Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Book merchandise gets weird

Liked the book? Buy the mug — or the shower curtain, or the soft toy, or the golf balls
This was so awesomely disgusting I just re-posted it in full. Well, actually the one thing lacking is the picture of the guy from that Mormon bitch's Twilight series and an entertaining caption about him being on a shower curtain for teeny-boppers to caress with their virgin menstrual blood before supplicating, genuflecting, Eucharisting, wolfing down Communion, or attending Ordinance or some Temple ritual. I'm not sorry, I abhor what organized religion combined with capitalist economies and modern armies have done to the poor people of this world. But we still sell the Bible... Not to rag on Twilight too much, but it, like lots of other heralded texts of yore, is just pop propaganda; though I am glad to see the tourist trade picking up in Forks, Washington. Way to cash in on the Vampire Zeitgeist. I'll do her and Rowling the same honor paid to Tolkien and Lewis and not read their crap 'til after they're dead. Less tempting to pick a fight then, ya know? Hey, is anybody reading this blog? Leave some comments already, I could use the fucking ego-boost.


It must be a great disappointment to those responsible for making pots of money from modern culture that the average reader doesn't very often buy into related merchandising. The science fiction and fantasy industries will knock out a fully poseable, collectable action figure of the key grip who worked on the umpteenth Harry Potter movie quicker than you can say "life-sized Quidditch broom", but those aside, you don't see many people walking around in Martin Amis T-shirts or carrying Da Vinci Code umbrellas.

Distressingly, it seems as if the great majority of readers are happy to just read the book, and maybe stretch themselves to see the movie adaptation at some point. But marketers, take hope: there are those out there who apparently can't get enough of their favourite authors and will happily buy pretty much anything, if some of the products available on the internet are anything to go by.

I like to think of it as Fluffy Cthulhu syndrome. I know we're back in SF country again, but the prevalence of soft-toy representations of HP Lovecraft's slimy Great Old God, described by the writer as "a monster of vaguely anthropoid outline, but with an octopus-like head whose face was a mass of feelers, a scaly, rubbery-looking body, prodigious claws on hind and fore feet, and long, narrow wings behind" seems appropriate shorthand for some rather astonishing literary merchandising ideas. Lovecraft's fans generally being more fun than a barrel of Shoggoths, we can assume the fluffy Cthulhu thing is done out of irony and mischief, but how on earth do you explain the creative and commercial processes that led to the creation of a shower curtain bearing the image of vampire hottie Edward Cullen from Stephenie Meyer's Twilight books?

Given Twilight's cinematic presence, it's perhaps understandable that all manner of strange merchandising will ensue, but look at a cult author such as Hunter S Thompson and the weirdness continues. If you're in the sort of job that requires you to hand out business cards, consider for a moment what the people you deal with on a professional basis would think if you pulled out a cardholder bearing the Fear and Loathing author's quote: "I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they've always worked for me".

I do quite like the idea of a bracelet featuring covers of banned books, which makes a nice statement: while it's not quite my style, it makes a decent stab at creating something literary and classy. So far, the only other merchandising that really seems to hit that spot is from Penguin, with their mugs, notelets and even deckchairs riffing off the classic Penguin branding.

Gift shops at sites of literary importance are a great source of rather unbelievable products. Visit the Mark Twain online gift service, and you can avail yourself of a bust of the writer to give your library extra gravitas, or, if you're in the market for something a little less expensive, a set of Mark Twain golf balls. The rise of inexpensive internet-based merchandising by the likes of Café Press has seen production costs for even the strangest item brought right down: memorabilia can be produced by the handful rather than the warehouse-load. Thus, having a poke around Café Press, you may find yourself wondering how you ever survived without an Allen Ginsberg scatter cushion (no "pad" is complete without one!), or a teddy bear wearing a T-shirt bearing a picture of his Beat brother Jack Kerouac's grave.

On that note, I have my own literary merchandise confession to make. On my desk in front of me, as I type this, is my Jack Kerouac mug, bought a good 15 years ago from a shop in Oxford. That's my soul bared: over to you.

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