2020 Annual Letter
By Andi and Josh - Tuesday, December 29, 2020
Every year, we (Andi and Josh) sit down and craft this letter directly to our customers. It's both a gratifying and frustrating experience to conduct a self-assessment, and look back at the ways we excelled in 2020 and, most importantly, the things we need to do better. Inspired by Warren Buffet's candid annual letter, we think it's healthy to keep an open dialogue with you.
There will never be another year quite like 2020. There's a meme created every minute lampooning the pandemic—and it's easy to commiserate over the compounded bad news of 2020. But we're choosing to look at this year in a more positive light.
Think about it like this: there were few professions harder hit than professional magicians. Like so many others in entertainment, our ability to work came to a grounding halt in March. But, unlike musicians and writers, who can produce content without an audience, magic—so we thought—would have to be entirely put on hold.
But then something admirable started occurring: magicians adapted. Magicians all over the world are filling their Decembers with virtual shows: six, seven a day in some cases. These shows are being performed in the comfort of everyone's homes, from screen to screen. The cleverest magicians have even realized that the disadvantage of the pandemic would lead to some unforeseen advantages. Now, any magician with a stable internet connection can perform for audiences all over the world...simultaneously. Bravo to the magicians of the world who did us all proud by showing ingenuity, class, and creativity.
Our biggest accomplishment this year was our own pivot. Our biggest fear was for our team. With an initial drop-off in sales due to the pandemic, we feared we would not be able to support our staff, who we cherish like family. But a sudden, dramatic refocus to online programming and downloads literally saved our business, and we're proud to share with you that we have been able to keep our entire staff on board.
We're proud of how our community has faced the challenges of 2020. And we're proud of our own pivot. And now that there's a promise of a vaccine, we can look to the future. And we've made clear to everyone involved in Vanishing Inc. that if 2020 was the year of the "pivot," 2021 will be the year of rebuilding.
We've asked ourselves and our teammates how Vanishing Inc. can be the best partner to magicians all over the world who will have to rebuild their careers, their client base, and their shows. How can we help equip magicians with better, more amazing tools to win back audiences? How can we give back to our magic community in a way that fosters more inclusion for women, Black magicians, and anyone who might otherwise feel excluded?
As we have eagerly taken our place near the top of the magic marketplace, we feel a deep responsibility for continuing to conduct ourselves in a way that respects the craft of magic and the community we serve. We have bold, ambitious ideas, and we just can't wait to continue to pursue them.
The Great Pivot
As a magic company who sells to magicians, what do you do when all professional magicians are not performing shows for a year?
Our answer was a dramatic pivot to creating an online community.
This began with ShareMagic: Live, an online convention we cooked up and executed in less than a month. An entire magic convention online and entirely free, this was our way of bringing the magic community together in, perhaps, the very darkest hours of the pandemic. We’re grateful to Justin Willman, Harapan Ong, Harrison Greenbaum Jim Krenz, David Blaine, Dynamo, Dani DaOrtiz, Caroline Ravn, Jeff McBride, Morgan and West, Danny Garcia and more.
Here’s the part that still boggles our minds: 35,000 people joined us at various times throughout that day! This sets the all-time record for attendance for a magic gathering by a huge margin. On that day, it appeared everyone in magic had eyes on us and our guests, and it was an incredible privilege. It was good for business, too. That day we welcomed all sorts of new friends into our community. If you’re reading this and you’re one of them, welcome! And if you never got around to watching: ShareMagic: Live is still available and still free. Watch it here
We also offered “Magic School,” a free email subscription that taught a trick or move every week for the entire summer. Our thinking was that magicians ought to invest in learning new material during the downtime afforded them by the lockdown, so we hope this feature helped pass the time.
In June, we put into immediate action a program we’ve been developing for more than a year in secret. The idea is curated lessons over the course of a month from absolute top talent. The pandemic is actually the perfect environment to build such a program, and we were delighted with the response.
For us, the best part of Vanishing Inc. Masterclass Live has been watching the community evolve. The first two months or so it felt like a group of a few hundred strangers watching the performer give lessons. But as we came to recognize the same faces each month, we realized that a small, friendly community was forming. Sub-groups started meeting outside of class to chat and jam on the week’s lesson, and the facebook group came alive with activity. Friendships have formed. A virtual magic club was born.
So far we’ve featured month-long residencies from Asi Wind, Blake Vogt, Luke Jermay, David Regal, and Guy Hollingworth. Our lineup for next year is equally exciting:
- John Guastaferro
- Mike Caveney
- Daniel Garcia
- Eric Jones
- Peter Samelson
It is, we feel, the very best deal in magic: for just $50 a month.
To assist in our initiative to help “rebuild” the magic community, we released a series of downloads called “Connected.” These download tutorials focus specifically on magic that can be used for virtual shows. They proved to be a huge hit, as the timing obviously created a need for magicians to learn to perform magic online. What’s innovative (to us, anyway) is that we filmed the entire series remotely. We’re used to traveling by plane to an artist or theater and setting up for a multi-day shoot. Imagine the convenience of everyone filming...from their living rooms! Each one came out beautiful, and they are a great resource for performing remotely.
Dani DaOrtiz, Karl Hein, and Rob Ramirez all offered complete setlists of virtual magic, and the low price of $25 made these three downloads three of our best-sellers.
We have another great virtual trick coming up: it’s a trick by Adam Elbaum and it should drop within a week or so of this letter. It is, hands down, the finest “virtual” card trick we’ve ever seen. The participant can use any deck of cards they have at home, and the trick you’re able to do through their screens is nothing short of remarkable. It’s called “Bubble Thought,” and it’s a killer.
The final part of our “pivot” is pure fun. Vanishing Inc. Showtime is a once-a-month magic show you can watch virtually with your whole family. We feature a leading magician doing their virtual show, followed by a live interview about the ins and outs of the show right after it’s done. We debuted the program with Justin Willman and over 300 of you watched and laughed alongside us.
The coolest part of this feature is that it’s the first initiative we’ve tried in which you can invite your families, partners, and children to peer into our world. We loved looking around the virtual theater and seeing kids and couples enjoying magic together. Then, of course, we ask you to kick them all out of the room so we magicians can talk shop and dissect the show.
The first offering was a resounding success, and so we have plans to continue the program with Ben Seidman and Lucy Darling. If you keep attending, we’ll keep booking great talent.
2020 started off with a bang: Parlour Tricks by Morgan & West, Distilled by Ryan Plunkett and The Darkest Corners by Ben Hart and Neil Kelso smashed all of our expectations, and each one received rave reviews when it came out
In particular, Parlour Tricks has zipped out of print (and we’ve now brought it back in a third printing) because the book resonated so well with performers. The authors tipped their entire show--in a mix of theory and routines--and presented it all in their inimitable style.
We also formed a partnership with the finest close-up pad craftsmen in this galaxy, Vorst and Bosch, and their made-to-order feature on our site, while pricey, has been a huge hit with customers who wish to invest in a luxury setting for their magic. We will soon debut a partnership with Vorst & Bosch and Shin Lim, in a limited edition pad we expect will sell out immediately.
An enormous challenge in our lives is balancing Vanishing Inc. and our own careers. The exciting part is that, this year, they have intersected in interesting and exciting ways.
After more than a decade in development and three years of writing, Andi Gladwin released The Boy Who Cried Magic into the world. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, it’s likely you saw the promotion and praise heaped upon this project, which the VI team took on with unprecedented promotional enthusiasm.
The book collects the very best of Andi’s creative output to date and is filled with a mixture of polished routines and useful moves. Dynamo, Paul Wilson, and Steve Cohen all offered praise for the book. In conjunction with the release, Andi filmed a cinematic trailer that (we immodestly believe) surpasses all other magic book trailers in scope and quality.
The promotion seemed to work...really, really, really well. The entire printing sold out in 24 hours, including a gorgeous deluxe edition that came with custom playing cards, a magnetic cloth book box, and a sample of Andi’s hair (alas, not that last part). This made it our top-selling book in company history.
If you didn’t get one yet, fear not: another printing is on the way and should be available in January. Andi started the year with a whirlwind tour of the Pacific Northwest and Canada, and Gladwin plans to resume touring in support of the book when it’s safe to travel again.
Josh’s year started off with an intensive, big-budget shoot of his Off-Broadway show Six Impossible Things. You’ll be hearing more about how to eventually see this footage later this year.
Josh received a kind honor, being named “Magician of the Year” from the Society of American Magicians Parent Assembly. The virtual ceremony featured hilarious and heartfelt congratulations from cofounder Andi Gladwin, David Williamson, Pit Hartling, Denis Behr, Steve Cohen, Tom Stone, Jamy Ian Swiss, and many more. The evening concluded with a brand new card set performed by Josh himself.
Josh was also a frequent guest on American television, marking his fourth season with Masters of Illusion on the CW, as well as an appearance on Penn & Teller’s Try This At Home. He was also featured on the cover of The Art section of The New York Times in a detailed piece on his work with incarcerated magicians.
While the pandemic ruined the timing of most things in life, it actually helped with the release of Joshua Jay’s release for children, Magic Mail. With most kids around the world stuck at home and parents in search of fun activities, Magic Mail was the right fit for the right time. It’s a darling, interactive project you can do with your kids, and although available at bookstores worldwide, Vanishing Inc. captured a huge portion of international sales, and there are rumblings of a sequel.
As ever, our Big Friday sale this year provided an enormous boost to our bottom line, and was a much-needed jolt in a shaky economy. We’re so very grateful to all of you for participating in the sale. It is, to put it bluntly, one of the biggest reasons we’re able to keep on our entire team and continue with the many projects we have planned.
But, it pains us to say that we have again fallen short of our self-imposed expectations during the sale. We fell behind by more than ten days in dispatching orders--and that was with George and Josh and Andi onsite helping the warehouse team, which was working 24/7 to fulfill orders.
We’re already taking steps to improve this issue for the future. These include warehouse renovations, reworking how we operate our software during the sale, system improvements, and a new plan to hire even more temporary staff for the busiest periods. It’s not our style to make excuses. Next year, we will be better.
A Reboot of Amazekids
One of the toughest parts of running this company is admitting when something isn’t quite working. We had the highest of hopes for AmazeKids, our sister company that specializes in children’s magic.
The concept was, we think, sound: there are more children’s magicians than any other kind of performers, and there are no major websites catering to this genre of magic. A children’s magician has to cobble together props and tutorials from several sites because no one site has “all of it.” We wanted to be that site. And we partnered with the ideal person to launch it, Danny Orleans.
Yet, despite our very best efforts over a period of years, we never achieved the kind of numbers we desired. The truth is that, while children’s magicians may be more numerous than other kinds of performers, they don’t make the kind of curious, impulse purchases that drive a magic company’s success.
As a result, we decided to reboot the brand as a boutique company. The most profitable sector of AmazeKids was always our unique product line, and by focusing on just our original products for kids entertainers, we would lessen the workload and scope of the brand.
And...it worked! Our first three releases--”AmazeWands” by Joshua Jay, “Rocket Book” by Scott Green--a new take on the magic coloring book, and “Animinimals” by Billy Damon were all smash hits. We learned that we can almost equal the revenue of a catch-all brand with just a few, smart products. So AmazeKids is now smaller, sleeker, and more optimized for growth, while still working with the wonderful Danny Orleans.
Our Community and Charitable Efforts
If you follow us you know that we take very seriously our calling to promote magic and uplift magicians. For years, we’ve run our registered 501c3 Non-Profit, ShareMagic, to promote the craft of magic and to assist magicians in need.
And YOU are the engine that drives this initiative, since most of our funding comes from donations from customers. At checkout, people have the option to donate 1 or 5 or 20 dollars, and we’re blessed to sometimes even receive donations exceeding these amounts.
A portion of these funds are used to help the youth in magic. You may recall we sponsored the renovation of the magic theater at the College of Magic, and created a “Magic Lab” so underserved kids in Capetown would have a safe environment to create magic, which we keep stocked with gimmicks and crafts and resources to build new props and routines.
This year we also expanded our scope by commissioning two not-for-profit magic books that we believe will advance the art of magic. These long-term projects will take longer than a year to incubate, but we’ve hired two of the most revered authors in magic to tackle two subjects that ought to be covered in a thorough, academic, and engaging way.
The first is a survey of all the great Black magicians throughout history. It’s time for a gorgeous, well-researched, and engagingly told chronicle of the important contributions that magicians of color have made in our community. We’ve assembled a small but mighty team to research and author this book. We believe it’s a book that must be written and become widely available. So stay tuned.
The Black Lives Matter movement was felt across the world, and perhaps most acutely in the United States. We felt it was appropriate to take action, and so we did: Vanishing Inc. donated a day of profits in June to two charities, to help promote equality both in the magic community and for a wider audience. We donated several thousand dollars to The College of Magic, earmarked for helping black students in their studies of magic. From their recently-published email, they wrote:
*“Mindful that the funds were raised in conjunction with the Black Lives Matter Movement, the support has specifically been used to support black students of the College of Magic’s ‘Magic in the Community’ Project training which engages with disadvantaged young South Africans in their attempts to strive for a future of hope. This vital funding from Vanishing Inc, initially could not have come at a better time. Your generosity has provided incredible support towards developing and facilitating our online training programme in 2020 necessitated by the Coronavirus Pandemic and the increased amount enabled us to extend this critical support.” *
We also donated to the NAACP, to assist with their legal fund in promoting equality. And it was during this period we conceived of the idea to publish a book celebrating black magicians, so that the next generation of magic will have a better understanding of the important role black magicians have played in our history, and we can correct the unfairly small bandwidth black magicians have often received in print.
The other research project (and book) is a fresh approach to magic’s history at large. Rather than telling the story of magic chronologically or through its practitioners, we’ve commissioned a book that will attempt to engage with magic’s narrative through its props and effects. We don’t wish to give up too much, but our hope is that this project will unveil new scholarship and give a point of view that will help readers see our rich history from a new perspective.
As already mentioned, 2020 was a year to “pivot” and our goal for next year is to help magicians “rebuild.” So, what does that look like?
It starts with live events again. We’ll be holding our Retreat: South Africa adventure, which was postponed until November 2021. We’ve plussed this sold-out event with additional content as we look ahead to this. And Magifest and The Session both have replacement dates later in 2021, with a new wrinkle: an online option.
We’re not sure how well this will go over. Early sales figures aren’t yet particularly impressive. But, for people who live far away, or are unable to take the vaccine, watching and interacting our convention remotely is a viable option. If it works well, we may make it a yearly offering. Time will tell.
Here’s a glimpse of what’s coming up on our release list:
“Bubble Thought” by Adam Elbaum. Truly the best virtual card trick we’ve seen--so simple, yet so effective. Any deck, any spectator, any time.
The Particle System by Joshua Jay. The long awaited book on Joshua Jay’s original memorized deck and material. Several years in the works, we hope to bring this to you in late 2021.
The Oracle System by Ben Seidman is a fantastic way to interact with spectators and do “cold readings” using tarot cards. But more than that, it’s a spectacular demonstration of synchronicity. This is one of Ben’s most closely guarded secrets, and we’re bringing it to you in early 2021.
A Mentalism Tool by Steve Thompson that is an incredible way to predict anything. While these types of effects might normally rely on “tech”, this ingenious gimmick is ideal for stage performers that want a method that is as sure-fire as your own handwriting.
Tim Hill blew us away at last year’s “Retreat” when he showed us a card box that he designed to secretly shoot a coin into a glass. This allows for a miracle-class ending to your favorite coin routine, in which a coin appears with an audible “clink” in a glass you’re nowhere near. It’s electronic, gorgeous and affordable. Coming soon.
Before I Begin by Asi Wind. A new book by Asi Wind on an important and under-the-radar topic.
Plus--no joke--more than 30 other items that we’re not ready to unveil just yet.
By the time you read this letter, Brexit will be just a few days away and the UK will be leaving the European Union on 1st January 2021. The last-minute deal threw us for a bit of a loop because we had fully prepared our systems for a no-deal Brexit. But, our understanding is now customers in the European union will no longer be required to pay VAT on physical items (video downloads are still charged VAT as each EU country charges VAT digitally, but not on ebooks). This means that many prices will be shown as 20% lower than they previously were. And due to the trade deal, your orders should not be charged import duty so often your orders will end up cheaper than before Brexit.
We have made a few changes to our website to make things easier for our EU friends (even if we're separated from the Union, we can still be friends, right?). Mainly, European visitors now see prices with VAT deducted where necessary.
The whole Brexit situation has been difficult to manage for all retailers, including us, with negotiations totally changing just days before the transition. But we believe we're ready with all of the required documentation and system changes to ensure a seamless integration with no interruption to your orders and deliveries. There will be another update to the process on 1st July 2021 where some countries will require us to charge VAT again, but that's another discussion for another day.
A Last Word
We pinch ourselves every day that we get to write, perform, edit, market, and sell magic to you. We feel a responsibility to our team and their families, and to the magic industry, to represent magic in a way that will uplift the public’s perception of magic, and foster a sense of community among magicians. This year has tested everyone--ourselves included. And we know you have a choice when you invest in new magic. As this letter demonstrates, we’re certainly not perfect. But we’re trying to be the perfect magic shop, every day. And we’ll continue to try.
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