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The Tinkered Mind
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August 19th, 2020
Tinkered Thinking was responsible for just about every single aspect of this book. The writing, the typeset, the art design, the illustrations…everything.
Even The Tinkered Thinking Bookstore was also coded from scratch in-house. Other than the work of a professional editor hired primarily for proofreading and of course the actual physical construction of each book and mailing, every part of the reader’s experience, from awareness through the podcast, the website and twitter, through the purchasing process and all the way until the last page has been turned, all of this was done in house.
The purpose of going through the sizeable effort of building an online store from scratch has to do with economics. Platforms like Shopify offer the ability to quickly set up an online store, but of course these stores are usually a minimum of $30/month. This isn't much, but an upgrade of the ‘look’ of the store can be a couple hundred dollars, and with time, the cost of playing a ‘long game’ with a product over a couple years starts compounding, because who knows, it might take another year or two of exposure before something takes off. With a platform like Shopify, that time is going to cost, meaning there’s a financial downside to running a long experiment that doesn’t go immediately well. The more time with available exposure, the more potential upside the project is exposed to. The Bookstore hosted by Tinkered Thinking drops all of these costs to tiny fractions. While the sale of a single volume of The Lucilius Parables doesn’t yield much profit due to high print-on-demand costs, it’s enough to cover the running costs of the online store for a couple months, unlike a platform like Shopify which would require the sale of several books to cover the cost of a single month.
The whole aim with every piece of this project has been to create an automated hands-off system that costs next to nothing to run, in case no one is interested, and then instantly generates a profit once a purchase is made. This asymmetry of low cost and potential benefit has the best chance of allowing Tinkered Thinking to grow in interesting ways. If Tinkered Thinking became a project motivated by money in order to survive, not only would this influence the content in potentially negative ways, but that’s also just a situation that I have no interest in dealing with personally. This setup is designed not so much with profit in mind, but in order to keep personal curiosity completely unhindered while giving readers the chance to own a beautiful piece of Tinkered Thinking. In its own small way, this is an attempt to create a non-zero sum business situation that has as little possible downside for all parties, be it reader or Tinkered Thinking.
These lofty considerations aside, it’s also perfectly realistic to say that The Tinkered Thinking Bookstore is an experiment in the market viability of the Tinkered Thinking audience. This is an important measure that is often ignored when it comes to art like fiction. Economics and all things money are often ignored by artists as something grungy, cheap and shallow, but money can function as a very important thermometer. It’s a mechanism for communicating perceived value. And as obvious as that might sound out loud, and as much as the starving artist might bitterly scoff at that point, it is an avenue for understanding the way people perceive: which is the main concern of art. While it perhaps comes out best when art is done for art’s sake, art in complete isolation is meaningless. Even the starving artist secretly hopes their work will adorn the walls of the wealthy at some point in the future, be they alive to enjoy it or not. To ignore the signal provided by money is to ignore information that can help us understand people more. It does not mean we must bend our art to boost that signal, it means that we can investigate the possibility that our art might be landing as a false negative. Lack of profit doesn’t necessarily indicate something fundamental about the art itself, but it does indicate the possibility that people can’t see the fundamental point of the art.
Low-cost experiments as provided by technology like print-on-demand and in the case of Tinkered Thinking, an incredibly low cost online store enable an artist or creator of any kind more room for experimenting with the connection between the reader, the listener and the content being created.
This asymmetry of low risk and high potential reward simply makes it more likely that a creator might tap into a virtuous cycle with their audience that in turn allows even more room and freedom to explore the process of their creation with a greater range of curiosity.