by Brenna Hopkins

#102, 3 September 2007

The Adventures
of a
Clueless Bookseller

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The Total Package

Adventures of a Clueless Bookseller Series

Despite a brief flirtation with no-name canned goods during the Carter Recession, American culture is religiously brand oriented. Other societies grapple with the nature of being in monastic silence, search for the mystical self through shamanic visions, or contemplate the shifting stars for clues revealing the human side of Mystery. In the U.S., we brand ourselves. It's what we do.

Painfully aware as I am of the high stakes attending each and every customer contact, in the quest to create an indelible brand identity, the thought of twisty packing tape and uneven corners fills me dread and anxiety. With my brand the only thing standing between me and oblivion, the idea that customers may not even notice such things is too terrible to even contemplate! Plus, I'm just a natural fuss-budget; I like things to be pretty.

I also like things to be cheap. Pretty, Cheap and, it goes without saying, Good. Uh-oh. My criteria suddenly sound awful close to the only useful principle I have ever learned about project management. Everyone wants good, fast, cheap. In reality, you have to pick 2 of the three. Substitute pretty for fast in this equation, and any first year MBA can tell you that this project is headed toward a crisis.

Thus, I found myself hunched over the kitchen counter, struggling with the cheapest packing tape ever (you could not kidnap a kitten with this stuff); pre-scored book mailers that I bought to save my hands from stapling (which hurts them), wielding a razor and straight edge. The results were not pretty. Not pretty at all.

Love my packages, love me. Perhaps this is an equation that needs re-examining. After all, this business is about purveying a product we are specifically instructed not to evaluate by its appearance. (I can find 3 syllable words to say anything, including "don't judge a book by its cover.") With all its blemishes, my packaging will absolutely deliver the book unscathed.

If the basis for personal identity has become so enmeshed in the commercial and manufactured, maybe twisty packing tape and obtuse corners are the only way to transcend the illusion of perfection that seduces fuss-budgets and MBAs alike. A little wabi-sabi in the mail. That's what I keep telling myself.

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