Micromerch: Statements for Daily Life

The New York Times: Here comes micromerch:”personal merchandise for niche public figures and celebrities (or even not-yet celebrities) made possible by innovations in manufacturing and distribution, and with mechanisms greased by the ease of the internet. Consider it the modern-day equivalent of the private-press LP or the small-batch zine, amplified for social media and very late capitalism … small-batch merch — a couple dozen to a couple thousand items — can be made available for almost anyone, from emergent social media or reality TV demicelebrities to casual dadaists who toy with the dissemination of ideas in the modern marketplace. In an era when personal branding is presumed, no following is too small to monetize.”

“Want to show support for Sean Bryan, a.k.a. the Papal Ninja, an American Ninja Warrior contestant and lay minister? There’s a shirt (and laptop case) for that. Enthralled by the 1980s sunglasses worn by the rubber-legged teen social media star Roy Purdy in his absurdist dance videos? For a while, he sold them, too. Obsessed with Gordie, the French bulldog owned by Alex Tumay, who engineers Young Thug’s records? Buy a shirt.”

“Peloton, the home indoor cycling business, has a stable of a dozen instructors, and sells merch inspired by each. Jill Foley, Peloton’s director of boutique apparel, said the company has sold hundreds of T-shirts and tank tops with instructor catchphrases like ‘It’s Not That Deep’ (Cody Rigsby) and ‘Sweat Sing Repeat’ (Jenn Sherman).” She comments: “We’re getting messages to people in this micro way. We’re in people’s homes in their daily life.”

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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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Dept. of Social: Community Shopping

The Wall Street Journal: “Going to a department store might seem like simply shopping, but it’s also a chance to practice civil behavior, to appreciate beautiful things, to feel a connection to others. In the 1970s, Bloomingdale’s was considered a New York City attraction on par with the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which, according to Robert Hendrickson, author of ‘The Grand Emporiums,’ was Bloomie’s only real competition when it came to meeting a possible romantic partner.”

“Last spring, inspired by memories of the excitement of shopping in New York in the 1980s, Bergdorf Goodman’s fashion director Linda Fargo opened Linda’s at BG, an in-store boutique stocked with her personal picks in everything from high heels to Squirrel nuts. ‘Online is efficient,’ Ms. Fargo said, ‘but nothing can replace touching things, looking in people’s faces. Sensuality—that’s what we can offer people’ … Nordstrom executives appeared to be thinking along similar lines in 2013 when they hired Olivia Kim, formerly of New York-based Opening Ceremony, to make the store more relevant to younger customers.”

“As Nordstrom’s vice president of creative projects, Ms. Kim has initiated a series of pop-up boutiques and brought in buzzy, Instagram-friendly designers like Marine Serre and Jacquemus. But her proudest achievement, she said, is seeing Nordstrom used as a hangout space by customers: ‘Not everything needs to be transactional. I’m more interested in that they’ve learned something, that they feel energized and excited’ … As Harry Gordon Selfridge, founder of Selfridges, once said, ‘a store should be a social center.’ Department stores are taking note.”

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Fonts of Success: How Typeface Builds Brands

The New York Times: “When ads for the Netflix show ‘Stranger Things’ first appeared in 2016, the glowing, blood-red, unevenly shaded font that spelled out the title told viewers exactly what they could expect. The retro typeface — and a haunting, one-minute title video — became synonymous with the supernatural thriller series and, as the show gained in popularity, memes centered largely around its instantly recognizable title have become plentiful … Hollywood has long known this marketing trick, with movie studios strategically choosing fonts, colors and lighting for a film title that will reflect its tone and genre.”

“When Southwest Airlines revamped its brand in 2014, it overhauled its font and logo as part of the upgrade. It wanted to create the image of an airline that cared about customer loyalty — one that had heart. So, Southwest changed its all-caps Helvetica font to a thicker, custom-made Southwest Sans font that included lowercase letters — changes meant to convey a softer, friendlier tone.” Southwest communications director Helen Limpitlaw comments: “We’ve definitely seen an increase in revenue, an increase in bookings and brand momentum.”

“In 2002, Monster Beverage rolled out its Monster Energy drink logo, which featured three neon-green claw-marks in the shape of an ‘M’ on a black background, with ‘Monster’ in white Gothic-like lettering under it. The eye-catching logo and colors exuded energy and youth and connected with fans of sports like snowboarding and Formula One racing, who were its target customers … Now, 16 years later, Monster’s logo remains valuable and recognizable.”

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Mistaken Identities: Fake Birthdates Foil Facebook

The Wall Street Journal: “A recent survey of U.S., French, German, Italian and British consumers found that 41% had intentionally falsified personal information when signing up for products and services online. Most common was providing a fake phone number … Respondents also said they have provided a false birth date, made up a postal address, lied about a name or selected the wrong gender.”

“All the lying does seem to foil advertisers. It is ‘a much bigger problem than people are aware of,’ says Nick Baker, director of research and consulting of U.K. market research company Verve, which conducted a 2015 survey showing a large amount of fake information on website registrations and the like. Incorrect birth years, he says, are particularly nefarious because advertisers are often trying to match up habits or buying patterns with a specific age group.”

“But some companies that provide data to marketers say they are depending less and less on biographical information. Preethy Vaidyanathan, the chief product officer of New York-based marketing technology company Tapad, says they track much more valuable information from phone and web browser use.”

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Retail Politics: Is Fast Fashion Tone Deaf?

The New York Times: “Every once in a while, tucked into the stream of speedily made garments rushed into stores, designs with shockingly bad taste stand out: a shirt comparing women to dogs at Topman, symbols of the Holocaust on a top at Zara … Retail experts blame a heated competitive environment, where companies, many of them based in Europe, are spread thin trying to cater to a global customer base that is easily bored, is extremely demanding and can buy almost anything via e-commerce. Many brands develop a cavalier attitude: Churn out products now, ask forgiveness later.”

“Earlier this year, H&M, one of the largest clothing retailers in the world … was taken to task over a children’s hoodie emblazoned with the phrase ‘coolest monkey in the jungle’ and modeled in marketing materials by a young black boy. The description, which has been used to dehumanize black people, set off protests at South African stores that left mannequins toppled and racks overturned. In the aftermath, H&M chose a lawyer and company insider, Annie Wu, to lead a new four-person team at its Stockholm headquarters focused on global diversity and inclusiveness.” She comments: “We didn’t recognize that in this now new age of transparency, what the brand stands for is super important to people.”

“Fast fashion companies, which specialize in low-priced, quickly produced clothing and have grown faster than the apparel industry as a whole for years, are under pressure to be more prolific and provocative as they sell across more borders. H&M, which added 479 stores last year, now has more than 4,000 stores in dozens of countries … retail experts said that much of the creative process takes place in and around its European home office, far from many of its markets … Fast fashion has produced tone-deaf products for years, passing them off as a rounding error given the enormous volume of items the companies generate each year … Several companies have pledged to diversify hiring, retool corporate guidelines and initiate other measures to prevent mistakes from going out the door.”

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Music Deluge: Is More Less?

The Wall Street Journal: “It has never been easier to listen to vast quantities of music, discover new artists and create, distribute and promote your own tunes. But there’s a downside: It is harder for artists to break through the cacophony of today’s global pop-music machine. And some fans, already struggling to keep up with television, social media and other entertainment, are feeling overwhelmed.”

“The amount of music released globally in 2017 is roughly seven times the amount released in 1960, according to data from Discogs.com, a user-generated database of physical recordings. Nearly 150,000 new albums saw at least one physical or digital sale in the U.S. last year, according to Nielsen. While older Nielsen figures aren’t comparable due to data issues, they show the number of new albums rising from 36,000 in 2000 to about 77,000 in 2011.”

“Not long ago, record labels operated on a less-is-more strategy, seeking to avoid cannibalizing an artist’s album sales by putting out yet another one too soon. In the CD era, the costs of producing and distributing each album made it important to make higher-grossing albums to ensure profits. With streaming, those costs aren’t as high, and labels have a greater incentive to own, release and re-release more music … Mark Mulligan, a music-industry analyst at MIDiA Research, says distributors are making money based on quantity, not quality.”

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New Media: Think Different & Inky

The New York Times: “At a time when traditional food magazines are shrinking and cutting staff, Dill is part of an unexpected groundswell across the country: a wave of small, sophisticated print magazines, produced on a shoestring by young editors with strong points of view and a passion for their subjects … The last few years have brought new titles like Ambrosia, Compound Butter, Jarry, Kitchen Toke, Peddler and Kitchen Work. Kimberly Chou and Amanda Dell direct the Food Book Fair and Foodieodicals, an annual fair for independent magazines; Ms. Chou said the number of participating titles had increased to 30 last year, from about a dozen in 2012.”

“Despite some off-putting names — like Toothache or Mold — many of these publications are beautiful and inviting, with ink-saturated pages filled with original art, and nuanced, complex stories you want to spend time digesting. Their cover prices are fittingly high, with many around $20, and a few don’t even bother to post their content online, focusing entirely on print … Most of these magazines come together as a labor of love, in chunks of spare time carved out on nights and weekends … small teams with low overheads may be able to pay for the costs of printing and freelance contributors, usually with a mix of sales, brand partnerships and events.”

“Despite all the challenges, some titles persist and grow. Gather Journal, a recipe magazine with high-art styling and photography, has been in print since 2012. And the literary magazine Put a Egg on It, founded by Sarah Keough and Ralph McGinnis, has been printing essays, comics and poetry on its sage-green pages for a decade.”

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Eateries Experiment with Split-Menu Pricing

The Wall Street Journal: “When the Michelin-starred, Paris-based chef Joël Robuchon opened his high-end L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon restaurant in the Meatpacking District last November, he had it share space with his “elegant, yet approachable” Le Grill de Joël Robuchon concept. At the former, a main course can cost as much as $135 and tasting menus run $145 to $265. At the latter, there is a three-course prix-fixe menu for $65. All prices include tipping.”

“Agern, the Nordic-inspired restaurant in Grand Central Terminal that also offers $100-plus tasting menus, has taken another approach to pricing. In recent weeks, it has expanded its a la carte offerings—even going so far as to add a burger and chicken wings, albeit in gourmet-minded versions. The $26 burger, for example, is made with a secret-spice mix, according to chef Gunnar Gíslason, and is served on a bun seasoned with smoked salt and vegetable ‘ash’.”

“Ultimately, each restaurant may have its individual reasons for adopting lower-price models and approaches. But if there is a common thread, it is the increased emphasis on casual dining in our culinary culture, says Arlene Spiegel, a New York-based hospitality consultant. Today’s diner ‘doesn’t want the restaurant to tell them what to wear or how much to spend,’ she says. ‘They want to feel welcome whether they are in jeans or tuxedos’.”

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Scrunchies Make a Comeback

The Wall Street Journal: “Women are wearing scrunchies again—in public, and most notably, to the office, where their presence is producing reactions ranging from unbridled enthusiasm, to jokes that might not be jokes, to silent judgment. Some scrunchie fans wonder if they will be taken seriously while wearing one. For an answer, they can look to Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who made a decision long ago to stick to scrunchies: “I have been wearing scrunchies for years. My best scrunchies come from Zurich. Next best, London, and third best, Rome. My scrunchie collection is not as large as my collar and glove collections, but scrunchies are catching up.”

“W Magazine included scrunchies on its trend list for 2018. Scrunchies appeared on the runway at New York Fashion Week in September during the Mansur Gavriel show. Balenciaga included a lambskin scrunchie in its 2018 resort collection (they call it a chouchou bracelet) that retails for $195. And Urban Outfitters said it saw a 170% growth in scrunchie sales in 2017. Some in the pro-scrunchie camp say they’re gentler than elastics and easy, like sweatpants for your hair. Scrunchie haters say…they’re like sweatpants for your hair.”

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