Who is Your City? Tyler Brûlé, Part II

February 7, 2009 at 4:21 am

Here is where Tyler Brûlé comes into the picture. This is the man who essentially picks up where Richard Floridaa drops it. Brûlé is not only aware of the ‘spikiness’ of the world today and of the intense condensation of creativity in some of its select spots. Unlike Florida who forsakes his important premises and volunteers to limit his findings to the US (a place that can easily be questioned as a sole source of innovation today), Brûlé identifies the places where creativity thrives. And then he spend all his time circulating between these places and reporting on them.

No wonder, his itinerary does not go through North America very often. He much prefers touching down in Tokyo, Copenhagen, Seoul, Zurich, or Sydney. A native of far away Canadian prairies, Brûlé is a man of inexhaustible determination and commitment to propagating the lifestyle that he has discovered for himself and has made a selling point for others. He still mostly goes by the fame of having founded Wallpaper, the great design magazine that is still better known than his more recent project, Monocle.

I do not know why he has left Wallpaper and has come to develop other projects, but Brûlé is now mostly focused on projects that promote the creative lifestyle and the places that people like Florida miss out on. He tried a short-lived TV show (I believe it was on BBC TV 4) and is now mostly visible through ventures like Monocle magazine (and a recent shop in London and other locations), and his writing for the Financial Times.

Brûlé writes a weekly column for Saturday’s Lifestyle section of the Financial Times, and has been doing so for about two years now. The topics are somewhat repetitive and reading his writing week after week gives the feeling of monotony and, ultimately, boredom. But what he talks about is, in principle, exciting to me: airports, design, modern architecture, user-friendly cities, comfortable travel, nice hotels, luxury shopping, global creativity. He is often quite critical of the country (England) and the city (London) where he is primarily based. This came across particularly clearly in a column entitled Band Aid’s Won’t Save Britain (18 July 2008), a piece which I found truly enjoyable as it was summarizing precisely what people like myself and friends think of this country’s misguided self-esteem and antiquated management styles. But, I am in the minority here, as usual. Brûlé’s ‘rants’ , especially when they get to praising non-Western locations and to criticizing the metropolitan hubs of the West (as it were, untouchable by default), routinely trigger angry (and sometimes approving) reactions from readers on the letter pages of the FT, as well as in the blogosphere or other media. Like this blog post, for example, which simply invites him to shut up.

Monocle magazine is Brûlé’s main undertaking at the moment. I have been subscribing for a year now, and feel I can say a few things about it ( my 14 year-old son, who is interested in style matters, reads it with great pleasure). I will not subscribe for the next period, though, as I did not think it was value for money: you see, while the magazine costs £5 if purchased in a shop, the subscription costs you £75 for 10 issues. I was curious to see what could possibly justify the 50% increase in price when subscribing, as the only identified extra benefit was access to the web-site. And now, after having had access to the web-site for a year, I do not think it is worth it, as even though the web-site is nice, there isn’t anything much on it to make me feel I have got my money’s worth. And I do not see the point paying for the chance to watch all sorts of promotional videos for which the publishers already have been paid by the promoter. Normally, subscriptions are cheaper than purchasing a magazine in a shop. Reversing this and making the subscription more expensive than a shop purchase is certainly a cunning approach to marketing, and I would be curious to find out if it has worked, in principle. I am sure that there are people out there who would feel nice to know that they are simply taking up the chance to spend more when they could spend less. I do not belong to this group, however.

Monocle the magazine engages in diverse promotion of a cosmopolitan yappy lifestyle for those who have good taste and who know that the nicest places to be are not the ones that Florida is discussing in his book but are more likely to be found today around Osaka or Stockholm. In line with the current manga-craze, the magazine has commissioned its own series, Kita Koga, which features the adventures of a young cross-breed advernturer, Niels Watanabe, and which is executed by a Japanese cartoonist and attached to each issue of the magazine (a collector’s item, in other words). Monocle features a range of articles on global cities, from Beirouth to Reykiavik, and never limits its worldview between the East and the West Coast. What I like about the magazine is its great vision of the world as a globalized place where a variety of people (and not only Americans) exist and spend their lives, its concern with livability and its daring encouragement of truly creative and diverse lifestyle choices, its excellent advertising and style trends features, its competence in assessing important aspects of modern travel, and, in general, its relentless concern with issues of the quality of life in the modern globalized age. What I do not like about Monocle is the repetitiveness of its endless lists (it feels like crushing monotony after some time), the tiny font size used, and the subscription price.

But even though I am dropping my subscription and will probably not continue following this publications, I cannot stop admiring Brûlé’s inventive entrepreneurship and his commitment to promoting his vision of the lifestyle of the creative classes (precisely the area where Florida fails so badly). Monocle is also used as a platform for selling stuff which is of the style and quality personally approved by the man in charge. There is an on-line shop, and there is a shop in London’s Marylebone, featuring items developed in partnerships with high brow brands such as Comme des Garçons (Japan/France) or Valextra (Italy), largely reflecting the nature of Brûlé’s global trendspotting travails. You can buy a small selection of high quality items at extremely high prices: the target audience here is clearly yappies with a good style sense. (It would be interesting to see if the venture will survive beyond the current financial downturn, provided we have already seen predictions that services that rely on the same clientele, like the Bloomberg media empire, may be severely affected soon). What I find particularly interesting is this ‘interdisciplinary’ entrepreneurship of sorts, which spans media (magazine, web-site with videos, on-line shop), advertising (some of the best advertising can be seen on the pages of this magazine), events (they have branched out in some conference organizing lately), and retail.

© Dina Iordanova
7 February 2009

Budding Channels of Peripheral Cinema

June 12, 2008 at 12:21 am

My new book — Budding Channels of Peripheral Cinema: The Long Tail of Global Film Distribution — is now out.

It deals with the ‘budding channels’ of global cinematic circulation in the Long Tail — circulation of films from smaller countries, film festivals, diasporic channels, and the Internet — which are finally being noticed but are still being studied independently from one another. Yet, there is growing and overarching acknowledgment that they increasingly interact and interlink in a hybrid and flexible manner. Wih this text I am trying to bring them all into perspective.

The book is published with one of the most-advanced Print on Demand pieces of software around — Blurb‘s Book Smart — probably the only one that can handle images of such quality that would satisfy the discerning needs of film studies folk. (I came across it after reading Stephen H. Wildstrom’s review in Business Week).

Hard cover

The Long Tail of Gl…
By Dina Iordanova

© Dina Iordanova
29 May 2008

Paris cinéphile

May 12, 2008 at 11:32 pm

For this year’s stay in Paris I decided to skip the traditional guidebooks and to rely on information that I would come across after arrival here. I was rewarded with the discovery of Parigramme’s series Paris est à nous.

Among their many interesting small guides on a host of topics, Gilles Renouard’s Paris cinéphile, is undoubtedly the most important one for me. We all know that Paris is the birthplace of cinema and that it is probably the city with the widest variety of cinema treats. Paris cinéphile, however, opened my eyes about the legendary small theaters where one can go to see a film in an afternoon, it told me who is who among the many film establishments around town, and revealed insider’s information about various clubs, specialized libraries and stores, and about the places where one can discuss cinema or find rarities. A great booklet, much better than any tourist guide!

While I no longer care of knowing the practicalities of visiting the Louvre or of shopping at Lafayette Galleries, I was truly pleased to discover other specialised booklets focused on those aspects of Paris that are closer to me, like L’art contemporain à Paris, Paris Design, Paris cool, but also booklets with practical advice, ranging from insights into the best clairvoyants (Les meilleurs voyants de Paris) , the best places to get designers clothes on sale (Les Meilleurs dépots-ventes de Paris), and practical advice on such issues of vital interest as becoming a real Parisian (Comment devenir une vraie Parisienne) through cooking like a Parisian chef (Cuisiner Comme un Chef a Paris 2007) to finding a ‘Jules’ (Trouver un Jules à Paris). Enjoy!

12 May 2008

© Dina Iordanova
12 May 2008

Shortening the Long Tail: Print on Demand and Amazon

May 11, 2008 at 2:09 am

The title of this post is to be credited to an entry found on the Blue Penciling blog. Indeed, with the controversy that develops over the past two months, it appears that the Long Tail is getting shorter, and that finding and accessing special-interest content will not be getting easier after all. Amazon’s changing treatment of Print on Demand books (namely that they are now ‘requiring that print-on-demand books be printed inside Amazon’s own fulfillment centers’ and are about to cease listing all those PoD books produced by outlets other than their own Book Surge) is a typical example of advancing vertical integration, reminiscent to the vertical integration of studios and theaters from Hollywood’s early years and to Miscrosoft’s default pairing of Explorer and Windows, both textbook examples of situations that led to high-profile anti-trust lawsuits.

It seems that Amazon is using its current dominance over the market to coerce small businesses to operating in a certain way and to using services over which it has a monopoly. This has triggered significant uproar from within the community of PoD publishers, who believe that Amazon’s behavior is not just outright bullying but amounts to a case for prosecution. A good rundown on the background to this story can be found on the Self-Publishing blog of Morris Rosenthal, a self-publishing authority and author of the excellent Print-on-Demand Book Publishing, one of the books that is endangered from being shut out by the current changes. Angela Hoy, publisher of Writers’ Weekly, has mobilized the community and has established a special Amazon BookSurge Information Clearinghouse where the twists of this developing story can be tracked in detail. For now the official position of the authorities is that that they do not see the basis for legal action, but this may be revisited. Or maybe not, as the PoD community is not as sizable and loud, and the controversy remains contained.

The bottom line is that this showdown represents one of the first serious challenges to Chris Anderson’s somewhat congratulatory Long Tail thesis (as outlined in his groundbreaking The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More). The showdown between small independent publishers and the big muscle of Amazon clearly illustrates that the long tail is not as democratically open and egalitarian as we may wish and that the ‘selling less of more’ is being jeopardized. The age of the blockbuster may indeed be over and the age of specialist content may have arrived, as Anderson tells us. The endless diversity and variety of content is there, indeed, but only potentially. Unless it can be accessed easily, it is not really available. And what Amazon is preparing to do is to shut out a significant fraction of this specialist content from the largest and most viable channel of distribution that it controls, effectively shortening the Long Tail.

© Dina Iordanova
11 May 2008

London/Paris: Mobile Phone Cinema

May 8, 2008 at 2:43 am

In London last week, at Bloomsburry’s Brunswick Centre (Tube Russel Square), I stumbled upon what was billed as The World’s Smallest Cinema, a Nokia-sponsored project, which, I understand, is moving around town these days as it was also spotted at Canary Wharf. It is a small cube-shaped shack which holds five comfortable red chairs. You can come in and view a programme of several shorts, all shot with an advanced model Nokia mobile phone. I entered with the intention to focus on the screening and tried to concentrate on the films, but was distracted by the harassment of the cinema’s staff, whose task is evidently to use the projection facility as a ‘squeeze page’ and get e-mail addresses out of viewers that drop in, for some research purposes. So while they were looking for a pen to give me to fill in the form and telling me that if I agree to participate, I may win one of these camera-phones, the short film programme rolled on, and all I was able to register were some shaky Tarnation-style images of diverse ordinary people speaking to the camera. Nice.

\"The cubicle of the cinema spotted by Mark Hillary at Canary Wharf

This is a picture of the cubicle of the cinema spotted by Mark Hillary at Canary Wharf

Back in Paris this week, I see that mobile phone filmmaking is advancing even further. Joseph Morder’s I’d Like To Share The Spring with Someone/ J’aimerais partager le printemps avec quelqu’un, a full-length (85 min.) expressionistic diary-like feature shot entirely on a mobile phone is scheduled to play at two well-positioned arthouse cinemas, MK2 Beaubourg and Reflet Medicis. This appears to be the very first full-length film of this nature, produced by Baba Yaga films, and sponsored in the context of a project called Festival Pocket Films, an organization fronted by Benoît Labourdette. Morder and Labourdette are appearing twice this week to discuss the project after screenings.

Here is the film’s trailer, or ‘la bande annonce’ as they call it here, from AOL video.

© Dina Iordanova
8 May 2008