The opener - Issue 112 - Magazine | Monocle

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Dispatches from the road

Cheers to that

If you’ve ever toasted a business deal in China, you’ll probably have come across baijiu. Yet given this fiery rice wine remains largely unknown abroad, the fact that its producer Kweichow Moutai has become the largest spirits-maker in the world may come as a surprise. After opening its own distilling university in Guizhou, the company is now looking to let its influence spill overseas.

Towel ban

Sunscreen? Check. Sunglasses? Check. Towel? If you’re heading to the Sardinian beach of Stintino, you’d better leave that at home. In a bid to preserve the sand of this beautiful spot, the town’s mayor Antonio Diana has proposed a ban on all towels – accusing them of stealing away precious grains in their fibres. Will this spell the end for territory-grabbing beach wars? Probably not. Folding chairs and mats will be available for hire instead.

Sing it loud

Yodelling has found a curious new voice of late. The falsetto-flecked folk-warble will be taught at the University of Lucerne from September. It’s tempting to see the trend as schmaltzy but Volksmusik (traditional German ditties) and its popular progeny schlager (stadium-filling pop) remain big business. Yodelling, eh? It may be something to shout about after all.

Netflix hits the sweet spot

by Robert Bound

As a new contributor to the At The Front section of this magazine I wanted a crash course in free-market economics but one that didn’t involve stock-market indices, personal financial risk or toxic masculinity. So I watched The Maple Syrup Heist, part of Netflix’s excellent investigative series Dirty Money. It stars trailblazing Canadian frontierspeople plying their home-bottled maple syrup versus the Federation of Québec Maple Syrup Producers who manage the province’s best-loved natural resource and whose quotas ensure prices are kept stable while massing any overproduction at the Global Strategic Maple Syrup Reserve. Yes, it exists and it is Canada’s Fort Knox. A barrel of syrup is worth $1,800, about 30 times the value of oil, and some 62,000 barrels are stored in the facility. And guess what? It got royally done over. Already, I’ve ticked “supply and demand” off my “atf: wtf?” list.

The documentary features Hans Mercier, a maple syrup lawyer with caring eyes. It features a hot-shot investigative reporter in lip gloss who says: “Québec is the Saudi Arabia of maple syrup and the Federation is its Opec.” And it features a man with a mullet saying, “in Canada maple syrup runs through our veeeenz”, which goes some way to answering why 250 special investigators were put on The Case of the Missing Treacle.

I won’t spoil the ending but I do implore you to watch the programme, not least because despite elsewhere investigating Donald Trump’s dodgy business deals and Mexican drug cartels’ money laundering, this is the best show in a strong series. It plays its relatively weak hand with a creative flair that gave me lesson three in free-trade economics: bullshit does a bull market make. I’ll probably see you on Bloomberg soon.


The power of print and the fickle nature of social media


Matter of print

The Hyman Archive, the world’s largest private magazine collection – is under threat.

James Hyman is a man who loves magazines. And even those of us who have boxes and boxes of print history stashed in our cupboards (well, how can you throw out old copies of George, Talk or The Correspondent Magazine) worry about his habit.

Hyman has more than 120,000 magazines in his collection. He keeps them in an old cannon foundry in London’s Woolwich Arsenal and his Hyman Archive has become a go-to resource for all sorts of people looking for inspiration and the fees paid by these visitors have helped keep it going. But it’s not enough and in February the archive was declared bankrupt.

Yet for the ever-positive Hyman this is only a temporary setback. “Whatever happens, I’ll absolutely carry on,” the avid collector says confidently. “I plan to either buy the assets or start a new company.” If Hyman and his team are sure of anything, it’s that print isn’t dead and neither is the archive.

“James is the trusted custodian of many private collections and we won’t let these donors’ stories and cultural contributions go to waste,” says Tory Turk, the archive’s curator and creative lead. Besides running operations – until recently, at least – she and Hyman have been busy working on a book and plan to open a magazine museum.

Although, if – against our better hope – those stacks of The Face, NME, Mad, Zoom, The New Yorker and more do eventually need a new home, someone with a lot of space under their bed may be needed.


It’s a snap

Celebrities can make or break a brand – but only if it didn’t have much value in the first place.

In February, Kylie Jenner posted on Twitter that she doesn’t “open Snapchat anymore”. Now, I have no idea who Kylie Jenner is obviously. (If you’re curious, you’ll have to search Myspace or whatever the kids are using these days.) But this bland comment caught my attention because it seemed to have knocked $1bn off the valuation of the app’s parent company Snap.

Just to be clear, there’s no way of knowing for sure whether or not it was the Jenner tweet that tanked Snap’s valuation. There is a close correlation but it could, of course, have been something else. Perhaps a gif of a kitten deleting the app went viral the same day. But let’s assume for the sake of argument that it was the Jenner tweet.

The saga reveals the intriguing lack of inherent value of businesses such as Snap. If someone – even a social-media “influencer”, heaven forfend – said that they no longer drove a BMW, it might damage the brand’s equity but it would take nothing away from what makes the cars valuable: design and reliability.

Snapchat, by comparison, has little value aside from celebrity endorsements and hype. Like Bing Bong, the imaginary friend of Riley in Pixar’s Inside Out, if we stop believing in it, it simply fades into nothingness. And clearly these days, belief is a fickle commodity indeed.

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