30 days of ideas – 12: A Box of Cool


Cool? It’s absolutely icebox – Photo by gari.baldi

As a piece of marketing discourse, the word ‘cool’ has come to mean different things over the years. Today, if you look for websites by searching on the word ‘cool’, then what you’ll typically find is more accurately described as humour. Visual gags, videos of people falling down, and viral gags you can send to your friends.

Whereas, by ‘cool’ I’m referring to its original colloquial usage – particularly by beatniks and New York intellectuals. It’s an urbane aesthetic, an attitude and an approach to life that is at once detached and engaged. It’s smart, politically active, exploratory, self-composed, improvisational, unhurried, interested in expanded horizons, and emphasises an appreciation of both quality and authenticity – as indefinable as those things may be.

Of course, the problem with cool, is that it leads people to try and endlessly sort ‘cool’ from ‘not cool’ or get involved in whether one thing is ‘cooler’ than another. We could argue all day and night about what’s cool and isn’t or just how cool something might be, but there are some things that are (I would assert) just objectively and categorically cool.

And it’s those things that I’m interested in here.

So what’s a Box of Cool?
My idea is for a subscription-based, home-delivered regular package – let’s say monthly, for the sake of argument – full of things that are undeniably ‘cool’.

Typical contents might include an issue of a high quality print magazine that you may not have come across before (Bearded Magazine springs to mind here); a 180g vinyl reissue of an underappreciated recording like Leroy Vinnegar’s Glass of Water; a DVD of a film you probably haven’t seen, but should – like Alan Arkin’s Little Murders; an undeniably cool book like Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums; a single, commissioned long-form essay by a contemporary cultural commentator; perhaps a miniature taster bottle of a single malt scotch… I don’t know. Stuff like that, I guess.

However, the trick to it being actually cool – rather than merely marketing cool is to have a different guest editor every month. Someone smart, interesting and culturally curious, who epitomises some element of cool – and not in a GQ suit-wearing, cigar-smoking sort of way – but in an ‘in-touch with the zeitgeist – but aware of far more interesting stuff’ sort of way.

Following a few simple guidelines, the guest editor could curate what goes in the box this month. I can think of a few names I’d pick, but that’s not my role here. I’m just putting the idea out there.

People buy things that are cool
One of my motivations for suggesting an idea like this is in reaction to the record industry’s constant griping about losing money due to downloading. There was an article just this morning about EMI’s rising debt, which wondered aloud whether Katy Perry could save the company.

And I think that misunderstands consumer culture in an age of both digital and physical products. Music recordings themselves – particularly mass-produced pop music recordings – are pretty much medium-agnostic, which is to say that a download of Katy Perry is easily as good as a CD of Katy Perry for my purposes.

But tangible things, when they’re really desirable things, can’t be substituted online.

I can read an article on the web, and that’s easily as good (better, actually) than a print newspaper. But not nearly as good as a gorgeous, well-designed, high-quality print magazine.

I’ll buy a CD (and I’m in one of the few remaining demographics that will), but only if you’ll pay attention to the whole product. Make it a desirable object to own. Make it cool. There’s a reason that box sets are on the rise while mass-market CDs in crappy plastic jewel cases are on the decline – and it’s not because of theft.

It’s because the digital age favours good product design and desirable objects. Popular is not as good as cool anymore.

What price cool?
You’d probably be looking at something like £30-40 a month, but the contents would be so desirable, so well-packaged and with such a real attention to detail, you’d find that people would be so overwhelmed by the quality that the price would be a small one to pay for something so, well… cool.

Every instalment should be different. The project should be an international one. Every element should be fascinating. Every item should be a talking point. It’d be niche, perhaps – but a significant niche.

And, of course, the companion website has the opportunity to open up more about each of the ideas, cultural artefacts and experiences contained within the box.

You should start this. I’d buy it. It’d be cool.

Table of contents for 30 Days of Ideas

  1. The other way of following first
  2. Now we’re up and dancing
  3. 30 days of ideas – 01: Keymash
  4. 30 days of ideas – 02: Radio Alerts
  5. 30 days of ideas – 03: Only Famous (a romantic comedy)
  6. 30 days of ideas – 04: Modcasts
  7. 30 days of ideas – 05: Numberless Calendar
  8. 30 days of ideas – 06: SpringCleanr
  9. 30 days of ideas – 07: Street Gallery
  10. 30 days of ideas – 08: Smart Business Cards
  11. 30 days of ideas – 09: Recordings in Concert
  12. 30 days of ideas – 10: Vinyl scanner
  13. 30 days of ideas – 11: Photo Stack-and-Scan
  14. 30 days of ideas – 12: A Box of Cool
  15. 30 days of ideas – 13: Karaoke-Tube Celebstar Idol
  16. 30 days of ideas – 14: I Made You A Tape
  17. 30 days of ideas – 15: Newspaper download codes
  18. 30 days of ideas – 16: Pebble Splash
  19. 30 days of ideas – 17: Digital radio, somewhere useful
  20. 30 days of ideas – 18: Public domain music collection
  21. 30 days of ideas – 19: Blog cast-list automator
  22. 30 days of ideas – 20: The Retirement Pile
  23. 30 days of ideas – 21: Nationalise EMI
  24. 30 days of ideas – 22: The Stainless Steel Rat (the movie)
  25. 30 days of ideas – 23: WordPress Bandcampify template
  26. 30 days of ideas – 24: Rollercoasters as public transport
  27. 30 days of ideas – 25: Next-gen personalised music radio
  28. 30 days of ideas – 26: New Music Trust
  29. 30 days of ideas – 27: Tamagotchi Gardening
  30. 30 days of ideas – 28: Charity shop clothing subscription
  31. 30 days of ideas – 29: ‘Now Playing’ social music app
  32. 30 days of ideas – 30: House of Spare Ideas
  33. Mixtape for You by Ray Kuyvenhoven
  34. What can you do in 30 days?

2 Responses to “30 days of ideas – 12: A Box of Cool”

  1. Simon Tucker says:

    A similar idea is the subscription systems that some record labels used to have (and some still do). There was a recent set of new library music which came out on a subsidiary of the excellent Finders Keepers label and I can heartily recommend a subscription to the Numero Group label in the US (though the price has been creeping up in the past two years). There is something utterly magical about receiving unexpected music through the post :-)

  2. Lee Jarvis says:

    I really like this idea – I’d buy it too. Although most my own production work is in the electronic category, I spend most of my week listening to jazz / hip hop / chill out / classic rock recommendations from other people. I think that if you are of the frame of mind of being open to new music discovery then having a respected / interesting figure recommend ‘classic’ / cult / epic albums is a great idea. And It’s always cool to have a hip / unique magazine lying on the coffee table ;)

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