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Lickety Split

April 11, 2012

Perhaps one of the greatest mysteries of cultural life in San Francisco at the present time is how Pop-Up Magazine manages to sell out Davies Symphony Hall, one of the city's biggest venues with nearly 3000 seats, in just 30 minutes.

Not even Yo Yo Ma is capable of attracting so many paying customers so fast to Davies, and it's kind of amazing and awe-inspiring that any live performance event not involving a slew of major celebrities could be so popular.

For those of you who aren't aware of the phenomenon that is Pop-Up Magazine, here's an article about it.

Basically, though, Pop-Up is a live journalism event in which various writers, artists and other creative types get up on stage for a few minutes and tell idiosyncratic stories. Some of the pieces, which are curated by magazine journalist Douglas McGray, are accompanied by video, slides and/or audio. Occasionally the speakers use props or have guests with them to help tell their stories.

The next edition of Pop-Up Magazine is happening in a couple of weeks time, and as I mentioned above, Doug and his team sold out Davies Symphony Hall in 30 minutes flat. Trying to gain admittance to the event was a bit like trying to get tickets to a Radiohead concert. Very challenging, in other words.

In any case, I'm trying to figure out what it is about Pop-Up that is causing such a buying frenzy. Most issues include respected national media journalists with credits in outlets like The New Yorker, Harpers and This American Life to their names. But on the whole, they're by no means celebrities. And the programming is often kept under wraps until close to the night of the performance, so most ticket-holders don't generally know whom it is they're paying to see until the eleventh hour .

I gather that Twitter plays an important role in marketing the events. But it's not like the organization has a bazillion followers. Today, the total stands at 3,870. My best (but probably still inadequate) guess is that the lickety split sales owe as much to a grand demonstration of herd mentality as they do to the presentation of a compelling storytelling experience.

In an effort to find out a bit more about the Pop-Up phenomenon, I canvased a few people I know who attend the organization's events. Here are three responses. In truth, their responses to my three questions don't really shed much light on the mystery. Perhaps I am asking the wrong questions...

PERSON A
1. How did you initially hear about Pop-Up Magazine?
Through friends. I think it was when one of them posted that she was going to the first one and provided a link.
2. How do you find out about Pop-Up Magazine events?
I found out about the third issue, the first one I could attend as I was out of the country for the others, through a friend who was to be one of the speakers. This last issue, I heard about it again through my friends on Facebook.
3. What appeals to you about Pop-Up Magazine?
I like storytelling. It attracts some of the writers that I read, so the chance to hear them tell a story orally is special.

PERSON B
1. How did you initially hear about Pop-Up Magazine?
I don't remember. Probably the internet.
2. How do you find out about Pop-Up Magazine events?
People usually alert me to it. Last time it was a friend who was in it. This time it was my girlfriend.
3. What appeals to you about Pop-Up Magazine?
I like the idea of it. Honestly, I'm not that impressed. It's fun and everything but the hype doesn't match the actual event.

PERSON C
1. How did you initially hear about Pop-Up Magazine?
From a friend
2. How do you find out about Pop-Up Magazine events?
I signed up for their twitter feed.
3. What appeals to you about Pop-Up Magazine?
Its a cool mix between journalism and art, a really engaging form of storytelling. And I like that I don't really know what to expect in advance. And that the chance is big that some of the talks/performances are interesting to me. I hate it if I am trapped somewhere for hours with one thing and it turns out I don't like it - so the nice thing about PopUp magazine is that there are so many different things, and if I don't like one it's over in 3 minutes or so ;-)\

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