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Will Varner

IN THIS ISSUE

The shaky future of royal merchandise

Big Tech wants even bigger apps

Famous brothers Ron and Clint Howard fill out the Questionnaire

 

VIBE CHECK

 

Now that you know we exist...you should really try our pillowy biscuits.”—Hardee’s apparently subtweeting Mike Lindell’s allegations that the FBI seized his phone at one of their drive-throughs

Well, Pepsi filed for bankruptcy twice, right? Does it make the Pepsi taste less good?”—crypto company Celsius’s CEO Alex Mashinsky about his company entering bankruptcy

If you were to pay me is there any way the media could find out where it came from and how much?”—Brett Favre texting former Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant about securing welfare funds for a new volleyball stadium

 

AUTUMN DEBATE

 

—Amanda Hoover

 

GROUP CHAT

 

The enduring dream of a super app

The enduring dream of a super app

Mark Zuckerberg long dreamed of a super app, a one-stop shop for calls, chats, bill paying, and shopping. Facebook has been experimenting with ideas for expanding its Marketplace services and getting into the dating game, while Instagram is transforming into a virtual mall. In August, WhatsApp, also part of Zuckerberg’s Meta empire, announced that it would partner with Jio Platforms to provide grocery delivery in India.

The super app concept isn’t new; it’s already pretty common in Asia. China’s WeChat is probably the best known. Though it began as a humble chat app, it’s since grown into an app for ordering food, hailing cabs, and even getting a loan preapproved. It’s almost impossible to live in China without it. But it might not be the best example for Meta and other Western tech giants to follow: The highly censored app is part of China’s surveillance network and routinely turns user data over to the Chinese government.

It’s not only Zuckerberg who wants a super app: In June, Elon Musk sketched up a similar blueprint for Twitter when acquiring it. “There’s no WeChat equivalent out of China. There’s a real opportunity to create that,” Musk said. Snap’s Evan Spiegel has been busy building a super app ecosystem as well: Since 2020, Snapchat has added features to book movie tickets, meditate, and make flashcards to study for exams. Then there’s Uber. Once synonymous with ride-hailing services, it now offers food and retail delivery as well. Plus, Uber may soon expand to planes and trains—it’s currently piloting a travel booking program in the UK.

“The more services, the stickier and more lucrative,” Scott Galloway wrote for New York Magazine.

But a super app has its problems, too; namely that if it’s not done just right, it can quickly become unusable. As Instagram has tried to grow into a super app, it’s driven away users who say it’s simply not cool anymore. Competition supposedly fuels innovation, so where do users escape if a super app is all that’s left? Super apps would further consolidate tech giants’ dominance, which has been under scrutiny for years.

Then there’s the issue of privacy—and that’s a big one, especially in the US. Facebook doesn’t have a great track record of protecting private information. Plus, as it notes in its TOS, the app continues to “collect location information.” A Meta-built super app could exacerbate this problem.

Whether or not a super app will be born in the US, the transition from single-purpose apps to multifeature super apps seems inevitable. Tech giants need to sustain their growth by offering new services and expanding their identities in a slow economy. And the simple truth is that with dozens of apps we use occasionally, our smartphones quickly become app dumps.

—Sherry Qin

     
 

SUNDAY FUNDAY

 

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A Sunday crossword that nods to the news of the week. Play it here.

 
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LONG READ

 

The uncertain future of royal merchandise

The uncertain future of royal merchandise Will Varner

In the Buckingham Palace Shop at the intersection of Buckingham Palace Road and Palace Street—the official royal gift shop—the windows have been blocked out with thick, velvety purple curtains since the death of Queen Elizabeth II earlier this month. It evokes (perhaps unintentionally) a coffin, and that association is even sharper next door, at Majestic Gifts, where an explicit shrine of mourning is surrounded by a display offering queen-themed keychains, mugs, salt and pepper shakers, posters, pens, teddy bears, dishes, wine glasses, and bobblehead dolls. Much of it is still celebrating the queen’s Platinum Jubilee, which ended in June. Queen Elizabeth merchandise is a dying breed.

I asked the floor manager at Majestic Gifts, Nasir, a seemingly straightforward question after the accession of King Charles III: Does this shop have any Charles merchandise?

He squinted and turned his face as if he runs a candy shop and I had just asked for something that tastes like broccoli. “No,” he said decisively. “There’s nothing.” When I pressed, he said that over a month ago he had some Charles mugs, but they didn’t sell.

At store after store across London, it’s the same story: royal merchandise almost exclusively dedicated to the late queen, and a series of askance glares when asked about the desirability of Charles merchandise.

It’s not a matter of being too soon. Down the street from Majestic Gifts, at Cool Britannia, the staff were already walking around in sweatshirts marking the queen’s death with the phrase “Forever in our hearts…1926–2022.” Merchants have the ability to produce Charles-themed memorabilia; it’s just that no one wants it.

Around some of London’s biggest tourist neighborhoods—Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, Notting Hill, Covent Garden, Leicester Square, and Piccadilly Circus—there is a far greater chance of finding merchandise of Mr. Bean, the British cult television character whose eponymous show ended in 1995, than of the new king. There’s even a better chance of finding Donald Trump merchandise in a British souvenir shop in 2022 than there is of anything Carolean.

A 2021 poll found the queen’s brand allure was “greater than Nike, Ferrari and Pepsi.” For good reason: A 2018 YouGov poll found that 31 percent of Britons had seen or met the late queen in person, as opposed to 16 percent for then-Prince Charles, five percent for Prince William, four percent for Prince Harry, three percent for Kate Middleton, and only one percent for Meghan Markle. Put plainly, the queen was the British monarchy, and without her, international interest in the Windsors seems uncertain, as does the entire business of selling royal merchandise.

According to the Centre of Retail Research, the British public spent £282 million on memorabilia for this year’s Platinum Jubilee. Only the weddings of other royals—Charles and Diana in 1981, and William and Kate in 2011—even come close to the queen’s regular merchandise hauls. William and Kate’s wedding, for example, saw £134 million spent on merchandise, and many shops still sell things like tea towels to commemorate the blessed event.

“The audience for anything royal—news, merchandise, fashion, anything—has been a world by women for women,” said Elizabeth Holmes, proprietor of an Instagram that offers insights into the royal family and writer of a New York Times bestseller on the subject, HRH: So Many Thoughts on Royal Style. Continue reading this story by Richard Morgan on businesses fueled by the queen and her international popularity.

     
 

Q&A

 

Brew Questionnaire with Ron and Clint Howard

Brew Questionnaire with Ron and Clint Howard Broomvector

You’ve heard of Ron Howard—he’s probably directed some of your favorite movies, like A Beautiful Mind, Apollo 13, and Splash. He’s also won some awards, including two Oscars. You might also hear his voice in your head sometimes, saying things like, “On the next episode of Arrested Development, Buster moves to the kitchen.” (Or maybe that’s just us.) If you’ve seen a Ron Howard movie, then you’re also familiar with his brother, actor Clint Howard, who has appeared in most of them. His other credits include Star Trek, Seinfeld, and an iconic turn in The Waterboy. Your parents definitely know them from their days as child stars, from classic shows like Happy Days, Gentle Ben, and The Andy Griffith Show.

Now the Howard brothers have a new book, The Boys: A Memoir of Hollywood and Family. In it, they frankly and fondly share their unusual family story of navigating and surviving life as sibling child actors. They were kind enough to take a break from their busy schedules to fill out the Brew Questionnaire.

What’s the best advice you ever received?

Ron: Henry Fonda advised me once that as an actor or director in the entertainment business, if you didn’t take on a creative challenge which scared the living hell out of you every 18 months or so, then you weren’t really trying and you didn’t deserve much respect or success.

Clint: It came from my dad many years ago. He told me to always listen. Really listen. I realize it’s simple, but it’s always served me well. Another piece of great advice came years later from a friend. Never make a decision when you’re angry. Allow yourself to be angry, but don’t corner yourself with raging decisions.

What’s the most embarrassing song you’ll admit to liking publicly?

Ron: Jan and Dean, “Little Old Lady from Pasadena.”

Clint: “Castaways” from The Backyardigans. It was introduced to me by my daughter, and I catch myself singing it all the time.

What fictional person do you wish were real?

Ron: Any one of the Neanderthal characters from the old Geico commercials…man, would I have questions for those dudes.

Clint: Captain Kirk.

What real person do you wish were fictional?

Ron: Choose any autocratic demagogue past or present and make him or her a Bond villain, an anime baddie, or the subject of an audaciously dark-but-zany Broadway musical.

Clint: Dr. Fauci.

How would you explain TikTok to your great-grandparents?

Ron: It’s like if a bunch of flappers, sheikhs, and hooligans from all around the world lost their fool heads on New Year’s Eve and started kiddin’ around with a Dick Tracy wristwatch. And, oh yeah, they brought their damn pets with ’em, too.

Clint: “Great Grandma, Great Grandpa, you do something silly, and I’ll make sure millions of people can see it.”

What always makes you laugh?

Ron: Currently, it’s the SmartLess podcast. Those three self-proclaimed idiots—Jason Bateman, Will Arnett, and Sean Hayes—never fail to make me laugh out loud.

Clint: My best laughs happen with my wife, Kat. We are so close that when we share a laugh, it not just tickles my funny bone, it warms the deepest place in my heart.

If you were given a billboard in Times Square, what would you put on it?

Ron: An image of separate scowling and angry red and blue people on either side of the billboard with some joining in the middle of the image where those people take on a purple hue as sunshine bathes their relaxed expressions in illumination. They look festive; they seem to be dancing and enjoying life. The text below says, “Meet me in the middle, where the real action is.”

Clint: I’d put a big picture of me on it. Maybe it would scare up some work.


—Interview by Rohan Anthony

     
 
Sundays for Dogs
 

BREW'S BEST

 

Fear and loathing at Goldman Sachs: As one of the few women managing directors at Goldman Sachs, Jamie Fiore Higgins saw it all: lavish parties fueled by alcohol and drugs, affairs flaunted in the office, and a discriminatory company culture that purposefully held back women and people of color. Fiore Higgins talked to us about her experiences at Goldman, her memoir, and her thoughts on how to make long-lasting changes in the finance industry. [Morning Brew]

Baseball cards are back, baby: The trading card industry was an unexpected stay-at-home economy winner—eBay sold more than 4 million cards in the US, marking a 142% increase in domestic sales in 2020 compared to 2019. Capitalizing on the trend, sports orgs brought cards to the digital space by launching sports NFTs, some of which have been sold for an obscene amount of cash. [Morning Brew]

The best thing we read this week: Jann Wenner wants to reveal it all. The Rolling Stone founder talks about LSD, not reading the magazine anymore, and how the Stones now look like Lord of the Rings characters onstage. [New York Times]

*Game on! Our very own Alex Lieberman will host his Strategy for Creators course on Oct. 17. With guests like Codie Sanchez and Sahil Bloom, sharing their expert insights, you won’t want to miss it. Sign up today!

 

THE END

 

null

Amanda Hoover

         

Written by Rohan Anthony, Stassa Edwards, Amanda Hoover, Richard Morgan, Sherry Qin, Ashwin Rodrigues, and Holly Van Leuven

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