Wonderful, whimsical new show at Flatrocks Gallery this month. It's called "Tall Tales,"
and curators Anne Marie and Cynthia are billing it as a collection of visual narratives with a surrealist bent. Stories are the connective tissue of the human race. At the heart of every event is a human element that leads to three of the most exciting words in any language: What happened next? If you answer that question you are a storyteller. Works in a variety of media by seven local artists on display at Flatrocks Gallery explore the answers.
So there I was tending bar at the gallerey's opening Saturday night (patrons can expect a splash of attitude with their booze), and after the initial rush died down I found myself in conversation with a youngish, stylish couple named Sarah and Rick. They were from Boston, hadn't been here before, and were interested in Flatrocks Gallery – how long had it been in operation, who were the clients, who owned the place, and what sort of business was it? A few minutes of that sort of thing got us to the fact that they were in the art business too – sort of. They ran an Internet site called The Curator's Eye, the purpose of which, as near as I could make out from what they were saying, was to help clients connect with dealers, and dealers with clients. According to Sarah, they offer a large database of wealthy prospective buyers which dealers can sort and filter to find the most likely client for each individual piece they are selling.
That was when I realized these were the people who had been soliciting my business for months, following up on their initial mildly annoying cold call (some dame with a plummy English accent), with weekly emails touting their service. And, though Sarah and Rick were friendly enough, they did NOT tone down the Curator's Eye evangelism. They were motivated salespersons. And, as much as I kept insisting that I was just a merchant who had customers, Rick kept wanting to talk about "clients." I confess I got a little feisty. "Who has clients?" I asked. "Whores and lawyers, that's who!" No, he insisted, a "customer" bought something once and then departed forever. A "client" was a repeat "customer." The revolutionary approach offered by Curator's Eye was to create clients, not customers. To which I replied, "Duhh..."
I pointed out to them that most people had more goods than customers and that, in a sense, my situation was the reverse. I have plenty of customers. I need inventory. "Funny," they said, "That's just what Eric Waschke of Wayfarer's Bookshop told us." I've known Eric for years, and that sounded exactly like something he'd say. The fact that they hadn't heard this from more people suggested to me that they were talking to the wrong people.
Next day I poked around their website for a while, and saw the usual blah blah – "passionate" this, "unparalleled" that, with "highly qualified" dealers hawking the expected "magnificent collection of notable objects." The only interesting thing about them was that they were one of the few, among nearly a dozen competing services, who even acknowledged that old books and manuscripts existed. Give them credit for innovative niche sniffing.
But how do they make their money? They don't charge commission on sales. They brag about placing hundreds of thousands of ads, so they must have overhead. Who's paying for it?
I wrote Rick, asking him about this, and asking him to tell me a little about himself and their operation, for a blog piece (this one) I was writing. I got this reply:
I wish I could help with some blog writing, but writing/editorial is not really our strong suit. We're really a technology company (and I'm really a techie/quant analyst). We focus mainly on advertising... The main reason for that strategy, even with book marketing, is that there is a LOT of content out there on the internet, and a lot of good content, and we don't think that we can really compete with the big guys (eg. NYT, New Yorker, etc). So instead of writing content that competes, we just buy ad space from them and advertise next to their great content. Actually, we can get 7,000 views of one of our ads for about $30-50. We think that is not too bad, especially when considering all of the time it takes to keep up a blog with new posts each month (and time is money...). So, in the end it actually becomes more efficient for our book dealers if we do it this way -- we can get to orders of magnitude more people than if we tried to create our own editorial. We would love to get a mention on your blog though... Maybe just post the video? Just an idea... and very time efficient!
Were we even conversing in the same language?
So, questions abound. Is Sarah and Rick's brainchild just a data collecting operation, seeking to compile, then sell, a list of high powered art buyers? Are they all smoke and mirrors, burning through their startup capital and hoping to gain long term market share as Amazon did? Is their idea meeting with success? Manhattan Rare Book Company and Claudia Strauss-Schulson of David Schulson Autographs provide testimonials on the CE website – of a sort. All they actually say is that Curator's Eye has brought new contacts. Nothing about sales.
There was only one thing to do.
Figuring I needed goods rather than customers, I mean clients, I signed up as a collector. Then I went to look at the books and manuscripts in my field. Nada. So I tried to sign up as a dealer, thinking that perhaps I could put some of my rare stuff on their website. Maybe, if I looked at the site after drinks and dinner and drinks, I'd find the material attractive and purchase it.
Or maybe not. For some reason, my attempt to sign up as a dealer did not go through. Could it be that Curator's Eye does not want people playing both ends?
Of all the abounding questions, though, here's the biggest one. Is Curator's Eye the future – not only for art people but for book dealers as well? The Internet is crawling with product, and there are few "qualified buyers" these days who don't know how to turn on a computer. Will the Curator's Eye dating service model be the Next Big Thing in our business? What will happen next?
As Anne Marie and Cynthia say, "If you can answer that question, you are a story teller."
|Anne Marie and Cynthia. Real curators. Real eyes|
(Yup, you counted right. This is our 200th blog entry.)