I was at the Wellesley Holiday Marketplace today. One unexpectedly exciting takeaway from the outing was not a physical object. It was something a stranger said to me. She was Corina Luther Belle-Isle, a financial advisor recently moved from Vermont to Boston. Corina was helping out my friend Sue Zimmerman at her Sueb.Do booth. In a starkly simple way Corina explained her willingness to support the craft effort:
I believe in buying stories
Wow! I’ve been working on this idea for a couple years but that one straightforward statement blew me away.
Corina is not alone. The Significant Objects project by Joshua Glenn and Rob Walker just finished up. It was a social science experiment in testing whether adding fictional stories to an ordinary flea market object can create commercial value. (Think of J Peterman’s goth cousin as the story author, and you’ll catch the vibe of the little masterpieces.)
Here’s the co-collaborators’ conclusion:
Between July 6 (1st story posted) and November 20 (100th auction ended) of 2009, Significant Objects auctioned off $128.74 worth of insignificant doodads and dinguses, netting $3,612.51 for our contributing authors. Perhaps this makes us (Rob Walker and Josh Glenn) sound like the greatest salesmen alive, but we prefer to think of ourselves as quasi-anthropological researchers….
…Along the way, we combined (according to London’s Independent) “one of the oldest of all media — the near-improvised short story — with the reinvigorated writer-reader relationship afforded by Web 2.0.” Not only that, according to the Techdirt blog, Significant Objects is “one (fun) example … of content creators smartly using infinite goods (the stories) to make a scarce good (the trinket) more valuable, and putting in place a business model to profit from it.” But Fast Company drew another conclusion: “Here’s an interesting and perhaps inadvertent side effect of [Significant Objects]: It could be argued that such exposure actually makes the writers worth more, too.”
So yes, stories sell. Deeply meaningful ones like Corina meant…stories from the heart and soul of the creator of an object. But it’s so fascinating that these blatantly fictional ones work too. I am imagining these 100 eBay-auctioned tchotchkes taking pride of place in the homes of 100 hipsters around the world. I believe half their commercial value was created by their scarcity, their association with Rob and Josh in their own hipster-ness, and also by the cachet of owning the inspiration for a story by a famous or semi-famous author.
In other words, I don’t think Joe Schmoe could write a story about a piece of crap and get a 2,000% return on his investment.
But I do believe that Joe Schmoe who produces an object of meaning or invention or beauty, and tells its/his story can reap a rewarding, and deserved, return on THAT investment.