These notes on these two models are not structured or completely thought through but are a quick edit of some notes I made a few months back. I initially started writing this after meeting someone who was providing a gardening as subscription service as well as temporary landscaped structures for a cinema pop up. As soon as I was at a keyboard I tried to get as many half formed thoughts down as I could. I recently worked a celebrity shift at a friend's Ramen Pop up and wanted to wait for the experience to settle in before looking through these thoughts again.
The Pop Up and the Subscription are two competing and contrasting business models that point to a recognisable contour for the early twenty teens. Both rely on selling physical objects but are squeezed through the fine sieve of the network to dematerialise the products into experiences or services.
The pop up treats the selling space as the flow. It treats architectural and physical space as a temporary inhabitation, before the seller moves on. The object that is being sold is very material. The excitement is over the experience and novelty of the supposedly artisanal product. Hyper artisanal and novel. The subscription abstracts the object being sold into a service. The pop up treats space as a service.
The pop up is the fetishisation of the product and the experiential nature of a networked event. It grants the consumer the chance to live inside a localised novelty. The subscription treats the product as a service; as flow (or it fetishizes the curator). It places trust in their wide ranging knowledge of trends to allow them to briefly experience a trend. To trust that the package will be on brand.
The pop up relies on a distributed communication medium to alert possible customers to alert customers to your presence. By relying on novelty, it hopes to get as many people as possible to buy as much as possible as quickly as possible. It works by responding to all the various hyper trends and micro genre fascinations that we all seem to be fluent in. The stock must work inside one of these trends, but be aware of the limited life span and interest in this wave. It's an Early Adopter symptom, only later will the rest of the curve get to eat or use the product; usually after the trend has calcified overstayed it's welcome. A pop up macaroon shop would have worked a few years back, but now all that's needed is an offsite kitchen and a chain of daintily designed shopfronts to supply demand to those in the Late Majority. The initial excitement in this micro novelty ensures lasting businesses for those not well versed in the latest small batch artisanal hashtags, who have already moved on to the next big small thing. People only need to go to a pop up once – maybe twice – to have partaken in the activity of consuming. The lines at the Ramen pop up were disturbingly long; people waiting for more than an hour just to get a seat. They had no choice but to wait around; the desire to gain entry into the trend cluster is too strong.
The aesthetics of the pop up is symptomatic of the contemporary transitory architectural movement. Structures shouldn't be permanent, as such they can be as novel as possible. As long as they're light and temporary they can respond to microtrends at the speed of meme-puffs. If the business operates inside an older building, the decorations and interior design can be even more responsive to trends. By filling in spaces that are temporarily vacant, the pop up is a marker of our current economic period. The hardened shell of previous boom times provides the shelter for our more agile and precarious era. The post GFC world is full of uncertainty, for both landowners and young upstarts. I'd allude to a bio-mimicking symbiotic relationship at this point but it hasn't been 2008 for some time and I just can't bring myself to utter the term morphology anymore.
They have to be temporary, able to respond to their situation. Nimble business. The food truck is an extreme version of this; heavily reliant on social media and mobile to allow for a constant recontextualising between the chosen space and the product, and the experience that arises from this mix.
At a stretch, I'd argue that the pop up is the commercial extension of Relational Aesthetics (and an entrepreneurial co-opting of the Occupy tent camp). Was Rikrit Tiravanija's first servings of thai curry at 303 Gallery not a precursor to a ramen pop up, or a taco truck, with the added benefit of 20 years of technological change and a need for new means of creating income? Plywood – the visual shorthand of so much of the relational – would probably be display the telltale burnt ends of a laser cutter. Those pots of curry would have been emptied a lot faster on opening night if foursquare, twitter, instagram, and facebook had been involved. Instead of focusing on the "whole of human relations and their social context" within the gallery space, it all happens as people wait in the queue outside.
It's here that the smartphone comes into it's own as a new medium in which to structure the mobile, affluent, and time rich sectors of society. Urban theorists have been banging on about the emergent properties of a networked society for long enough that it;s finally sunk into the twittering classes, whether they know it or not. The pop up, and the food truck, are creating new functions within the urban fabric, allowing for the micro-utopian dreams of the asymmetric haircut set. The only downside is we all need to be glancing down at our thumbs every so often.
There are two variations on the subscription service (where it has moved from delivering immaterial digital goods towards the physical substantiation of products). The first is the basic subscription service, where a basic product is delivered to the home at a regular interval. These can range from razors, tampons, newspapers. This is the dull version of this system, and I won't be looking at that version. The more interesting subscription service either entails a curated assortment of objects, or where a service has been translated into an ongoing relationship between the vendor and the customer.
As previously mentioned, the initial push for these notes were after meeting someone who was starting up a subscription service to tend to the veggie gardens in a new development complex. Say what you will about the type of customers willing to sign up to it, as a business model it's rather interesting. It provides the means for a constant income stream, whereby the gardener tends to the gardens at regular intervals. It turns the act of gardening into a flow, whereby the need for constant uptake of a plot is given a new context.
The subscription service shows that the entrepreneur care about the business, the craft. The subscription system is not as mature as the pop up, and I believe as a partial response to it. Not to the pop up shop, but will become the craft counterpart. The pop up relies on existing knowledge in a tangental field - baking - but able to exploit this knowledge. The subscription shows a deepening appreciation of the subject matter. A subscription to a beer company would allow for a new craft beer to be delivered once a month, allowing for the creator to explore new ideas, to work within their chosen field. To play with different features and flavours, while keeping it within acceptable variation norms of the particular companies beer ideals. The subscription system is the opposite of the start up. The subscription relies on everyday products that people can't be bothered shopping for, or it relies on an implicit trust in the curator to select objects of worth each month. It also relies on convenience to work. People don't have the time or the spare cycles to think about the product and would like to dematerialise this. The subscription is the feed model. Treating these objects as a flow. Nothing physical and permanent, something that comes in and out of their immediate physical space and mental space. The subscription relies on infrastructure to work: the web, postal services.
More things to think about that I didn't get a chance to:
Different lengths of time; what defines it as a pop up? In name? Duration? A day, afternoon, week, month?
More nuance on city fabric. How does this treat the city? Tabula rasa? How do we exist as citizens?
Both of these are easily co-optable by large businesses. There's always a Bigend with enough of a finger on the pulse to know how to use it.
It's suburbia vs the city. Metro Mouse VS Cloud Mouse