I was reading music magazine The Fader’s cover story on rapper Mac Miller and the first anecdote resonated with me.
The story starts with Miller hunting for copies of his second album, Watching Movies with the Sound Off, in Target, the day after the album’s release. The store nearest his home in Los Angeles had one copy. “Mac dutifully gave it to a fan before confirming that this Target, and presumably all Targets nationwide, had only ordered somewhere between six and 10 copies each,” The Fader’s Andrew Noz writes. Noz continues:
“Mac is mystified at that number, considering that his previous effort, 2011’s Blue Slide Park, sold 145,000 copies in its first week and was the first independent album to debut at the top of the Billboard charts in 16 years. Conversations with Target staff proved less than enlightening. ‘They told me that they do algorithms,’ he laments. ‘I was like, Word…uh…just take my album and put it in an algorithm. All this hard work just for a fucking algorithm!'”
That’s what it’s like in any creative industry. After you put your heart and soul into your work, it probably won’t be reviewed by anyone who dares to go with his/her gut, like famed stylist and fashion editor Polly Mellen, who took to heart the advice of her mentor, Carmel Snow: “Go see every designer everywhere. You never know where the next talent is coming from.” There aren’t many people like Mellen anymore, but there are plenty of people who hire computer programmers to try to tell them what will sell. What really amused me about the Miller situation is that even if the limited inventory sells out, Target can theoretically say, “But you only sold six units per store! That’s not enough!” (I’ve got an email in to Target to try to confirm the number of units carried per store.) That kind of math reminds me of the logic of a humorous birthday card I saw that said, “Statistics show that people with the most birthdays live the longest.”
I was looking for cards because yesterday was MrB’s birthday — lucky number 71! We celebrated with dinner at one of our favorite restaurants, Balthazar. While studying the menu, MrB chuckled over the $2,000 price tag on a “Balthazar” of Champagne, but I was like, “Hold up, Mr. Laugh-Head.” A Balthazar is an oversize bottle equivalent to 16 regular bottles of Champagne, or 96 glasses (by some counts). That’s about $21 a glass, so it is not a bad purchase for high-end restaurant bubbly. We still didn’t buy the Balthazar at Balthazar, however, because we weren’t in the mood to consume 48 glasses each. Not on a school night, anyway.
I wore my new favorite dress for the occasion: the pleather-lightning-bolt Castelbajac that I got in Paris this summer. I like the belled shape of the skirt. It’s different for me.
Dress: JC de Castelbajac (2013)
Shoes: Prada (2010)
Purse: Louis Vuitton (2001)
Lip color: MAC’s Pro Longwear Lipcolor in Lasting Lust
Going back to my thoughts on selling creative work, yesterday I also took note of an item in the New York Times, announcing that first-time novelist Sergio De La Pava was the big winner in the 2013 PEN Literary Awards. De La Pava got the $25,000 PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize, given to a promising debut work of fiction. The Times said:
“A Naked Singularity, Mr. De La Pava’s nearly 700-page novel about a public defender, has a remarkable history. Originally self-published in 2008, the book slowly generated buzz on blogs before being picked up by the University of Chicago Press, a distinguished publisher not known for its contemporary fiction.”
This jumped out at me because I know someone who is shopping around a novel. “Helpful” feedback has included remarks along the lines of “no one will ever publish a 600-page book by a first-time author.” Well, I guess De La Pava proved that wrong. My writer friend has also heard “multiple points of view will never sell.” For that, I can only respond with, “Let me introduce you to A Game of Thrones.” I’m happy to say my writer friend isn’t perturbed. She calmly said to me that people who are afraid to form their own opinions or to verbalize the ones they have will instead offer specious “facts” to justify their decisions. Or, in the case of large retailers, “algorithms.” I’ll have to keep this in mind next time someone tells me my IDGAF/skull-heavy jewelry line is “mainstream.”
At least these days, creative people have more ways to reach the public directly. There is self-publishing for writers, mixtapes for musicians, YouTube for aspiring comedians, e-commerce websites for jewelers and so on. It’s nice to be able to cut out the middlemen!
This post is by turns depressing and life-affirming. I love your bitchtastic business posts.
I also love the dress. Doesn’t the AC in restaurants give you chills though?
Nope! Not so bad in NYC. Not like in Hong Kong. It’s crazy there!
Amber of Butane Anvil says
Great angular bag with fabulous SHAZAM! dress, which is such a beautiful shape. How do you not get distracted by all the Greased-Lightning-Thunderstruck-Ballroom-Blitz-Boheniam-Rhapsody theme songs???
Besides eliminating access to exposure / marketing / availability for so many creators of truly excellent stuff, the thing I hate about business algorithms is how they combine with corporate monopolies to support deadly homogenization and watered-down dreck rising to the top. Bleah!
Amber of Butane Anvil says
*Bohemian (the champagne buckets talking, lol)
An algorithm is probably responsible for that awful Lone Ranger remake that bombed recently. The studio probably did some math and concluded “This will be a big hit.”
Amber of Butane Anvil says
Yes, the current uniformly and unbearably bad state of movies & TV, prime example!
I’ve followed your blog for some time – and used to comment under a different name. None of that really matters, but…
About 18 months ago I changed my personal blog to an Indie book review blog and have slowly (very slowly) been gaining a bit of ground with it. I think there is a special place for all things Indie – books, music, fashion – and there needs to be that voice to shout it out from the proverbial rooftops that Indie is here to stay and it’s getting bigger and better.
Happy Birthday to Mr. B!
Happy you’re here under any name! 🙂
Susan Partlan says
Please wish Mr. B a belated Happy Birthday!
Big retailers can use algorithms all they want, but people are starting to tune out and seek out the Indies, because people are getting sick of the stuff big retailers are selling.
Yep, gets boring!