Short Edition: The Literary Vending Macine

The New York Times: “Short Edition, a French community publisher of short-form literature, has installed more than 30 story dispensers in the United States in the past year to deliver fiction at the push of a button at restaurants and universities, government offices and transportation hubs. Francis Ford Coppola, the film director and winemaker, liked the idea so much that he invested in the company and placed a dispenser at his Cafe Zoetrope in the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco. Last month public libraries in four cities — Philadelphia; Akron, Ohio; Wichita, Kan.; and Columbia, S.C. — announced they would be installing them too. There is one on the campus at Penn State. A few can be found in downtown West Palm Beach, Fla. And Short Edition plans to announce more, including at Los Angeles International Airport.”

“Here’s how a dispenser works: It is shaped like a cylinder with three buttons on top indicating a “one minute,” “three minute” or “five minute” story. (That’s how long it takes to read.) When a button is pushed, a short story is printed, unfurled on a long strip of paper. The stories are free. They are retrieved from a computer catalog of more than 100,000 original submissions by writers whose work has been evaluated by Short Edition’s judges, and transmitted over a mobile network. Offerings can be tailored to specific interests: children’s fiction, romance, even holiday-themed tales.”

“Short Edition, which is based in Grenoble and was founded by publishing executives, set up its first kiosk in 2016 and has 150 machines worldwide … The dispensers cost $9,200 plus an additional $190 per month for content and software. The only thing that needs to be replaced is paper. The printed stories have a double life, shared an average of 2.1 times.” Kristan Leroy of Short Edition comments: “The idea is to make people happy. There is too much doom and gloom today.”

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Hershey Story: In Chocolate We Trust

The Wall Street Journal: “In the early 20th century, Milton Hershey transformed chocolate from a luxury good to a working-class staple. It made him a fortune, which he used to establish Hershey, Pa.—a model company town 100 miles west of Philadelphia and the self-proclaimed ‘sweetest place on earth.’ He also established an orphanage, the Milton Hershey School, to provide housing and education primarily for children from the area.”

“Hershey and his wife supported the school through a trust, which they established in 1905. By 1918, when he donated his full stake in his chocolate company to the trust, the trust was valued at $60 million. Today it is worth more than $14 billion—ranking it among the largest nonprofit endowments in the nation, on a par with MIT’s—and has maintained a profound commitment to its locale.”

“Peter Kurie’s ‘In Chocolate We Trust: The Hershey Company Town Unwrapped’ is a study of the town and of its residents’ shifting attitudes toward its institutional trinity of trust, company and school … He demonstrates how a philanthropic institution can continue to reflect a founder’s vision while shaping and being shaped by the community that grows up around it, one whose bonds can often be bittersweet.”

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Beijing Surprise: All Sages Bookstore

The New York Times: “All Sages Bookstore, a haven of precisely arranged shelves and display tables, thrives on the low-rent second floor of a nondescript building near Peking University … the store represents an independent political spirit in an authoritarian one-party state … A large image of Bertrand Russell, the British philosopher and freethinker, stands out among a galaxy of literary posters lining the wall of the entry staircase, a taste of what’s to come.”

“All Sages has the feel of a well-ordered, smaller version of the Strand Bookstore in Manhattan … The clientele seems to be as varied as the books. The store is strategically located, within walking distance of China’s premier university campus, but people from all over the country drop by. On a recent weekend, a manager of a chemical company in the southern city of Shenzhen pushed a trolley full of books to the cashier for dispatch home by air courier. High-ranking military officers, party officials, rich society figures and celebrity entrepreneurs are all customers.”

“The books in All Sages are all in Chinese. That makes the selection dependent not only on Mr. Liu’s broad-ranging tastes, but on the Chinese publishing houses. They, in turn, are subject to the Communist Party censors who control what is published by Chinese authors and foreign writers translated into Chinese … Among the steady sellers at All Sages are books on American history and biographies of the early presidents … George Washington’s Farewell Address, which outlines his argument for term limits — have always sold well.”

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Craeft & The Wisdom of Daily Life

The Atlantic: “In his new book Craeft, the archaeologist and BBC presenter Alexander Langlands offers a fascinating and surprisingly relevant dive into a subject that might seem niche to many—the origins of traditional crafts in medieval Europe … For Langlands, the Anglo-Saxon word ‘craeft’ is distinct from our modern word “craft” in spirit and in practice. ‘Craeft’ means having the wisdom of one’s surroundings, understanding nature and the seasons, and knowing one’s materials, as well as how objects and systems fall apart.”

“Apart from its use as a marketing term for, say, microbrews, the word today doesn’t usually connote a skilled trade. Unlike ‘working,’ ‘crafting’ is commonly understood as fun: It can be self-consciously silly, feathered, decoupaged, and brightly colored. It’s fun for kids and meditative for grownups. In most cases, the product of a crafting session is less important than the relaxing process by which it was made … It provides the satisfaction of transforming a stack of materials into a tangible, recognizable finished object, often by way of a therapeutically repetitive process. Craft’s magic trick is that it’s play that’s been designed to look like work.”

“What Langlands is advocating for in his book is more widespread knowledge about the time when craft was integral to daily life. In the era he studies, activities like beekeeping weren’t escapes from reality, but essential to it. He also smartly notes that neither ‘craft’ nor ‘craeft’ is a synonym for ‘working with one’s hands.’ At its root, the word ‘manufacture,’ which is associated with mass production, means ‘to make by hand’ … Langlands calls for living and working with awareness of our environments, materials, and challenges in real time.”

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Late & Great: Fred Bass

Quartz: “Fred Bass, co-owner of New York’s massive used bookstore, fondly known as the Strand, died of heart failure Jan. 3 at 89. Bass transformed his father’s modest store into the four-story bookshop immediately recognizable to New Yorkers and tourists today: The store on Broadway, with its red-and-white awning over $1-book carts lining the southern-facing exterior.”

“There are two basic things a good bookstore can provide: The delightful maze of human-curated shelves, or the satisfaction of efficiently getting the book you’re looking for. Amazon has done its part in taking away business from the bookstore chains that have excelled at the latter, like Borders and Barnes & Noble. The now Everything Store once sold nothing but books, and one way it’s done so successfully is by offering deep discounts. The Strand, though nowhere near as ubiquitous as Amazon.com, has been able to tout dizzying volume at the same time it’s maintained a beloved shopping experience.”

“What Amazon has done well—sell its vast inventory to you for super cheap—Bass did first. And with tote bags. Nearly all the store’s books are sold at a discount, ranging anywhere from a couple dollars off a new title to less than a $1 for a classic or a book that’s run its course … Today clutching one of Strand’s 100 or so bag designs is a proud display of reader identity.”

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Bookstores are ‘Houses of Seduction’

The Globe and Mail: “Unless you’re just about to board, bookshop browsing can be a deeper and more untethered exercise than other kinds of shopping. Just opening a book and reading a few lines can draw you partly into another world, one you might not have planned to visit. According to Vancouver publishing consultant Thad McIlroy, only 40 per cent of bookstore purchases are premeditated. All the rest are decided on impulse.”

“Knowing this, booksellers and publishers think carefully about how to design the space and arrange the stock … a good bookshop is a house of seduction, created to lure the book lover and keep him or her circulating in the aisles. The sumptuous beauty of shops such as El Ateneo Grand Splendid, in Buenos Aires, is part of the game. Systems for displaying the wares may follow a wonderful, idiosyncratic logic. Altair, a travel bookshop in Barcelona, arranges even its fiction and poetry titles geographically.”

“In the online trade, only the books circulate, while the readers stay at home in front of their screens. Algorithms make robotic suggestions, following a practice launched by the London bookshop Hatchards (established in 1797), where live, professional readers still select and ship books to subscribers. Hard-copy books are still published by the thousands; it’s the transactions that have become ethereal.”

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The Huarache: When Weird is Beautiful

Quartz: “The Nike Huarache almost never existed. The shoe, made of a sock-like bootie encased in a supportive exoskeleton, was definitely unusual when Nike began showing around the prototypes in the early 1990s. Practically nobody placed orders, and Nike seemed to have little choice but to kill the idea. Lucky for Nike, one product manager didn’t listen … the Huarache has become Nike’s top-seller globally.”

“The shoe dispensed with a number of conventional ideas in sneaker design. It had no heel counter—the firm backing of the shoe that wraps around your heel to support it—opting instead for the distinctive, harness-like strap, similar to a sandal. (A ‘huarache’ is a kind of Mexican sandal.) It also used neoprene, which had never before been done in a running shoe … when no one placed orders after seeing the prototypes, Nike decided not to make the shoe for release.”

Tinker Hatfield, who designed the shoe picks up on the rest of the story in his new book, called Sneakers: “But one of our product managers actually thought it was awesome, and without proper authorization, he signed an order to build five thousand pairs even though there were no orders. He stuck his neck way out there. He saw what I saw. And he took those five thousand pairs to the New York Marathon, not a place you typically went to sell shoes, and he sold them all in like three days at the exhibition hall right there near Times Square. Word got out. They went like hotcakes. In a month, we went from zero orders to orders for half a million pairs.”

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The da Vinci Code: Observe, Connect & Create

Walter Isaacson: “Today we live in a world that encourages specialization, whether we are students, scholars, workers or professionals. We also tend to exalt training in technology and engineering, believing that the jobs of the future will go to those who can code and build rather than those who can be creative.”

“But the true innovators tend to be those like Leonardo who make no distinction between the beauties of the arts and the beauties of the sciences. When Einstein was stymied in his pursuit of the field equations for general relativity, he would often pull out his violin and play Mozart. The music, he said, helped to connect him to the harmonies of our cosmos. At the end of many of his product presentations, Steve Jobs would display a slide that showed the intersection of streets labeled ‘Liberal Arts’ and ‘Technology.’ He knew that at such crossroads lay creativity.”

“There is a flip side for those of us who love the arts and humanities. Like Leonardo, we must be able to see and embrace the beauty of a mathematical equation or a scientific theory. Cultural critics who complain that today’s students fail to learn Shakespeare or civics or history should not be complacent about their own cluelessness when it comes to, say, what a transistor does or how a circuit processes logical sequences. All of these topics are valuable and enriching, especially when we can connect them to one another.”

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Perennial Seller: Make Connections, Not News

The Wall Street Journal: In Perennial Seller, Ryan Holiday “emphasizes the value of low prices and word of mouth over press coverage. Raymond Chandler, he writes, became the ‘quintessential detective author’ because he encouraged his publishers to sell his books as pulp paperbacks, for 25 cents a copy. Suddenly his books went from selling a few thousand copies in bookstores to hundreds of thousands in gas stations, train stations and cigar stores. Humphrey Bogart as Philip Marlowe followed.”

“Likewise, the comedian Drew Carey’s long run on network television began with an invitation from Johnny Carson to appear on “The Tonight Show.” Validation by one person whose opinion is valued, Mr. Holiday argues, is worth all the press coverage in the world.”

“Iron Maiden has never relied on hit singles or frequent radio play, since its songs often run to 10 minutes, with solos from each of its three guitarists. Instead, the band has toured almost nonstop, building close connections with thousands of fans who now buy almost anything it puts out, from albums to beer to belt buckles. Its core of hard-core fans, Mr. Holiday writes, has allowed Iron Maiden to ‘endure through fads, technological shifts, and the fact that their music was never mainstream’.”

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Kellogg Story: The Battle of Battle Creek

Bryan Burrough: “If by chance you are reading this over your morning cornflakes, be warned … it turns out that the turn-of-the-last-century origin and evolution of the cereal industry was a very nasty and unpleasant bit of business, as Howard Markel chronicles in The Kelloggs: The Battling Brothers of Battle Creek … Dr. Markel, a professor of medical history at the University of Michigan, tells the story not only of two titans of American commerce and medicine, the brothers John Harvey and William Keith Kellogg, but of the institutions they founded, John’s Battle Creek Sanitarium and Will’s Kellogg cereal colossus—not to mention their long-running feud, one of the more spectacular in the annals of business.”

“Many of John’s patients struggled with the age’s great scourge, ‘dyspepsia,’ a medley of gas, diarrhea, heartburn and upset stomach. An American diet long on animal fat, salt and sugar produced what one historian called ‘the great American stomach ache’ … The Kelloggs (and others) thought that an easily digestible corn cereal might solve all the problems.” However, John “refused to aggressively sell the Kellogg cereal because he thought it unseemly for a medical doctor, and his increasingly famous sanitarium (“the San”), to sell a commercial product.”

Will “made a deal with John to leave the San and start a cereal company of his own, which in time became a global conglomerate. Litigation between the two brothers began almost before the first Corn Flakes box could be shipped from Will’s factory. John sued. Will countersued when John finally sold a cereal of his own. The litigation went on for years, finally ending only in 1920, by which point the damage was irreparable … In the end, the Kellogg brothers’ fortunes reversed. Will, dour and lonely, became one of the country’s wealthiest men … John, though internationally famous well into the 1930s, slowly lost many of his holdings, including, in 1920, the sanitarium itself.”

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