Too Much Consumerism in Magic

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by The Now, Nov 13, 2011.

  1. #1 The Now, Nov 13, 2011
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 13, 2011
    Dear Community,

    In recent times I've become more and more troubled by the level of consumerism in magic today. How many magician's do you know for being performers as opposed to creator's of magic "products". How many products do you think go on the market each year as opposed to how many live magic shows are produced? And most importantly, how much money do you think is made with the performance of magic as opposed to money made by selling secrets?

    If I'm wrong, please let me know, but I believe that the answer to all of those questions indicates that there is much more emphasis placed on selling and buying tricks than there is on creating art and performing magic for lay audiences.

    It disturbs me that if you have something original and good, one of the first things a magic acquaintance says is something like "Wow, you should market that."

    It saddens me that there is so much time spent on creating a product that will sell well because magicians can't figure it out, or that it improve on some aspect of a method, and it looks cool, than on crafting an act that will fill lay people with wonder.

    So, I'm disturbed and saddened by there being more creator's than performers. Who cares? Well, I believe you should care, because these issues have the potential to hurt the hard working performers and even the casual performer.

    I don't care about magic dvds getting pirated an eighth as much as I care about the fact that they were for sale in the first place.

    I know we've all got to learn somehow, but I think the HUGE market is making the information too easily available.

    We've all heard the scenario of a magician performing an effect superbly, only to have a spectator Google search a description of the trick and they've found an exposure video and thus the magic is lost.

    I think that the magic dies way before they see how its done. I think it dies when they see a link to an online magic store, and a product demo. They look and they find "www.penguinmagic.com" "theory11.com" "ellusionist.com" or "Geekmagic.com"

    At this point its not an issue of "Oh, now I know how he does it!" It becomes an issue of "Oh... Its just something you buy."

    Even, just stumbling upon one of these websites and looking for five minutes can change someone's perspective of magic being something mysterious and exotic to being "Something you buy."

    What are your thoughts on this? And do you agree that the market is devaluing the performance sector of magic?
     
  2. Very interesting post. My two cents: while this may seem to be the case for guys like us that live and breath magic, nothing could be further from the truth. The "HUGE market" you refer to is so remarkably tiny, that I have a hard time relating it to any other artform, hobby, or niche interest. If you looked at it on a map, I'd venture to say the population of active magicians pales in comparison to left handed, albino Tuba players. Okay, I'm joking, but you get the idea.

    The reality is that magic is a performance artform, and revolves entirely around that artform being performed. Yes, magicians spend a great deal of time learning new things - but that is true for any art. Musicians are constantly inspired by the work of other musicians, and far more musicians exist as performers than creators. When musicians push the envelope and create new types and styles of music, the art of music benefits as a whole. Many of the popular artists you hear on the radio don't write their own songs - they have songwriters that do that: Max Martin, one of the most prolific.

    Most notably, if the entire value of a performance can be removed by the audience learning a secret, then the problem is not with the secret - but with the performance. Presentation is like a story. As Michael Weber said at Magic-Con 2010, "he who tells the best story, wins." A good movie is still captivating, enchanting, and suspenseful even when you know the ending.

    In order to advance, magic needs constant evolution - new life, new magicians, new ways of thinking. Magic requires an element of secrecy and mystery - absolutely - but don't make the mistake of thinking the internet was the start of that. For centuries, magic has always been "one of the world's most published artforms." That quote doesn't come from me - it comes from Bill Kalush, whose authority on the subject far outweighs my own. Like the porn industry still is, magic always was swift to embrace new technologies. Mentalists using in-ear monitors, Blue Room visual effects, Houdini's voice on Edison's wax recorder, and David Copperfield teleporting audience members across the planet live via satellite in 2001.

    The performance of magic is more diverse and strong than ever before. David Copperfield recently set the record for highest grossing solo entertainer of all time - more than Madonna, Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson ($3 billion in sales, to be exact). He did that with MAGIC. Imagine that. We have Steve Cohen performing up to three times a day at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City, and brilliant minds like Eric Meade and Marco Tempest performing at TED. Marco also presented at Davos (World Economic Forum) this past year. Just two weeks ago, Justin Willman performed at The White House for the President. Magic is in motion. Magic is moving, and for the most part, in all the right directions.

    Across the pond, Derren Brown has presented one successful television series after another, showcasing magic in a positive, intellectual light that it hasn't seen in a long time. It's incredible progress for the art, and it's encouraging to all of us that we have such a bright future ahead for magic.

    One point I will agree with in your post, most certainly, is that it is a bad thing for magicians to forget what this artform is all about. Because it's not about us - it's about THEM, our audiences. Everything we create, we think, and we advance is about raising the influence and appeal and entertainment value of those performances. If we, as practitioners of magic and providers of hope, mystery, and wonder, can keep that in mind - we will all benefit.
     
  3. I believe the consumerism of which you speak is not wholly based around the idea that selling magic is purely for profit. I choose to believe that magicians with creative, interesting, and/or original approaches publish their work to encourage the growth and progression of magic. Now, there are companies and individuals with purely fiscal motives, but that shouldn't dampen the fact that respectable companies wish their consumers to perform and entertain rather than browse and buy.

    In regards to there being "more creators than performers," how does that hurt the professional and casual performers? If the performer does research and purchases effects from respectable companies, I think that there is probably no harm done. If a "creator" puts out poor effects or methods, he won't be very successful. If ideas, weren't shared among peers, there would be no progress.

    In performance, I have never had a participant Google search a trick. The problem isn't with the availability of the method; the problem is being able to entertain the audience. If the audience is truly entertained, I have found that they will hold onto the experience of wonder rather than search for answers.

    A magic trick is called an effect for a reason. It has an effect on the audience by affecting them personally. If each audience member is affected, then astonishment is achieved through the entertainer and cherished by the beholder.
     
  4. You draw some intersting points in your post The Now, and I'd like to counter a few of them with some of my own insight. I can't say that I completely agree with your statements, and I'll address as specificly as I can the points that I contest, and in no specific order.

    You say in reference to E, T11, Penguin, and other magic websites:
    To that I have to ask: Does this also apply to other magic forums such as the Magic Cafe which openly discusses methods and techniques with little to no consistent moderation by members of staff or management? Further do you honestly think that a layman with a casual curiosity would have the ability or attention span to Google out a website, like Theory11, and then troll the site or forums long enough to satisfy their curiosity?

    It's been said in reference to their secrets that magicians guard an empty vault, and that very well may be true here. After all Joe Normalguy may see a card trick performed and may try to Youtube it for a tutorial, but I honestly don't think he'd invest too much time in searching out a magicians forum just to pacify his curiosity.

    You make it sound like the market for magical secrets is too widely accessable in your statement here:
    To that extent I have to ask you "How exactly is it that you purpose we learn?" I don't think our community is harmed much at all by the availability of information at hand. We are a niche interest, and or hobby. To that end we serve two demographics. The hobbyist consumer who purchases tricks to fool friends, or add to their collection, and the consummate performer who buys what they need for their show. Again I have to lean on my belief that we're not really all that visible to people who don't already have an idea of what it is they are looking for.

    I am sure creators are workers as well. We may not always hear about what they are doing, but I'm sure they are indeed working. Everyone needs money to survive, and once you've established yourself in the magic community as having a product to sell then why not make full use of that? I think it's just as viable of an option as doing shows, and in many ways an easier one.

    Like I said Now, you bring up some interesting thoughts, but I don't think the availability of magic today is really that harmful. So what if someone Googles the answer to how you did a trick? If you've done your job right in entertaining them then the solution won't nearly be as rewarding as the experience, and the experience is something they'll pay for to enjoy again. When I go to Disney Land I know there's a girl in the mouse suit that makes it move. Just because I know how the illusion is done doesn't diminish my love of the park, or the thrill of shaking hands with a cartoon legend, and you know what? I'll pay for that ticket to do it all over again too. Why? Because I enjoyed the experience.
     
  5. in a sense magic can be like condoms in that you use one and cant re-use it but with effects you have to change the poeple you perform it to. People dont go to a copperfield show to see him vanish a landmark over and over. One of the huge parts of the allure in magic is the fact that there are constantly new things to learn and perform making yourself a better magician. all in all i would rather have large amounts of new tricks being created than have a small selection
     
  6. #6 SHANE BLACK, Nov 13, 2011
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 13, 2011
    I'll touch a bit on this subject since this has been brought up to me on several occasions. Generally speaking many of the creators I know including myself have been at some point a fulltime performer using their experiences to branch out new ideas on sometimes older concepts or new ones.

    I personally took a backstep from releasing magic for many reasons but mostly for the reason the main stream industry favors the most popular not the best magic. Its about networking and marketing yourself to the point your an icon and some of us would much rather keep our material instead of giving it to people that would dilute it and step on something that is practical and beautiful. Without naming any names I can tell you I've met a few of these top name creators that couldn't sell a double lift if their career depended on it but thats what the industry wants. Is it good? Who knows you as consumers make that decision by buying it or is it trick photography and clever advertising for the masses?

    I've recently made two purchase's from a newly founded website last month owned by some of the top minds in the business and I have to admit these effects are horrible and unpractical in everyway but hey the high def trailor and the hype sold it to me. (Not really I'm just a sucker for a good T&R) oops! Still irked about that one.

    My life is not wrapped in the magic sales and approvals of my colleages cause I work for a living and I have stored alot of great magic in the vault that will most likely never see the light of day but who knows maybe I'll get the itch and share these real world tested effects with the community at a later date but for now they'll have to stay in my act.

    Enough of my rambling my point is if you spent more time investigating and asking questions about effects before purchasing them then the magic companies will work harder at releasing quality magic to keep their clientale.

    PS. Does anyone else feel like the magic business is quickly becoming like the "Old Navy?"

    Shane
     
  7. This line hit me in a little bit of a disappointing way, and I do believe it is true. There are too many magicians that care more about selling there trick more than the actual beauty and originality of the routine.
     
  8. Professional magicians survive on two things. Their lay audience....and us...the amateur magicians. It certainly makes a lot of sense to diversify your income base through trick releases and lecture tours. Especially for those guys just starting out who are still doing restaurant gigs and the occasional birthday party. This industry is ultimately built on a hobby and so it must largely feed off itself in order to survive. Don't feel too sorry for yourself. It could be worse. Take a hobby like climbing for example. The only way for someone to survive as a professional climber is to feed off amateur climbers...the hobbiest. Unlike magic, people don't pay climbers just for the thrill of watching them climb. There is no such thing as a lay audience. Climbers have to teach, they have to guide, and they have to pioneer new routs in order to attract the attention of companies like Grivel, Patagonia, and the North Face who in turn use the climbers exploits and image as a way to entice the hobbiests to buy the gear they sell. It is an industry that survives solely off of the profits from amateur climbers disposable income.

    Now thankfully magic has an extra outlet for income. People do pay magicians just to watch them. But when you are just starting out as a professional magician releasing some of your own clever ideas is a smart way to build your career. Some magicians will drift into the category of "creator," where they pretty much survive exclusively off of making effects that other magicians will buy. But even if they choose to go this rout it is no worse a decision, or goal, that any young kid who dreams of being a pro-climber. The good news is that most magicians don't go that rout. The majority probably do a bit of both and some do nothing but perform. There are plenty of big name magicians who don't release their effects until they are long retired. But usually these guys have such a following amongst the laity that releasing their own secrets would do more harm than good for their career.

    So yes there is a lot of consumerism in magic but if it is what fuels the industry it can't really be all bad. The alternative is not being able to pursue you hobby unless you are lucky enough to be the understudy of another magician. And even then you would be limited by your own creativity and the creativity of your mentor. Furthermore, the sort of "feeding off of your own" consumerism that exists in the magic industry is less pronounced than many other niche markets.
     
  9. The very best stuff will always stay under wraps.
     
  10. I'm usually a bit annoyed when I see things like "underground" or things being hyped to the max. I have fallen victim to this in the past and pretty as I got older I realized a cure for it. I decided to only look into things that are actually practical and things that I KNOW I will enjoy and actually use. Which kind of saddens me that we don't get people talking about books like Card College a lot or Williamsons Wonders or any of the actual good books out there that have been out on the market for decades.

    On the other hand, this does tend to make it so that if you run into some younger guys who did nothing but study XCM or flourishy stuff and then go and do something simple and subtle from an old book you'll most likely blow their minds.

    Anyways, back to the topic at hand. I lot magicians that tend to release too many things (Jay Sankey) tend to not perform anymore professionally and a lot of them tend to not have a filter or any friends in the business tell them if their idea is crap or great. Sometimes, you get effects from guys who you KNOW have tested it out a thousand times (Garret Thomas) and other times some of these older guys will just release something random that in the long run is kind of so-so or not very good.
     
  11. I agree, at least in sentiment, to most of what Randy said but I had to call this one out.
    I honestly think that isn't true. The top two suggestions when a newbie pops up on the forums and says, "I want to learn card magic," are Card College and Royal Road. I think that there is a little bit of a T11 bubble when statements like that are made. T-11 doesn't really deal with books. There are many reasons for that that don't mean T11 is trying to dumb down magic. Books take up a lot more room in a warehouse than cards and dvds so if you have a small warehouse...don't deal in books. That, however, is not the case with many other magic retailers. Look at Dan and Dave's website. Here are two guys who built their entire career on digital media. And yet, they sell 35 different DVDs and 55 different books. If people are not reading books it isn't because magic dealers aren't selling it...it is because you are not buying it. So on that note I rest any and all blame on the shoulders of the consumer, not the sellers.
     
  12. I'll start off by saying that "The Now" is right on so many levels and a great deal of what I've seen in scrolling through this thread is merely an act of justifying one's actions when it comes to getting in on the market. Why not? Thanks to the Internet there is no longer a need to make a huge up-front investment when it comes to inventory and having to take care of rent, insurance and all the other headaches an old time Brick & Mortar shop came with and that's before we even weigh those very long hours of nothing happening as well as those in which every snot nosed kid in town seems to be seeking a free magic show by asking you to demo a dozen different pieces without buying a single thing.

    My situation as an effects developer isn't one that I deliberately sought out and from what I know about most of the living legends of my youth, few of them deliberately sought to poop out new products with any regularity, there simply wasn't enough profit to be had for the headache. Too, most of the older performers deliberately held off on selling any of their working secrets until they were heading towards retirement. Granted, they might put out a book here and there or contribute an article to one of the established periodicals, but more so than not, what they shared had nothing to do with their personal arsenal of reputation making magic, that was always saved for the memoirs.

    By contrast it would seem every second year student of today is running to Lulu or some other resources to get an "eBook" printed. . .

    A few months ago I had just such a kid approach me with a billet handling idea that he believed to be unique and never before done; he had been into magic for 3 years and mentalism itself of less than a year. He wanted my "trusted" opinion and sadly, I had to shatter his dreams because what he was rushing out to publish was light-years away from being even remotely original. This is the case nine times out of ten when I'm asked to look at something "new" and I've heard the same type of thing from others in my age group and experience niche. The other thing each of us share however, after 25+ years on stage and behind the scenes, is that we have box after box filled with notebooks and drawings, each one an "original" idea and most of which never see the light of day even though there may have been a legit claim to novelty.

    Today we have pay-day chasers that are selling 6th grade level science experiments as some kind of "new & awesome" magic trick for anywhere from $10.00 to well over $40.00 (and all three of the listed companies are guilty for it as is Paper Crane). I cannot be kind when it comes to such things because it is questionably moral let alone ethical in my book and the same goes with many other "neat" bits that can't easily be worked on the streets which is the forum they are dramatized around in the music video footage offered on each.

    The race isn't so much for the cash however, but name recognition. . . one-ups-man-ship; especially when we find competing entities pooping out their own version of the same effect, let alone the whole phallic competition when it comes to who has the superior deck. . .
    (in my day we either used Aviators, Bees or Bikes. . . maybe a Casino "house deck" but gesh you guys have serious deck envy these days).

    As one of the "older guys" that puts something out here and there, I'll let you in on a secret; we do it for the fun of it. There really isn't big money in magic retail unless you want to push your luck with niche markets such as E and T-11 do and have managed to do quite well. I think the way things were done in the time of Percy Abbot, Lloyd Thayer, and Ireland's are well past; it simply isn't economically viable for a merchant to manufacture its own inventory which, even in my life time, was quite common; well over 60% of a magic shop inventory was made either by the owner, a partner or a trusted few local craftsmen. It wasn't like the massive wholesale network we have now days and in that reality we find the truth behind what our first poster has seen -- Magic has become horridly commercialized and outrageously available to anyone and whether you want to believe it or not, greed is the biggest reason behind it. . . but I do not want you to see that as the negative it might seem even though taint exists. The unfortunate influence here centers on our culture and the idea of the hustle and that is why so much of what we see in magic today comes off as being overly commercial, pandering to the wannabe -- not the hobbyist but the schmuck that wants to shine a bit brighter and run a scam here and there on his buds (I've seen a horrid increase of bar betchya use in the past 5 years).

    It's a very big issue with lots of variables, but it is an issue. It is up to us however, to consider what can be done to make magic less accessible, especially on line. It's not just a matter of price control any longer, the onus is on our shoulders as a community.
     
  13. All I have to add is that magic has lost it's mystique. It is too readily available and watered down but it's one of those things that none of us can change so talking about it seems pointless to me.
     
  14. the market is smaller than we think,we are just so immersed in the market world that its all you see and hear about. outside in the real world its as secret as ever. CERTAIN companies however do emphasize more on producing tricks rather than focusing on execution and integrity of magic. that is in my opinion the problem.
     
  15. Thanks for all of the helpful responses.

    Jonathan Bayme, my entire post is in the interest of magic as a performance art. Also, that information about Copperfield is extremely encouraging.

    Elliot Terral, I've never had anyone google a trick either. My opinions have nothing to do with lack luster performances, but to the contrary.

    William Draven, I don't believe many people would sift through a magic forum, no. I think the damage is done when they just look at the online magic store. (This is less directed at theory11 than other shops).

    Shane Black, thanks so much for responding.

    I know quite a few creator's that get a lot of notice, too. These guys are so serious about magic and are definitely not the ones that create any issues in my mind. I wouldn't ever begrudge them their livelihood. I have no problem with the level of growth in magic. Let me focus more on the problem as far as I see in hurting magic.

    My main issue with the overt commercialism is that its embarrassing. I gave the scenario earlier of the spectator googling a trick and finding a magic shop, not because this kind of thing happens to me, but because I feel that when a lay person looks at the shear numbers of dvds sold and the HD demos and advertsing, their perception of magic must change a bit. I mean, just look at Penguin Magic's recent layout. I can't respect that.

    It would be different if they fell upon the McBride Mystery School website.

    Too much of the online magic community makes magicians look bad and its another thing magicians who want respect as performance artists have to fight.

    I'll expand my thoughts later after some sleep.
     

  16. I don't know, when a small company like Creative Illusions gets hit with orders for dozens of copies on a prop that retails for $15,000.00 or more, I'd say there's a decent sized market; especially when you look at how many prop makers exist in our world and most of them generating high six and low seven digit NET incomes on a somewhat regular basis. . . and that's just on larger "stock" effects like a sawing or sub trunk. The hand prop and parlor sized effects market is even bigger which is why companies like Viking and Johnsons have been around for so long and yet, there are at least a dozen competitors filling the same niche with each generating more than a fair bit of pocket money for the proprietor.

    If we look at organizational memberships, allowing for duplicates, it would appear that the magic community is small but such statistics are grossly out of sync now days, because so many in the 21st century magic world either aren't aware of the various fraternal groups or simply won't participate in what they see as "out dated" standards. . . this large rebellious spirit lending to the commercial segment of things tens of thousands of magic fans world wide, which is why guys like Sankey are able to buy a new car each year or cover the down payment on a new home, etc. Just seeing a couple of bucks from each book or video (under $10.00) equates to personal gains exceeding $20,000.00 a year per item released). . . and trust me, there are those that boast about how this or that book paid for such things.

    Yes, by comparison to most commercial/retail practices the Magic Market is considerably small as all specialty markets tend to be. We are even less significant than knitting, origami, and sidewalk chalk art it would seem. . . but don't think for a second that it's "small" when it comes to dollars and cents; people don't start companies or produce a product if they aren't expecting to see a decent return on their effort. A low end trick & novelty shop of the 1960s and 70's easily gave the owner an average salary of around $30k. . . by the 1980s it was nearly double that for the brick & mortar shops that were still functioning. When it comes to On-Line merchants. . . I'll just say that most of the partnership in these ventures are doing quite well for themselves even if they are only taking a $2.00 net from each sell.

    Follow the math and understand human nature in the process. None of us think we're making enough money and all of us invent "explanations" as to why. In the business world, especially when you are a specialty service, the size of the market base coupled with current economic circumstance is always the source of justification. Sadly, our present circumstances really are hitting the specialty merchants hard, making any such market seem miniscule.
     
  17. Not at all, if you leave the forums and internet as i did that entire time I was gone, magic is very much alive in our spectators eyes.
    They don't see any of this. I never get asked about the masked magician, or if my tricks can be bought,etc.
    I have NEVER had a spectator say that they have seen a certain trick on youtube or know about certain websites. and Ive performed alot with teens, college kids, and adults.
    Honestly If we simply ignore the forums and just buy a trick or two every 6 months or so there wouldn't be all this questioning.
    People are just too stuck in the forums and market of magic that they forget to actually do magic.
     
  18. Well said. Look the online forums and online shops don't cheapen what we do in laymen's eyes because they do not frequent these websites and forums. If they do it is likely because they at least have a passing interest in joining the community. Here is a question for all of you....who has heard of Mark Twight? Steve House? Conrad Anker? And yet these guys are just as famous in their communities as Jay Sankey, John Bayme, or Brad Christianson are in ours.

    If your issue is an abundance of sub par effects that have been produced, overhyped, and sold, well that may have some good arguments. (on both sides) I do think that it is unfair to bring the laity's perceptions of our consumerism into this, because, they are not paying attention to us. They pay attention to the consumerism rife within the world at large and specifically as it pertains to the niche markets that they themselves support.

    I honestly think that the lay audience perception of us is better than it has been for a long time. I started magic in the early 90s. Before Blaine brought it to the streets, before guys like Asher and Fisher took card magic off the table and made it quicker, flashier and more visual, before Sankey started applying old principles to ordinary every day objects, before Derren brown too mentalism to the streets. Though I loved magic(always have) I took a decade long hiatus from it because the average closeup trick came in a big shiny box that looked anything but "ordinary and everyday." Magic was a big shiny gimmick and though people may not have known the secret they knew there was a secret.

    Sure this consumerism has brought us a lot of duds but lets look at what it has brought us. Robert Smiths UI gimmick (now Psypher) has given us the ability to take about anything you want and turn it into an Imp pad that works with a sharpie. That is a huge improvement over the days of carbon paper! Dan Haus's Rattled....I mean come on....have you seen what an old rattle box looks like? Trust me it's a big improvement. Now I realize that all those things came slowly over time, and some who never left magic at all may be more incline to look at the negative, but for a guy who left and then came back the improvement is stark. For those of you who have been doing this for less than 5 years....trust me....you don't know how good you got it. Cards are better quality and you have a bazillion design options that will suit any character type you want to adopt. Performers are less cheezy and more knowledgeable about presentation. Gimmicks are designed to look more natural and thus cause less suspicion. And online forums exist (often sponsored by the same companies many of you are lamenting), that help provide tips and advice on everything from good effects versus the bad, crowd management, character development, practicing tips, marketing advice, and I could go on. In 1992 I had a brightly colored pair of plastic sticks and smart ass spectators asking if I could make the Statue of Liberty disappear.

    Sorry....that kind of turned into a rant.
     
  19. Nah, dude, this thread was made for ranting. I think your post was great. I've lost sight of the various reasons I made this thread.

    It basically is about magic becoming more about creating for selling, than to perform. But then of course, if it IS selling, then it stands to reason that most people buy them with the intent of performing them.

    And to counter my own points, something I love about this large market is the number of great tricks that don't get noticed or used by anyone really (that I can do pretty well) and then I can learn things to build a unique repetoir. I think of these pieces as "indie magic."
     
  20. What a great thread this has been. This has made me think about various things that are important. Some really great points on all sides. This has been one of the best threads I've read on here in a long time. Good topic, The Now.
     

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