Pick-Up Artists and Kickstarter

I wrote a rather long item for BoingBoing about a Kickstarter campaign for a "seduction" guide that caused a lot of fuss in its final hours. The Kickstarter campaign itself sounded tame and somewhat lame. But the linked content that the project creator planned to turn into a book was full of a jumbled bunch of advice about how men can pick up women that mixed reasonable relationship guidelines with what is essentially sexual assault. 

The pick-up artist (PUA) community is largely socially awkward men who think there's a "secret" they're missing, when they simply cannot understand normal social interactions. The community reinforces the notion that women are objects and that tricks and techniques allow the practitioners to obtain the desired result: sex. It's pitiful and laughable, except for the notion that men should continuously physically escalating until a woman verbally or physically resists.

That's assault, not consent. Read more at BoingBoing. 

Issue 19 of The Magazine Is Out!

My second issue in the publisher seat and the first with able managing editor Brittany Shoot riding shotgun. We're chock full of ideas about the future through the past in this one!

There is a pair of articles about using bikes as a reasonable transportation option: one from my friend Lianne in the Netherlands (she and I worked together in Camden, Maine, over 20 years ago!), and one by Elly Blue about cargo bikes in America and the shift in patterns here.

Issue 19: June 20, 2013

The Atlantic Weekly and Completism

My friend and editor Tom Standage (@tomstandage) explained the problem of completism to me recently. Tom is the digital editor of the Economist , and I have written for him for going on a decade. People get tied into knots "finishing" the print edition, and that extends to the digital apps as well. We all have friends and colleagues who have stacks of New Yorkers, Atlantics, and Economists  lying about waiting to be read.

They will never be read. But there is a compulsion to "complete" them. Hence, the Economist's apps don't include all the constantly updated content from the newspaper's Web site. This would drive completists nuts. They would literally never finish reading. (I skim Twitter. My friend Lex Friedman (@lexfri) reads it completely. This is the same split in approach and compulsion, dare I say.)

The table of contents. 

The table of contents. 

The Atlantic  announced The Atlantic Weekly  app today, which is a brilliant idea in that vein. For $1.99 an issue, $2.99 a month, or $19.99 per year, the app provides a weekly subset of the now fairly extensive  amounts of content that the Atlantic's Web sites produce. It is free of advertising. "We're aiming to provide readers with a selection of stories and ideas on screens scrubbed of all distractions," the editors write. Yes, that sounds familiar. At least they put the table of contents on the right.*

They are taking their unlimited spigot of writing and turning it into a product for completists who, they hope, are willing to pay for the privilege of having original content curated down to a manageable form without advertisements blaring at them and requiring choices that put ads above readability. (They might turn the volume down a bit: on an iPhone, the June 9 issue is 61 MB; June 16, 47 MB.)

Enjoy the wood-grained finish while it lasts. 

Enjoy the wood-grained finish while it lasts. 

This was part of the thinking that led Marco to found The Magazine: five original features every other week designed to appeal to an audience that has an unlimited amount of content to read, a finite amount of attention, and perhaps a slight aversion to pages encrusted with ads. Thus, without any hubris, The Magazine was meant partly to replace other endless founts of writing — to provide a literal starting and stopping point in a package.  Or at least provide a respite of completism in the middle of a flood of words.

For the Atlantic, this is an experiment to see whether presenting the same material already paid and budgeted for in one method of delivery can, in a different package (streamlined, finite, ad free), earn a different revenue stream. I expect it's a precursor to subscriber-only content or a way to fund different kinds of articles that may run on the Web but be intended for readers of the app. 

For me, this is a continued vindication of Marco's founding ideas. As he noted in the press release we put out to announce our sale agreement (he wrote this part, folks):  

Publications that started in print carry too much baggage and usually have awful apps. The Magazine was designed from the start to be streamlined, natively digital, and respectful of readers' time and attention.


*I kid. In print, many magazines have long had a left-side partial flap or devoted the left side of the cover to the table of contents. It's where the metaphor came for The Magazine's listing of articles, and it's used in other reading and publication apps, too, for the same reason. The Atlantic notes that it used to — like Foreign Affairs still does today with a bit of typographic fanciness — devote its print cover to just listing the issue's contents.


A Transformative Year

I have sometimes joked that I never know precisely what I will be doing from one year to the next. As a freelancer, I am dependent on both the goodwill of editors and the persistence of business models outside of my control. This means that my primary sets of income one year could have shifted somewhat the next and be entirely gone the year after that. It means I have to be fleet and agile.

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Bear Playing a Sousaphone

Talking with a friend in the UK on Twitter, my memory was jogged about my dad's granola company, Wildtime Foods. He and a friend at a newspaper the to worked at found themselves at loose ends, and formed the business. Their first product was a baked bar with a gingerbread-ish taste, something like a brownie but not as sweet. It was called, wait for it, a Grizzly Bar. (Gingerbread, Wildtime Foods, Goldilocks...you see.) 

They commissioned local artist Paul Ollswang to create a set of illustrated cards that were randomly inserted in packages. Collect them all and win a prize! This was 1981. I dug around and found the cards on a site memorializing and distributing Paul's work.

Wildtime Foods trading card, 1981, by Paul Ollswang

Paul died young at 51, sadly! Lovely, weird man who looked exactly like his illustrations. R. Crumb liked his stuff.

Dad sold his interest to his partner many years ago, and his partner later sold out, too. The current company keeps on making great granola. In fact, its process looks nearly identical! A lot of handwork and turning. The logo is only slightly changed from the one created over 30 years ago. 

You Talk?

Balloon man

Balloon man

At the annual Montlake Elementary Carnival about two blocks from my house, I spotted one of the regular performers. He does a bit of clowning and a lot of balloon animal making. Very expressive face. Reminds me of European clowns more than American in his style; more mime than Ringling Brothers. I went over to him when I spotted him at work. He was chattering away to people. 

I goggled. He looked at me, possibly recognized me from previous years, and gave me a hearty handshake. 

Me: "You're talking!"

Him: "Yes. I'm talking." 

Me: "You've never talked before!" 

He looks surprised. "Oh! I never talked here before! I'd forgotten! I'll stop." 

Me: "No, no, I was just surprised!" We both laugh.

I didn't see him talk the rest of the evening.

There's something about a silent clown that makes you fill in so much detail. A telling pause. A waggle of the eyebrows. A look — just a look! He was certainly great even with a voice, but I had forgotten how much he'd conditioned me to think of him as mute while he worked.