A testing we will go

We received three emails from a father participating in our technical trial.

Email 1: He’s on page 15 already and is making a stink about going to bed.

Email 2: I had to physically remove the laptop from his eager little hands.

Email 3: He just asked: “before I go to school in the morning, instead of watching tv, can I do that thing?”

We think this is good. Or we’re just going to start a lot of family fights.

Ode to Trent Reznor and Amanda Palmer

by Storybird on April 7, 2009

Nine Inch Nails_jtfdzn_flickr

What bullhorn Trent Reznor and cabaret-queen Amanda Palmer can teach artists about going it alone and the fan/artist relationship

If you watch the internets, you may have seen some recent link love going out to Nine Inch Nails Trent Reznor and Dresden Dolls Amanda Palmer, both fast becoming poster boy/girl for “artists on their own.”

Reznor was featured in Wired unveiling the new NIN iPhone app and explaining his strategy for NIN.com and how to monetize his growing fan database. The singer has been untethered from his label Interscope for almost two years.

Palmer, using slightly less finesse but with great clarity, was featured in an industry pundit’s newsletter explaining her attempts to wrangle free from her label while simultaneously exalting life without the middleman.

While both posts are a must read for any artist contemplating how to make money on their own, here’s a quick analysis with some accompanying quotes.

First, Reznor’s thinking of the fan first:

“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I don’t think music should be free,” Reznor says. “But the climate is such that it’s impossible for me to change that, because the record labels have established a sense of mistrust. So everything we’ve tried to do has been from the point of view of, ‘What would I want if I were a fan? How would I want to be treated?’ Now let’s work back from that. Let’s find a way for that to make sense and monetize it.”

Second, he’s tweaking off-the-shelf tools rather than building new:

Over the past year, NIN.com has quietly evolved into a series of interlocking services designed to deliver maximum benefit to the fans at minimal expense to the artist. To build it out, Reznor decided to use off-the-shelf resources — Blogger, Twitter, FeedBurner, Flickr, YouTube — rather than trying to duplicate what other people had already created. “They’re going to do a better job than we are,” he explains, “and they’re going to have a lot more resources to put into it.”

Third, he’s using a Freemium model to make money:

To cover the costs of recording and distributing the album, Reznor also offered The Slip as a limited-edition CD for $10. Even as he urged fans to download and share the album online, he sold 250,000 numbered copies of the CD. The album is also available on iTunes for $9.90. “So we managed to permeate the marketplace,” Reznor says, “and we also managed to monetize the album.”

Finally, he recognizes that his database is his new core asset:

The one part of NIN.com that Reznor had custom-built is the piece that sits at the center of it all: the database of fan info that has been harvested from the registration process that’s required to take full advantage of the site. That database, created by Sudjam, is what makes the tie-ins with Flickr and YouTube work, but it’s also given Reznor 2 million e-mail addresses — which adds up to a pretty powerful distribution network.

This line from Peter Jenner, once manager to The Clash and Pink Floyd, sums it up:

“There’s an enormous value in having a relationship with your fans,” he says. “More value even than in selling your records. I think old Trent’s a sharp cookie.”

The Dresden Dolls, Amanda Palmer, crazyjaneski, flickr

Palmer’s open letter is much shorter, but equally studded with insights.

First, she’s recognizing that a middleman is just that: someone between her and her fans:

i had to EXPLAIN to the so-called “head of digital media” of roadrunner australia WHAT TWITTER WAS. and his brush-off that “it hasn’t caught on here yet” was ABSURD because the next day i twittered that i was doing an impromptu gathering in a public park and 12 hours later, 150 underage fans – who couldn’t attend the show – showed up to get their records signed.

Second, she’s seen the power of direct engagement:

i brought a troupe of back-up actors/dancers on the tour (we were only playing 300-1000 seaters) and had no money to pay them, so we passed the hat into the crowd every night. each performer walked from each show with about $200 in cash. the fans TOOK CARE OF THEM. they brought us dinner every night, gave us places to sleep. (i couldn’t afford to put up that many people in hotels). all sans label, all using email and twitter. the fans followed the adventure. they LOVED HELPING.

Finally, she’s understanding the value of Freemium:

the times they are a-changing fucking dramatically, when pong-twittering with trent reznor means way more to your fan-base/business than whether or not the record is in fucking stores (and in my case, it ain’t in fucking stores).

While there’s a whack of business lessons here for established and emerging artists, what stuck with us most was Palmer’s final comment and how it captures the fan/artist connection:

my fans hung out with me all day on twitter today while i unpacked weird tour shit, fan art, gifts and paraphernalia that usually just ends up in my closet or in the trash and took pictures of it for them.

Indeed, the times they are-a-changin’.

Photo credits: Trent Reznor by Joel Fauorte | Amanda Palmer by Crazy Jane

ABC…we love thee

by Mark on April 4, 2009

moleskin-alphabet_wilbur

Moleskin Alphabet by Wil Freeborn (@ghostschool). Large version here.

Clay noir

by Laszlo on April 4, 2009

mrscroode_takes_a_walk

Mr. Scroode Takes a Walk by Jessica Fortner. (Link no longer available.)

Sneak peek #1

by Mark on April 2, 2009

A first glimpse at Storymaker, the engine inside Storybird that lets you play with words and pictures to create a story. (Toggle the full screen icon on the player for best effect.)

Story art by the talented and deviously charming Paul McDougall. Be sure to visit his adorable creatures.

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Birdwatching

by Laszlo on April 1, 2009

Duck

Justin Hillgrove’s Touring the City via Little Chimp Society.

Is Sid your kid?

by Mark on March 31, 2009

Toy-story_sid

Remember Sid from Toy Story? He’s the brat who ripped apart his toys and hacked them into byzantine creatures. In the story arc, he’s definitely an “antagonist.”

But is Sid so bad? Possibly not, thinks Lance Knobel. He’s got a great post about the differences between Sid and Andy (the “good” kid who owns Buzz and Woody) and how they represent two distinct approaches to education. The jist? Andy learns the rules, Sid breaks them. And breaking/hacking/challenging the rules—particularly early and often—is a powerful learning tool.

Knobel quotes a friend and author…

As I was watching the movie, I was wondering which of those two kids — Andy or Sid — is actually learning more from the way he’s playing with his toys… Sid actually could be learning an awful lot more — he was actually taking things apart and putting them back together, learning how to make new toys… As I see it, whoever’s doing the inventing is also doing most of the learning — and probably having most of the fun.

…before going on to summarize:

A Sid-based education would encourage children to invent and explore, to chart their own paths, to defy conventions, to explore dead ends as well as promising boulevards.

For our part, we’re firm believers in the school of “do.” Creating things cultivates a sensory experience that leaves a tangible imprint on the synapses AND the soul. Our brain learns because we have to challenge our knowledge and logic, but our body holds onto the lesson as in imprint, a reflex not unlike learning a craft or sport.

The next time your daughter rips the head off her Barbie and shoves it onto her pencil, remember: creation is sometimes preceeded by destruction. (If she keeps doing it, though, you may want to charge her for lab experiments. Hackers should also learn to pay for their sandbox.)

On penguins and Harry Potter

by Laszlo on March 30, 2009

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

M.S. Corley redesigns Harry Potter a la Penguin Classics.

Although it is Sunday, we had not planned on reading comics until Storybird tipster dger pointed our beak to Joel Johnson’s blog and his post on Wally Wood’s “22 Panels that Always Work.” (Large version here.)

wally-wood_22-panels

We had seen Wood’s panel before and, like many, assumed he used it as a catalogue of ideas to mentor other artists. But Johnson, who purchased a hi-rez scan of the original paste-up in New York, contacted Wood’s previous assistant to ask about the origin of the document.

Ironically (and rather understandably), Wood didn’t so much use the manual to help other artists as he did to reduce his workload by avoiding unncessary choices. Larry Hama, Wood’s assistant, explained:

I don’t believe that Woody put the examples together as a teaching aid for his assistants, but rather as a reminder to himself. He was always trying to kick himself to put less labor into the work! He had a framed motto on the wall, “Never draw anything you can copy, never copy anything you can trace, never trace anything you can cut out and paste up.” He hung the sheets with the panels on the wall of his studio to constantly remind himself to stop what he called “noodling.”

We are now wondering if such a pithy visual guide exists for building startups focused on collaborative storytelling.

London Calling

by Mark on March 28, 2009

We are smitten with Tom Gauld and Simone Lia, illustrators both and owners of Cabanon Press in the UK.

We direct your attention to Exhibit A, Tom’s Characters for an Epic Tale:

Characters for an Epic Tale

Tom’s wit is only surpassed by Simone’s warmth:

Things I like

If your cruel, hardened heart hasn’t come to life yet, we leave you with the masterstroke:

The street that Tom Waits grew up on

Many thanks to Creative Review for the profile and Michael Nobbs for the tweet.