Under the Influence of Books

One author has shaped my cranium more than any other, and that’s a mixed blessing. Daniel Pinkwater is author and sometimes illustrator of over 100 (and counting) books. He is also an occasional commentator on National Public Radio‘s All Thing Considered and appears regularly on Weekend Edition Saturday, where he reviews kids’ books.

My first exposure to his work was via a children’s television program which read the first few chapters of Lizard Music, the story of a boy left home alone while his parents vacation and his sister roadtrips. He stays up late watching his favorite programs, then awakens to a pirate broadcast of intelligent lizards. Intrigued, he seeks out the source of the broadcast with the help of a homeless street performer, the Chicken Man.

I was hooked. The masterful means Pinkwater employed to make the bizarre adventure an engaging read was wholly new, and remains so. I never felt spoon-fed or pandered-to. Every detail was related matter-of-factly. And the protagonists were neither the average yet repressed ilk of young adult fiction nor the Encyclopedia Brown w√ľnderkinds of middle readers. Pinkwater’s characters have rumpled shirts, acne, braces and are often pudgy outcasts. They’re also risk-takers, befriend dangerous strangers and sneak out of the house late at night.

I kept returning to the children’s section for more Pinkwater. I befriended the children’s librarian, and found I was returning as much to visit her as to get new book recommendations. By age 16, I was publishing my own zines and comics and meeting dangerous strangers through the mail and visiting the children’s librarian at her home because she was my first real crush.

In retrospect, I liken the effect of reading Pinkwater (I’ve read 80 of his books and own 30) to the sense of wonder boys must have felt reading Huckleberry Finn. Surely it inspired interracial kinship and raft rides? The way Alan Mendelsohn, the Boy from Mars inspired me to court a children’s librarian 20 years my senior? Whatever; reading Daniel Pinkwater changed my life. Usually for the better.


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Commerce and Culture meet, get along, but no sparks fly

I have been effectively marketed-to by a short list of bands 1) releasing an album early online-only, 2) announcing a prestige packaging / limited edition version of an album available between certain dates in brick & mortar stores or 3) giving fans on their mailing list first ability to purchase live concert tickets online.

In each case, I felt duly incentivized and clicked outside of the email ad to an external site, where I had to register all over again and navigate a checkout process, OR, better, I stepped away from the computer, left my home and bought something using my real phalanges and dirty green wallet-lining.

Each instance demonstrated the same pattern: 1) I would have bought it anyway, the email blast made we aware of its existence, and 2) they advertised things which I’d grown accustomed to purchasing elsewhere and convinced me not to put off the purchase, but compromise and but now. It didn’t feel more convenient. I like record stores and would be visiting one soon anyway. The only campaign that prompted greater revenue was one which convinced me to buy the same album twice, once as pre-release mp3, then months later on vinyl record.

If I translate that to myself as a marketer using online tools, I really need a good email list of people who voluntarily signed up for updates. Such individuals will happily open my can of spam, taste it and not complain that it’s too salty. Then they will need to feel that their relationship with me is exclusive, limited, VIP. Because they feel special, I’ll offer something in short supply, to collect and relish, to strengthen customer loyalty. Then, by strategically releasing my commodity in stages to various tier markets, each segment can feel it was uniquely addressed and supplied.

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R.I.P. Alfred Knopf Jr. & Lux Interior

A prominent publisher of distinguished hardcover fiction and nonfiction, the Alfred A Knopf company was founded in 1915; it was acquired by Random House in 1960. Since its founding, Knopf has paid close attention to design and typography, employing some of the United States’ most recognized book designers. In 1991, Knopf revived the Everyman’s Library series of classics of world literature in affordable hardcover editions originally published in England in the early twentieth century for a shilling apiece. Albert Knopf Jr. left the noted publishing house run by his parents Alfred and Blanche Wolf Knopf to become one of the founders of Atheneum Publishers in 1959.

The Cramps‘ Lux Interior born Erick Lee Purkhiser on October 21, 1946 died February 4, 2009 (aged 62). He met his wife Kristy Wallace, better known as Poison Ivy or Ivy Rorschach, in Sacramento in 1972, allegedly while she was hitchhiking. They were part of the early CBGB punk movement that had emerged in New York. By being the first known band to blend punk rock with rockabilly, The Cramps are widely recognized as innovators.

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More On (moron) Online Identity Management

I subscribe to Google alerts pertaining to my name. Apparently, it’s a common one. Primarily, I get death announcements and sports updates. There’s a Danny Norton who does extreme motocross, a boxer named Danny Norton and a character actor named Danny Norton. Meanwhile, I manage my identity as Danny Norton the stand-up comic, cofounder of a sketch ensemble, when I perform my ventriloquism karaoke act I’m Danny & Lester and in my band The Golden Greats I’m Dr. Nono, for which I manage a CD Baby identity, Portland Mercury listing, MySpace, page and Facebook profile. Then there are the pseudonyms. I use ElFrenetico here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here. When I want to promote to the rockabilly and exotic Vintage Roadside target, here.

When I want to promote my DJ or music video VJ gigs, I have other online IDs than what I use to show off my illustration or photography.

Is there an impetus for a unified identity? My reputation and credentials across so many sites paint a very hodge-podge portrait, but even so, I’d like to outshine the other Danny Nortons if it gets me a job, a gig or an opportunity.

So far there are some companies offering a pricey service to round up online info and help manage it for you. It’s not an attractive option. Another would be to go delete all but key accounts and manage photos, videos, podcasts, blogs, resumes and the like from a unified site. I just found out dannynorton.com is available again.

I’ve tried using Flock, the social networking-specialized browser which updates activity (yours and friends) across popular sites in tiles visible or collapsible at any time. I thought it was kind-of neat until it slowed my 6-year-old computer to a crawl. Then I made a wild guess at their target market based on the big buttons. Kids? Really? The Trapper Keeper motif would put me off as a kid. My eyesight and manual dexterity aren’t challenged if I’m a kid. Let’s face it, if I’m a kid I want an instrument panel, but still appreciate navigability. I want to be recognized for my mature, sophisticated grasp on technology, not spoon-fed a bunch of colorful stickers. As an adult, I wouldn’t mind being mistaken for being younger, but still not by being pandered-to with emoticons and flash, but by hip, informative links where I can resize text for my failing vision.

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EMail Accounts Manage Multiple Personalities

Remember when Jason Bourne opens his safety deposit box to find a pile of passports, each from a different port of call, each purporting a different identity? Very handy for a sleeper assassin, just as different email accounts prove very useful for everyone in managing information overload.

I like consolidation, simplicity and easy retrieval of information. My first email account through Oklahoma State University had a typically spartan interface and expired months after my last registration, so in 1998 I started my first Hotmail account. “Why pay for email hosting,” I thought, and after I watched service providers folding or being taken over, was glad I hadn’t. By the way, Netscape Navigator was the browser en vogue with technorati, and showed no sign of losing ground to Microsoft Explorer.

By 2000, I was getting so much spam that a second, reply-to-only Hotmail account filtered running dialogues into a prioritized inbox. I returned to school in 2003 with my first Mac in tow, so learned how to access my pdx.edu webmail using Apple’s Mail application, avoiding the university’s clunky Web 1.0 and mass-mailings.

To join a stand-up comedy message board for Portland, I needed a Yahoo! account, even though my digests are sent elsewhere. Now that login accesses my flickr account and little else. I made an AOL ID for instant messaging, but found more friends used MSN IM. I opened some SMS account for mobile phone messaging too, but texting since became universal and required no outside hosting.

I’m very anal-retentive about cleaning out my inbox, so when GMail recently introduced labels (similar to Hotmail’s folders), I got a little excited. I keep action items visible and archive everything else in GMail, then cross my fingers that a boolean search of my 785 MB backlog will locate a specific thread. It doesn’t. I’m also anal-retentive about what I keep, so it’s real bummer to get a reminder of a tirade from an angry ex-girlfriend in a search for a password or software serial number.

I’ve stuck to primarily using one GMail account for everything requiring immediate attention, or which seems legitimate enough to trust it won’t sell my address to solicitors. It’s spam filter is merciless compared to Hotmail’s, which after specifying any number of filter parameters, can still be easy fooled. Saving myself from multiple logins, passwords and avatars has streamlined things. I even do all (if any) IM within GMail chat. Sometimes I feel like a catfish bottomfeeding a murky information pond, filtering so much muck each day for tiny bits of sustenance. Generally, I just feel like it’s a fact of modern life.

The DeSmurfi Code and The Skywalker Paradigm
Local raconteurs Illion Maybe and Jack Eggers use the LIGHTBAR realtime propaganda system to reveal the shocking untold truths behind the official histories of Luke Skywalker and the Smurfs!

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Print-On-Demand can actually add perceived value

Used to be, the notion of a book with a print-run of 500 or less must be a vanity press release and thus not deserving of serious attention. The paper was inferior, the covers would eventually fall apart and the color separations left a little to be desired. Print-on-demand books were earning a bad rap, but everyone saw the potential; a great title need never go out of print, a niche market title can be sold before the physical book even exists and the cost of warehousing or returning and remaindering books might be eliminated.

Circuit Bending: Build Your Own Alien Instruments is a book on my half.com wishlist. I’m in to that sort of thing, OK? It’s list price is list price $29.99 and on Feb. 10, 2009 copies were available for between $11.04 – 40.30. What? An obscure paperback with a VERY specific audience and no critical acclaim has multiple listings from online vendors selling it ABOVE list price? Curious. Or is it?

How I Paid for College: A Novel of Sex, Theft, Friendship & Musical Theater is another title which immediately caught my attention. Portland author, pithy humor, larger audience and arguably more demand. Great reviews from credible sources, hardback first edition, 288 pages. But scarcity? The book’s list price is $19.95, but countless copies are available for $0.75. Perhaps a calculated injection into the market, in stages, or “on-demand,” you might say, would have served Broadway Publishing very well. The perceived value to the consumer plummeted. Now, thousands of copies may flow through the mail system at $0.75 apiece, making Mark Acito’s College seem a more viable entry in the annals of book business, but an interesting capitalist phenomenon called first-sale doctrine secures that Broadway will never see a dime from such book trafficking. Once a book becomes a remainder, it has been sold and subsequent resales at deep discounts cement the price customers are EVER willing to pay for that title.

Danny Norton's Facebook profile

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