To Do in Portland, OR: Soldier Portraits opening

This coming Thursday night, July 3, is the opening of (extra-special adviser to Murketing) Ellen Susan‘s Soldier Portraits show, at the Blue Sky Gallery in Portland. Plus: Lecture Saturday July 5. Time and location details below.

More about the project at American Photo‘s State of the Art blog; in the June 2008 issue of Photo District News; and in the June/July 2008 issue of The South. And of course at Here’s a brief extract from the latter:

The project consists of portrait photographs of soldiers of the United States Army, primarily of the 3rd Infantry Division. The goal of the project is to look at a person in military uniform and to see that person as a unique individual…

The photographs are made using the 150 year old collodion wet plate process — the same process that was used to document much of the period (and many of the soldiers) of the Civil War.

July 3 – August 2, 2008
Blue Sky Gallery
122 NW 8th Avenue
Portland, Oregon
Open Tuesday through Sunday, 12 – 5 pm

Opening Reception July 3, 6pm

Lecture July 5, 3pm

(Also showing: Some guy named Rauschenberg. From Texas, I think.)

–> More Soldier Portraits images are also included in group shows at Rayko Photo Center, San Francisco, July 18 – August 24 and at The Photographic Resource Center, Boston, through July 2, 2008, as well as at the Jepson Center for the Arts at the Telfair Museum, Savannah, GA, through July 8, 2008.


A while ago I brought up the question of whether anybody was interested in a Kindle version of Buying In. The response was, uh, muted. But as it turns out, through no action on my part whatsoever, such a version is now available.

It so happens that Seth Godin had an interesting post about the Kindle the other day (via Undependent). If you’re interested in the device, who is buying it, how it might evolve, and so on, I recommend checking out the whole post. (The most interesting thing to me about the Kindle is that it’s one of these weirdly divisive devices — even people who have never handled one seem to have strong opinions.)

Like Undependent, I was drawn to Godin’s passing assertion that “power is going to continue to accrue to authors with direction connections to readers.” I’m still thinking that through, particularly what “direct connections” means, exactly — or will mean.

This relates, somewhat, to the Murakami one-in-ten rule post the other day, or rather to the comment thread attached to it. Also to the Harvard Business Review article comparing Long Tail theory to sales data in certain cultural-product sales categories. And also to this recent, pessimistic Guardian piece, “Why Authors Can’t Go It Alone.”

More later.

Vuitton bag

On Arkitip.

In The New York Times Magazine: Pirate’s Booty

Puffed treats that make your noshing feel a little more virtuous.

This week in Consumed, a look at a snack that seems to have drawn a crowd by way of its virtues, its quirkiness, its honest — and kept it despite some pretty serious road bumps.

Pirate’s Booty hasn’t simply leveraged unusual consumer loyalty into a business with a reported $50 million in annual revenue. It has held onto that loyalty despite incidents that would seem to cut against its image. A few years ago, the Good Housekeeping Research Institute slammed the brand after its own tests found that a one-ounce serving of Booty contained 8.5 grams of fat, not 2.5 as the label indicated. And in 2007, the company issued a recall of its Veggie Booty and Super Veggie Tings varieties after they were linked to cases of salmonella.

Included: Founder explains that “Good For You” is not so much a claim as a congratulation: “You bought this bag — well, good for you!” The product contains no MSG and no preservatives, and therefore the buyer deserves a pat on the back for choosing a snack that’s not so bad: “Wow, you chose something that is going to change your life,” he says.

Read the whole column in the June 29, 2008 issue of The New York Times Magazine, or right here.

Consumed archive is here, and FAQ is here. Consumed Facebook page is here.

AntiFriday: Special Saturday edition!: Big murketing backlash? Maybe

[Note: After spending a good deal more time than anticipated stuck in airports and so on last week, I am running late both on AntiFriday, and on responding to recent comments to various posts. Will do that soonest.]

1. WSJ says “Federal regulators are beginning an effort to crack down on stealth advertising in television shows, a move aimed at letting consumers know when companies have paid to use their products as props.” (Via Commercial Alert.) And Ad Age says: “Hollywood’s screenwriters are the latest group to write poison-pen letters to the Federal Communications Commission about Madison Avenue’s use of product integration, which jumped 39% on broadcast TV in the first quarter of 2008, according to Nielsen Product Placement Service.” (Also via Commercial Alert.)

Something people ask me about a lot lately, vis a vis the broad topic of murketing and Buying In, is this very subject: Will there be a backlash/crackdown on the specific practice of commercial persuasion leaking out of the 30-second ads you can zap through if you happen to have a DVR, and into actual shows?

It’s clear that this practice really bugs a lot of people, but up to now my answer has been: I don’t see anything indicating it will slow down. Maybe that’s changing?

Here’s a related Washington Post story. Here’s the official (and generally unimpressed) response from Commercial Alert.

2. Meanwhile, one of the better-known murketing campaigns of the moment is the one pushing Colt 45. The malt liquor brand is owned by Pabst (whose PBR is of course the subject of a chapter in Buying In). The PBR story is largely about a brand picked up by consumers, with the corporate owner amping things after the fact. The Colt 45 thing seems more synthetic, but maybe there was an awakened interest in the malt liquor that I’m not aware of.

In any case, the Colt 45 campaign has been more of a “buzz building” effort, with aggressive stunts meant to have publicity value and talk value. One effort involved indie art on brown paper bags. More recently:

Philly’s “Mural Arts Program” has painted 2,700 murals. But while most of the murals are about life, energy and color, some murals in Fishtown are all about malt liquor, Colt 45. Pabst Beer paid local businesses for some of their wall space. But the city said the quasi-murals are illegal because a permit is needed. NBC 10 called Pabst and they are not commenting on the issue. The city is still trying to see if any local advertising agencies helped them out.

That’s from Phawker. Related posts in AdFreak, and Anti-Advertising Agency. Read more

To Do: Boston (area) Buying In event tonight

So … If you’re in the Boston area, and you took advantage of my earlier open call to join me at an invitation-only party for Buying In, then I’ll see you tonight. And maybe you’ll even pick up an outstanding limited edition (of 50) poster by none other than Amy Jo, pictured above. (More on Amy Jo later.)

And if you’re in Boston and you simply ignored my open invitation … well … what can I tell you?

UPDATE: Huge thanks to the folks at Continuum, and to all the friends, old and new, who made it out. A very fun evening for me, and I hope for you all, too.

Endowment v. adaptation

The June 21-27 Economist has an item that mentions in passing that “the fastest-growing part of America’s commercial-property business in the last 30 years” is the self-storage business. “There are now almost seven square feet of self-storage for every American.”

That’s sort of astonishing. What in the world are people storing?

The Economist brings this up in relation to the latest research on “the endowment effect,” and suggests (not entirely seriously) that our tendency to overvalue something simply because we own it (that’s the endowment effect) explains our reluctance to pare back on useless junk — and thus we rent out storage space for it when there’s too much clutter in the home.

The endowment (or “mere ownership”) effect comes up in Buying In, but so does another basic psychological concept relevant to our consumer behavior: adaptation. The latter encompasses, basically, our tendency to overestimate how long the pleasure we associate with a new thing will last (and to overestimate how long the misery associated with some negative event will last). In the context of stuff we buy, adaptation is what clutters your closet (or storage unit): All the things that seemed awesome at the moment of purchase, and then got ho-hum, and forgotten, pretty fast.

I’ve never seen research that reconciled these two concepts, and I wonder if such a study exists. Do we actually overvalue (per endowment effect) the junk in the closet (or the storage unit)? If we do, then why is forgotten and as a practical matter unenjoyed (per adaptation)?

Is there a point where the endowment effect fades, and adaptation kicks in?

Or do the two exist simultaneously in, say, that trendy raincoat (or whatever) that you had to have when it was on-trend and there was a waiting list — but that you haven’t worn since?

That is: Is it the case that said raincoat-owner no longer gets pleasure from the thing, yet still overvalues it?

Or: Is the way the endowment effect tends to be measured (direct questions about “what would you sell this for,” etc.) so outside the realm of the way we think about stuff we own in the months/years after acquisition, that it’s just not a relevant thing to try to measure at after x amount of time?

I feel confident that most everyone reading this owns a bunch of junk that doesn’t really mean much (or have much value). Maybe some of you even have rented storage space to keep it in.

I’m also confident that it meant something (and did have value) at the moment of purchase.

I’m less confident about the moment when that meaning (and value) evaporates.

Flickr Interlude

scary clown, originally uploaded by joiseyshowaa.

Caption: “Balloon being inflated for the Macys Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York. The tiny orange squares on the left (for scale) are apartment windows.”

[Join and contribute to the Murketing Flickr group]

Murakami on writing, business, and the one-in-ten rule

There was a great Haruki Murakami essay in The New Yorker a few weeks ago, but it’s not online, so it’s taken me until now to find the time to type up the passage I liked the best.

Basically Murakami writes about how for a while he owned a jazz club, then at about age 29 decided out of the blue to write a novel. When he transitioned to the writing life full-time, it meant he had to lose some friends because of the way his lifestyle changed.

But at that point, I felt that the indispensable relationship I should build in my life was not with a specific person but with an unspecified number of readers. My readers would welcome whatever life style I chose, as long as I made sure that each new work was an improvement over the last. And shouldn’t that be my duty — and my top priority — as a novelist?

I liked that a lot. And I have a feeling you could just substitute the word “customers” or “clients” for “readers” and this passage work for all kinds of people.

But I thought this, which followed soon after, was even better:

Even when I ran the club, I understood [that you can’t please everybody]. A lot of customers came to the club. If one out of ten enjoyed the place and decided to come again, that was enough. If one out of ten was a repeat customer, then the business would survive. To put it another way, it didn’t matter if nine out of ten people didn’t like the club.

Realizing this lifted a weight of my shoulders. Still, I had to make sure the one person who did like the place really liked it. In order to do that, I had make my philosophy absolutely clear, and patiently maintain that philosophy no matter what. This is what I learned from running a business.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot. The tricky party is the “really liked it” part.

Writing, of course, is a business. (At least for someone like me; maybe it’s differnt for a novelist.) It’s more of a business than it was when I started, actually. And it will get more that way in the future.

Like everybody else, I’m thinking about how I’ll ultimately survive in my business, which happens to be writing.

Am I doing what Murakami suggests needs to be done? I’m not always sure I am.

It’s a question that probably applies in every business.

It’s something to think about.

Why I’m so interested in DIYism

One of the reasons I devoted one of the closing chapters of Buying In to the DIY/craft/handmade scene is that while it’s clearly a material-culture phenomenon, it’s a material-culture phenomenon that seems to have, on some level, an ideology. Surely that’s irrelevant to some participants, on both the maker and consumer sides of the dialogue. But just as sure, it is very relevant to others.

Here’s a recent example, brought to my attention over the weekend: The Creativity 350 Craft Contest.

The significance of that number is explained at “The most recent science tells us that unless we can reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to 350 parts per million, we will cause huge and irreversible damage to the earth.”

The idea of the Creativity 350 Craft Contest: “Craft up a project that somehow creatively and awesomely expresses the importance of the number 350. You can use any craft technique you like.” (There’s also a T-shirt contest.)

It is, in other words, about getting the word out, on a subject of greater significance than most of consumer/murketing culture, and certainly of greater significance the predictions about The Next Google/Facebook/whatever will be. Crafty sorts: Details of the contest are here.

[Thx, Leah!]

More interesting than Radiohead

I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty curious about the Girl Talk release.

It’s getting a lot of attention, although nothing like Radiohead did. And although Girl Talk is clearly following in Radiohead’s footsteps by releasing a record on a pay-what-you-want basis, in my view this is a lot more significant. And not just because Radiohead generally bores me to tears.

In addition to that factor, it’s because, as I’ve said before, the whole Radiohead thing was imperfect as an indicator of where the music business might be headed for the simple reason that Radiohead is in fact a creation of the major-label system. The band benefited mightily from the precise traditional band-building method that anti-label zealouts are so fond of attacking. So when those zealots said that In Rainbows demonstrated the death of big music and a portent of a new, enlightened future, their argument was rather seriously undercut by the fact that Radiohead is a product of big music. Period.

So what happens when an artist who was not built by the labels starts dabbling with new distribution methods, and, potentially, builds a major name for him/her/itself in the process?

Girl Talk is at least potentially a more interesting case study to watch.

Plus, Girl Talk gets bonus points for being basically a mashup artist who uses massive numbers of samples to build songs, and apparently doesn’t clear any of it with rights-holders. So he’s pretty thoroughly postmodern.

Thus I’m watching this with interest. (And listening. I paid $10 for the release, and have been listening to it over the weekend.)

The Globe and Mail adds this interesting detail:

If you offer to pay nothing for the download, you get sent to a page with a form that asks you why you are paying nothing, and then gives you a series of check boxes, including:

— I may donate later
— I can’t afford to pay
— I don’t really like Girl Talk
— I don’t believe in paying for music
— I have already purchased this album
— I don’t value music made from sampling
— I am part of the press, radio, or music industry
— Other reasons

I’d love to see the results of that!

Radiohead, of course, never did open up about who paid what for In Rainbows.

Maybe Girl Talk will turn out to be cooler than that….

Flickr Interlude

“You want a bag with that?”, originally uploaded by J e n s.

Lots of nice stuff work in J e n s‘ Flickr stream. Check it out. This one has my favorite title in a while.

[Join and contribute to the Murketing Flickr group]

Celebrity endorsements and the end of selling out

As this long New York Times piece acknowledges, there’s nothing new about celebrity endorsements. But the piece is correct, I think, in setting out to explore why such endorsements seem more pervasive — higher-profile celebrities, and more thoroughly “integrated” deal formulations. (The article opens with a recounting of Rihanna’s people pitching a company that makes umbrellas, in advance of her now-famous single “Umbrella.”)

To me the key line comes from Steve Stoute. “Hip-hop completely opened the eyes of other music genres as to how to relate to corporations and not be seen as sellouts,” he says.

This isn’t really explored in the piece, so I don’t totally know what he means. But it’s definitely true that nobody is seen as a sellout for doing corporate sponsorship deals anymore, which is why mega-stars (not just in music, but across the board) who ten years ago would have feared tarnishing their reputations don’t sweat such things any more.

I’m guessing Stoute means that hip-hop opened people’s eyes about this in the sense that hip-hop stars simply did it, and there was no particular backlash. So everyone else followed suit.

Possibly the underlying factor is that more people see such deals as signs of hustle, and respect the paydays and corporate support that stars (musical or otherwise) are able to extract from brand-owners. Or maybe he sees other reasons; I’d be curious to know.

(On a consumer level, I think, the way these endorsements really work is that we assume/guess that P. Diddy, or whoever, is smart enough about managing his own brand not to ruin it by association with a truly awful product.)

Meanwhile, the most preposterous quote in the piece is from Rihanna: “We always want to bring an authentic connection to whatever we do. It must be sincere and people have to feel that.”

Oh really? So the authentic connection, I guess, is that the song was called “Umbrella,” and the company writing you massive checks does in fact make umbrellas? (As opposed to, I don’t know, galoshes?)

Come on. There’s no “authentic” reason for a deal like that to exist, other than Team Rihanna “sincerely” smells money. Period.

Moreover, everybody knows it — or “feels” it, if you prefer. Nobody really thinks Rihanna has strong feelings about umbrella quality.

What’s authentic is the hustle.

Not that anybody has a problem with that.

In The New York Times Magazine: The Chumby

A gizmo that needs hackers to make it better for the rest of us

This week in Consumed: The Chumby. On one level it’s an example of an “ambient device,” but in this case its usefulness depends entirely on the creativity of consumer-hackers. (“The Chumby model attracts people who crave actively creating something that will be enjoyed passively.”)

On another level, its creators suggest that this device reverses the traditional consumer-electronics dynamic:

The alpha-geek development model proposes a revision of a gadget’s life cycle: As creative people keep hacking into what a Chumby can be, the device theoretically becomes more useful the longer you own it. There are elements already in the Chumby that nobody has yet exploited — like a microphone. “Maybe somebody will figure out how to turn it into a Skype phone,” Tomlin suggests. The company is also hoping others will make devices — digital picture frames and the like — that will accept the Chumby Network’s feed. Tomlin doesn’t rule out future generations of his object, but argues that “the same Chumby today is better than it was when someone bought it in November, and one that you buy now will be better in six months.”

A fascinating idea, to be sure. But is this thing bound for garage sales of the future? You decide. The column is here.

Consumed archive is here, and FAQ is here. Consumed Facebook page is here.


I already pointed to this in the linkroll at right earlier in the week, but let’s just pause to appreciate the existence of a blog about doughnuts. (Via bookofjoe.)

Of recent and not entirely frivolous interest on The Blognut: A Q&A with the cofounder of the outstanding Top Pot Doughnuts, addressing that Seattle-based business’s deal with Starbucks, which I hadn’t realized is apparently nationwide.