I wanted to be in book publishing, not advertising, when I grew-up. So, during winter vacation of senior year at college, many, many years ago, I went to New York to interview with a pack of publishing companies (plus one ad agency).
Interviewing at one of the big publishing houses, I remember asking the editor about one of their best-selling authors and was surprised when she said, "Oh, yes, very popular. But, of course, we write most of the books today. He's just a brand name, now." (It's interesting that you see the author's titles in movie theatres or on TV, but not so much in book stores, these days.)
The summer before college I painted a barn with a friend of mine. One very hot afternoon his older cousin came to a screeching stop in front of the barn where we were working high up on ladders, jumped out of the car and yelled, "I've got Coors beer!" Down the ladders we went and thus I had my first taste of the Rockies, available only to anyone who had been there and brought it back with them.
More recently, I was in the Palm Restaurant on Second Avenue in New York pointing out to a person who was with me, "This is the original Palm."
"Really," he said. "Man, they're just everywhere today, aren't they?"
Yes. They are.
J.D. Salinger would have none of what it all might have meant to him, and he died last week not only as one of America's most treasured writers, but, perhaps, as the last of its mystical brands. Detractors dismiss his reclusiveness like they dismiss all oddballs. But brands depend on more than scarcity for mystique to follow. They depend on quality and -- to be truly great -- an attachment to quality that prevails over ambition and profit.
This is hard to do, which is what I like about the Internet: that it is held together by thousands of independent authors and publishers, which, in the vastness of the space, are too small, or too remote, or too busy with other parts of their lives to be tempted by great expansion, so that they can satisfy themselves with patient attention to quality enterprise and stand against selling-out. Thereby they are enriched and so are we, and the Internet is sustained.
How many brands may secretly, desperately wish to retire to a village in New Hampshire to live out their days on the strength of their legacy, unyielding to the temptation to pump it up amidst the bright lights and big cities? It's a different sort of brand luxury I suppose. But, there's an opening now for anyone that thinks they can take it.
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