I'm Jesse Kornbluth, and I'd like to be your Head Butler --- your cultural concierge.
If you feel like you're drowning in media...well, you are. There are just too many books and movies, there's just too much music. You can't keep up. And you can't catch up.
There are two typical responses to Too Much.
One is to turn off --- to pay no attention to New Stuff and endlessly recycle your Greatest Hits in books, movies and music.
The other is to throw up your hands and consume the culture that everyone around you is buying.
Either way, you miss a lot of books, movies and music you might like but never hear about.
Or you could have a trusted cultural adviser.
I'm no snootball, looking down my nose at everything that's popular. And I'm not a professional critic; if I don't like something, I'd rather pretend it doesn't exist than tell you why it sucks. I see myself as an advocate for New Stuff that's actually exciting and Great Stuff that's been overlooked.
Why listen to me? Because I've been tracking down and writing about quality culture for decades. I think I know what great books, movies and music are. For those who like to see a track record, here's my bio, in brief:
As a magazine journalist, I've been a contributing editor for Vanity Fair, New York, Architectural Digest, Reader’s Digest, The Los Angeles Times Magazine and Departures, and a contributor to The New Yorker, The New York Times, etc.
As an author, my books include Airborne: The Triumph and Struggle of Michael Jordan; Highly Confident: The Crime and Punishment of Michael Milken; Pre-Pop Warhol and The Other Guy Blinked (with Roger Enrico). Most recently, I helped Twyla Tharp on The Collaborative Habit.
On the Web, I co-founded Bookreporter.com, now the hub of the Internet's most successful non-commercial book network. From 1997 to 2002, I was Editorial Director of America Online. In 2004, I launched HeadButler.com.
My mission: to guide smart, busy people through the thicket of mediocre New Stuff and into the clearing of Great Stuff. F'instance: You like Van Morrison. But do you know about the masterpiece that is Van's four-decades-old Astral Weeks? Or you loved "Silence of the Lambs". Maybe you'd be just as scared by a 1952 novel called The Killer Inside Me. Do you like romantic comedies? Well, have you seen a '30s classic called Love Me Tonight?
My bet is that this Great Old Stuff --- plus the Great New Stuff I love --- is what bright, curious people really want. So I'll let everyone else tell you about Dan Brown, Sean Hannity, Mitch Albom, thrillers that look like video games and high school comedies that could have been written by high schoolers. I'll skip the over-hyped new releases you read about five minutes ago and won't care about five minutes from now. Instead, I'll tell you about books, films and music you might cherish for the rest of your life.
Here's what you can expect from Head Butler:
- Four days a week, I'll share a favorite from the best of the new or from the backlist: books I've read (and re-read), music that stays in the rotation for me, movies I can watch again and again.
- Gift recommendations for any occasion for even the hard-to-please.
- The occasional recommendation of a product, short takes, and more.
If you'll spend some time with the books, movies, music and the occasional product that I recommend, I think you'll save time and money --- and, very quickly, you'll find you're the smartest, most wide-awake person on your block. And in return? Your thanks will suffice. Really. And perhaps a few weeks of holiday in August and another at Christmas. But enough of me talking about myself. Time to help you. I hope the service will be satisfactory.
WHAT IS HEAD BUTLER’S BUSINESS MODEL? (TRANSLATION: HOW DOES BUTLER MAKE MONEY?)
You may have noticed that the only non-editorial links in Head Butler reviews go to Amazon.
There’s a reason.
Head Butler is a free site --- to you. Not to me. My production costs are low, but sending a newsletter to many thousands of readers four times a week requires a mailing service, and that’s a significant cost. And then there is the fact that most of what I write about isn’t delivered to me, gift-wrapped, by angels. Some of you have written to say, “This is crazy, I buy almost everything you suggest.” I write back, “I know how you feel – because I buy even more.”
So…how does Head Butler pay for itself?
Advertising? I’d welcome it. But I don’t seek it out, so it doesn’t happen.
Subscriptions? A few dozen readers have written me to say they’d gladly pay $25 to $50 a year for Head Butler. Bless your hearts. But I don't pay for access to any sites on the web --- and I’d never ask my readers to do what I don’t do myself.
A “tip jar” once or twice a year? Good idea. Several sites I admire do this. I won’t. No, that’s not it --- I can’t. It’s a stupid pride thing, and I really should get over myself. But, for now, no go.
Which leaves… commerce. This seems right on several levels. If the point of a cultural concierge is to make your life easier, what’s easier for you than click-and-buy?
But why Amazon? I mean, beyond the convenience of one-click buying and free shipping. I chose Amazon as my commerce connection for three reasons. 1) They sell just about everything. 2) They discount. 3) At AOL, I was, among other things, the editorial manager of the $40 million Barnes & Noble account. I built about 100 special features with B&N links. AOL members ignored them and went to Amazon to buy those books. Tells you something, doncha think?
Could I insert links to both Amazon & B&N? Yes. But Head Butler is not my only daily activity --- or even my primary one. I’m just not willing to take the time to perform a boring mechanical chore four times a week. (That’s also why I don’t have iTunes or Netflix links.)
Does it bother me that I’m hurting independent bookstores? Yes. A lot. And I do penance by shopping --- often --- at my neighborhood bookstore. You can too. Nowhere is it written that buying stuff through Head Butler is an essential part of the Butler experience.
Now to the fun part, in which I reveal what’s behind the curtain: What is my relationship to Amazon?
Dull answer: Like trillions of other sites, I have an affiliate relationship with Amazon. I get a special code, I add it to the product link so they know I sent you, and, at the end of the month, they deposit several million dollars into Butler’s bank.
No. Not several million. Not all that much, if you must know. Depending on how much I sell, Amazon commission varies between 7% and 8.5%. [Put a selection in your shopping cart, let 24 hours elapse, and I get nothing. Cool move, Amazon.] So it’s like this: That $11 paperback you buy? I get 81 cents. But get this: I receive a commission on everything you buy on Amazon during a session --- if, that is, you clicked to Amazon through Head Butler.
Does Amazon “tell” me what to review? No. For a while, they offered higher commission on Kindles. Did I push Kindles? No. Why? Because I didn’t own one, and thus could not legitimately praise it.
There you have it: the Head Butler business model. As businesses go, it’s about as complicated as a lemonade stand. And about as profitable. (But just as much fun.) If you have great moneymaking ideas for Head Butler or wish to invest, you know where to find me.
A few of the recently released books, CDs, movies and products I write about on this website come to me because I have requested complimentary copies from publishers, producers, writers and manufacturers. Most books, CDs and movies --- and all older books, CDs and movies --- are, almost invariably, from my library. No one --- ever --- pays for coverage here.
Photo by Kate Seward. Find her at The Styley.