plus. “Frank Mueller,” Frank writes, “has become the timepiece of choice for the New Rich.”

The interesting thing about watches as a carrier of prestige is that watches have, in recent years, become so superfluous for most of us. If you have a cell phone, you have the time on you; you don’t need a watch. And indeed, I have read that mainstream watch sales are hurting.

Luxury watch sales, however, are not hurting at all. (Recently even Timex has been repositioning to try to cut more lux-oriented deals.) One suspects that this is precisely because high end watches have very little to do with knowing what time it is. Indeed, Frank points out that Frank Muller’s “most popular watches the Crazy Hours, a $20,000 timepiece that features mixed-up numbers on the face.” Even a company spokesperson admits that actually using it to tell time can be “tricky.” Frank cites Business Week reviewer suggesting that maybe the best strategy is to wear this watch in addition to a second one that you can actually read.
Funny. But I’d suggest a different direction: Why not make a watch that is purely aesthetics-based, and does not tell time at all? Think of the design possibilities a watch could offer if you didn’t have to worry about the whole time-telling trope, with the annoying minute, hour, and second hands, which all seems pretty played-out anyway. People who pay twenty grand for a watch not only have a cell phone and five other gizmos at hand to tell them what time it is, they also have a variety of flunkies to drive them around and make their appointments for them. Leave watches that track of hours and minutes to the proles.