Michael Close Doesn’t Get Branding

Michael CloseMichael Close is a professional magician and jazz pianist. He is a very impressive guy. What I most like about him is that he works presentations until they are finally tuned—more finely tuned than just about any other magician around. He is also an innovator. One of his effects—the pothole trick—moves a hole punched in a business card around the card and then onto another card. It is amazing and the presentation is wonderful.

Here he is doing an excellent presentation to a really simple—even brain-dead—effect:

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Most of Close’s work has been published in 5 volumes of a series he calls Workers. They are all good and I’ve purchased them all twice, because I have a habit of loaning out books to people who don’t return them. Other than effects, Close also provides essays that are always worth reading. Oh, that they were required reading of anyone who ever might show me a magic trick! Mostly these essays are very useful. But not always.

In Volume 3 of the series, Close provides a “sermon” that he calls “Ethics.” In it, he argues that it is wrong to copy his books. And it is. It bugs me that so many (especially young) people think it is just fine to steal all of their entertain. But I think that Close goes too far. He writes a parenthetical paragraph:

I am often amused by how stupid some people think that creators are. For example, at one convention two young men came up to me at a booth and I demonstrated material from Workers #1 and #2. they looked through the manuscripts, asked the price, and then walked away and talked to each other. Then they came back. One bought #1 and one bought #2. Gee, I wonder what happened when they got back home?

I don’t know about stupid, but Close is clearly presumptuous. I suspect that these young men did what all magic geeks do: loan them to their friends. Does Close really think that these young men should each buy a copy of each of his books and guard them selfishly?

As a matter of fact, based upon email conversations with him in the past, he does think that. He, like many “creators” does not see the bigger picture. For example, in the video he talks about doing a 60 city lecture series. Does he not see that he would not have been paid to do that (and given the enormous financial opportunities that go along with it) if he hadn’t published these books? Or that ten people having seen a single copy of one of his book is ten people far more likely than they would otherwise be to pay to hear him lecture or see him perform? Or that some people buy his books multiple times? (Not that I have anyone specific in mind!)

This is the lesson that independent musicians have learned. Any artist can complain about every unit they don’t sell. But when they behave this way, they lose something much more dear than a buck in royalties; they lose good will. And the truth is that I would never go to see Michael Close, because to me, he will always be an angry old man. It doesn’t matter that he’s not angry at me or even that he’s gotten over this. I will always hold his books in high esteem, but as a person: he’s ruined his brand. For me, anyway; you might still want to see him.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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