Indie retailing, Snopes, Citroën and brick kilns

What we've been reading
Francois Badenhorst
Deputy editor
BusinessZone and UK Business Forums
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I'm back from my two week holiday, slightly more tanned and a lot more befuddled. That very particular kind of befuddlement that results from two weeks of beer and direct sunlight.

No worries, though, I've resolved to cut through mists of my clouded mind. To persevere. So here's my latest attempt at getting back into the swing of things: this week's What We've Been Reading.

What it costs to run an independent video game store

Polygon – which, by the way, is a great games site – has done itself proud with this article. It’s a wonderfully reported bit, over and above that, it’s a glorious and bittersweet ode to independent games retailers.

The games retail industry is very much ground zero for broader retail trends in the internet era. Profit margins have shrunk drastically as gaming emerged from its mother’s basement to become a pop cultural titan.

Everyone games now, and the small stores run largely by enthusiasts have suffered as retail titans entered the fray. But the little guys are hanging in there. And in this Polygon article, they explain the ins-and-outs of their struggle to keep the doors open.

Snopes faces an ugly legal battle

Speaking of existential struggles: Snopes, the myth busting mainstay of the internet, is in a death spiral.

Snopes is a fact-checking service; a universally respected one at that. Teenage me often ended up on its pages to check the veracity of some random urban legend. Lately, the site has managed to experience a renaissance in the era of #FakeNews. It was also an exceptionally low tech success story in the troubled media industry.

But now legal troubles have pushed the company to the brink – and frankly, the case is intriguing. “Well, it probably won’t surprise you that there’s a startup tech company and a lawsuit involved,” writes The Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal. Not to mention divorce, mergers and a GoFundMe page.

The whole saga is too detailed to recount here (Madrigal gives the full scoop in his article).

Globalisation: the rise and fall of an idea that swept the world

“It was only a few decades ago that globalisation was held by many, even by some critics,” writes Nikil Saval, “to be an inevitable, unstoppable force”. Typifying this bluster, Saval points to a brilliant quote from the American journalist George Packer: “Rejecting globalisation was like rejecting the sunrise.”

Being anti-globalisation was a niche pursuit back in the day. At its worst, it was seen as the sole province of brick hurling anarchists. But it’s become mainstream: the current American president is self-professed economic nationalist, the Brexit referendum was won on the back of globalist scepticism.

And the globalist elite – the Davos contingent – have taken notice. Indeed, some among their gilded number have renounced the faith. But their guilty conscience is a tad late: the genie has long since been let out of the bottle.

Brick by brick

The startup space has its share of tenuous metaphors and analogies but I’ll be damned if anyone has ever compared building a business to building a brick kiln.

Alice Driver’s father Stephen is a potter. In pottery, clay materials are shaped, dried and then fired in a kiln. Firing a kiln is an arduous process that carries a high risk of failure. Especially, when you build the kiln yourself, like Stephen Driver.

In this heart-warming article, Driver speaks about failures he’s had in the past, in particular a notable one in the 70s when his hand built kiln flopped miserably, breaking the struggling artist’s heart.

“It was emotionally devastating to build a 3,000-brick kiln, fire it and get nothing out of it,” Driver tells his daughter. “I went down to the creek and cried. But I got up. Who could explain — for some people, things crush them, and it did crush me, but it didn’t stop me.”

It didn’t stop him. And failure hasn’t stopped many of BusinessZone’s readers either.

The 1955 Citroën DS still feels ahead of its time

When the Citroen DS launched in 1955 it prompted the great French semiotician Roland Barthes to proclaim: “It is obvious that the new Citroen has fallen from the sky inasmuch as it appears at first sight as a superlative object.”

The car was a masterpiece – not just from an automotive aspect. The DS – a wordplay on the French ‘Déesse’  meaning Goddess – is a design marvel. It’s a rare instance where a retro-futuristic object isn’t just an oddity but actually, genuinely avant garde.

This wonderful mini-doc by Wired does the car justice. Check it out!

 

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