Vanishing Inc. 2023 Year in Review
By Andi and Josh - Saturday, December 30, 2023
Joshua Jay and Andi Gladwin here. At the end of each year, the two of us sit down and chat in detail about the past year in magic, about our own performance careers, and, of course, about all things Vanishing Inc. We were inspired by Warren Buffet’s open letter to his shareholders; specifically, we loved the candor. What follows is an honest assessment of our year, what we think we did well, what could be improved, and some previews of things to come. Best of all, there’s a pretty amazing “gift” hidden at the end of this email. It’s free, and it’s our gift to you as a way of saying thanks for the support.
Whether or not you read on from here, there are two things that we consider the most important takeaways. First, we have always viewed Vanishing Inc. as a community first and a business second; this letter is just one of many examples of that. In our eyes, you are a part of our community, and so these updates about our team, our ideas, our successes, and our failures involve you. We hope that comes through.
As an extension of this viewpoint, we must add our gratitude. The very idea that Vanishing Inc. has flourished in the way it has is still a marvel to us fifteen years after we started (we got the idea late at night on Andi’s living room floor). We are grateful for the creative freedom you have allowed us, and we’re grateful for the way you support us, our families, and the families of the 47 team members who work to bring you the very best magic every single day.
A record year, and record sales
We’re pleased to share that we had a record year of sales. The past two years were strong sales years, but last year, we made a major acquisition (we purchased the Houdini brand and two retail stores), and we did a much-needed warehouse expansion.
Fueled by strong book sales and our best Black Friday sale yet, this year was successful for the company. We’re reinvesting in ourselves, as usual. This year, we are in the midst of a major renovation of our UK warehouse, which will be fully operational by the end of Q1. We also hired Tim Hill, a longtime friend to both of us, as a Project Manager. Tim and the team that work with him will allow us to release higher quality products and electronic items and help us bring more magic to market. This investment into our product team was long overdue and we’re excited to see the benefits it reaps us!
We also celebrate one year with Jeff Kowalk, our CFO. We’re grateful he’s a numbers wonk because wow, that stuff is boring. Jeff has helped us elevate us to a data-driven, results-oriented approach, and the impact is evident.
Finally, a shoutout to our team. They are now too numerous to spotlight individually in such a short letter, but we’re privileged to work with every single one of them, and we adore our team. They are the most hard-working, passion-driven people we could have imagined, and they push us to be our best every day. We’re grateful to you, Vanishing Inc. family!
As time passes, our non-profit, ShareMagic, has become an increasing priority in our days. ShareMagic is funded mostly by you. During every purchase on our website, consumers have the option to donate a few bucks to our charity, and many of you take advantage of this. We have many fantastic programs that you’re likely familiar with (youth programs at Magifest and The Session, youth scholarships, etc.), but this year we took on even more.
We have partnered with one of our favorite non-profit organizations, The College of Magic. We’ve previously helped them build The Vanishing Inc. Theater in their Capetown facility so that young magicians have a regal close-up theater to do their audition performances. We also built the Vanishing Inc. Creative Lab, a space where kids go to invent and dream up their first great illusions. This year we’ve made a sizable contribution to help them expand their facility to include a media center, so kids who may not have access to the internet at home will have a place to learn magic via video instruction.
In a similar vein, we produced Everybody’s Magic by Richard Wiseman, a magic book that features fantastic illustrations and magic tricks and magic history…but unlike nearly every other magic book we’ve examined, Everybody’s Magic includes a focus on women and magicians of color. Done for the benefit of the College of Magic, this is the most inclusive magic book ever produced. We’re proud of our association with it.
We also worked with our friend, Matt Baker, on a project in conjunction with Agastya, a charity in India that serves kids who don’t have access to education in rural India. Josh, Andi, and Matt worked together to design a curriculum that teaches math skills through magic. We produced a booklet called Math Miracles, which was then translated into Telegu, an Indian dialect, and it was distributed all over rural regions in India. Josh and Matt even traveled to India to initiate the pilot program, which is now being used in classrooms all over that country.
We have two big non-profit projects coming up next year. The first is a grants initiative, where magicians will be able to apply for grants to promote diversity, history, and technology that will help elevate our magic.. And second, we’re initiating “Preserving Magic,” a program in which we’ll document magic cultures that are in danger of disappearing. Our first target for preserving? The traditional magicians of India. New books showcasing female magicians and black magicians are also nearing completion and will both be released in 2024. We intend to distribute them to every library in the UK and USA for free.
The Retreats: Our Happy Place
One of our innovations at Vanishing Inc. was creating “The Retreat.” We modeled it loosely after yoga retreats, except that we subbed out the painful stretching and put magic in its place (except for the times with Tina Lenert where she proved we were all more nimble than we thought). The idea is simple: we combine the best parts of adventure travel around the world with the best parts of a magic convention. And unlike most conventions that discourage partners from coming along, we encourage our guests to attend with a partner or friend.
We offer two Retreats each year: one domestic and one international. And they are, without question, our hottest commodity. They sell out within days of being announced, and we almost always have to turn interested parties away because we max out around sixty people for most of our offerings.
This year we had two of our most popular Retreat destinations yet: we did two separate sessions in Tuscany. With some of our favorite guests and magicians (and with Luke Jermay, Pit Hartling, and David Williamson as guest performers), we strolled through hilltop villages in Italy, toured Siena, did two wine-tastings, and stayed in a villa built in the middle-ages. It was perfecto.
For our domestic retreat, we changed up the format and took our guests on an Alaskan Cruise. We saw whales, grizzly bears, and (most of us) went on the longest zipline in the world. We took helicopters to a glacier, and witnessed outstanding magic lectures from David Regal, Jim Steinmeyer, and Garrett Thomas and talks from Bill Malone and Steve Forte.
Our 2024 locations will be the Nile Cruise (which sold out almost instantly, but you can add your name to the waitlist here, if you wish) and Washington DC. We hope you’ll join us for a future Retreat: it’s trite to write this, but it’s true: we always become fast friends with our guests because there’s just something special about going on an adventure with someone.
Not everything goes according to plan. In last year’s letter we spoke with great optimism about our acquisition of two retail shops at Disneyland and Pier 39 in San Francisco. We’ve made strides in both shops, but it has been a tougher road than we anticipated.
Why? It comes down to control. In both situations, we work closely with our landlords, who have a large say in our operations because both shops are in historic tourist areas. We are unused to working with other people, and having to seek approval for every detail of our planning. This has been…a learning curve.
We’ve also learned that selling magic in person is quite different to selling magic online. We have fifteen years of experience selling magic online, and it has taken us some time to adapt to offering magic to tourists in person. But sales are trending upward, and we’ve introduced an entirely unique line of beginner products in the store.
Most notably, we (Andi and Josh) wrote what we feel is the ideal guide to magic for beginners. It’s called, unsurprisingly, The Ultimate Guide to Magic. It’s a gorgeous book, and it even has an actual “lock” you open before reading. It will eventually be available online, but for now, it’s a Vanishing Inc. store exclusive, and we think it is the perfect introduction to magic for adults and kids alike.
The other problem we have yet to solve is that our operation is having a very, very hard time releasing products in a timely way. As an example, we recently released Instaproject, a really terrific “kit” full of visual moments and quick-hit tricks that are perfect for social media and television. It includes several handmade props and several other specially-printed gimmicks that have been assembled by hand. We realized that this trick has been in production for eight years. That’s entirely too long, and Julio Montoro and Victor Sanz, the creators, were patient with us as we encountered an absurd, comedic number of delays. But it’s out now, and we’re committed to getting better. We’ve hired a project manager to help us release projects to our high standards at a faster rate, and we’ve optimized our internal systems so that we can develop magic without it taking so very long to release.
New Pathways in the Industry
One of the things we (Andi and Josh) stress in all of our endeavors is finding new pathways in every sector of our operation. Sometimes this means finding an unprecedented book or trick. But this year is a good example of us demonstrating new ways to present our creative pursuits.
One example is “The World’s Greatest Card Trick” by Hector Mancha. Like the name? It’s hyperbolic, but it’s not far off, and if you’ve seen this, you know what we’re talking about. We worked with Hector to market this card trick unlike any trick that has come before it.
Without saying too much, Hector’s biggest priority was protecting the secret of the trick amongst only other serious magicians. He didn’t want the method to be used by thousands of magicians around the world, and we wanted to control who and how the trick was taught. So we developed an unorthodox way of presenting it to our community. The trick retailed for $499, which has to make it the most expensive card trick in the industry. But each purchase comes with a private lesson from the creator, live on Zoom. Hector Mancha is, of course, a FISM world-champion magician, and he personally taught each person who invested in The World’s Greatest Card Trick. The trick was a huge success, and we still receive tremendous feedback from those who invested in it and use it in their shows. As we had expected, some people rushed to social media to complain about the price, but those who invested in it have continued to rave about the experience.
Another great “first” was our release party for Piff the Magic Book, one of our top-selling titles of 2023. We always like to tailor our marketing plans to the product and magician, but Piff pushed us to go to new heights. Hosted by Andi Gladwin and produced by George Luck, this event saw almost 10,000 unique viewers watch live online, and guests at the show included Shin Lim, Penn & Teller, and David Copperfield. There were gags and production values and surprise guests, and it worked. The interest in this title has been intense, and it has become one of our all-time best-sellers.
And finally, we’re extremely excited to announce a brand-new closed captioning initiative starting in 2024. Every new Vanishing Inc. produced product and trailer released in 2024, and beyond, will have closed captioning available. The inclusion of closed captions not only showcases our commitment to supporting deaf or hard of hearing magicians but has been proven through multiple scientific studies to improve both comprehension and retention of video content. This initiative will vastly improve the overall learning experience for all magicians and bolster our commitment to improving the art of magic. Additionally, the trailers for products produced by other creators will have captioning available. While we are currently unable to caption their explanation videos, we hope that this initiative inspires other creators to follow suit and push forward the idea of making closed captioning ubiquitous in the magic community.
Vanishing Inc. Masterclass, our Crown Jewel
We’ve said it before, and perhaps you thought it was a marketing slogan, but let’s be clear: it’s absolutely true. Vanishing Inc. Masterclass is the best deal on our site. It is, in a sense, an online magic club, and it has become a kind of community where we learn together. For $49.99 per month, you get a guest lecturer every month who delivers two premium-filmed, ninety-minute videos, plus a live Q&A, where you can ask these experts anything you like.
This year, we injected this program with other benefits, chiefly our Studio offering. This means that members of Masterclass also have access to a streaming library which features many of our favorite and best-selling videos. In essence, your Masterclass membership acts as a passport into a veritable academy of magic. It’s the fastest way to improve your magic and to engage with the leading magicians in our field.
We’ve offered several promotions that give people a chance to try out this service for one dollar, and this has been very effective for us. We’re happy to report that we’ve already lined up our talent for the entirety of 2024. It’s a crazy great list of magicians: Jon Armstrong, Tyler Erickson, Dan Harlan, Rune Klan, Farrell Dillon, and Dustin Marks, to tease just a few names.
We can’t mention Masterclass this year without mentioning what we have come to refer to as “Disasterclass,” a day that will live in infamy forever within our company. It all started out so well: we were celebrating Masterclass by offering our community an online event in which we were interviewing and talking with David Williamson. We asked David about how he trains people in sleight-of-hand and who his influences were. And then, in the middle of the Zoom session…we were hacked. Without warning, several bots crashed the chat showing pornographic images, and we couldn’t block them fast enough. Every time we blocked a user, three more would pop up. All of this happened live, in front of hundreds of our guests.
We responded in much the way you would expect: Andi was frantically trying to fix the problem, stuttering and apologizing as he tried to contain the problem. Josh was…just nervously giggling hysterically the whole time, in disbelief that it happened at all. Apologies were issued, the problem was fixed, and we learned an important lesson that day in how we lock down our livestream events. But “Disasterclass” is something nobody will soon forget (including our tech team, who have done the due diligence to ensure nothing like this ever happens again).
Perhaps our most exciting news is that next year promises to be our very best yet in terms of releases. On the book front, we’re pleased to announce a retrospective book project cowritten with John Lovick, featuring the very best magic of Allan Ackerman. He is one of our favorite card magicians, and this “life-work” is well overdue.
One of our first hard-backed book releases (and our first big hit) was John Guastaferro’s One Degree. It remains among our very favorite books that we’ve produced. Next year we’ll release Nth Degree, the follow-up effort from John G. It is, as you would expect, sensational.
We’re also reprinting our most popular trilogy for the first time ever, The Definitive Sankey. Those books go for absurd prices on the second-hand market. They will be available after a decade, and we hope a whole new generation of students can discover and make use of this treasure-trove of material (three volumes, 1500 pages, more than 500 tricks).
We’re also pleased that we’ve secured the rights to Ed Marlo’s Magazines (they’re not actually magazines, but actually full books absolutely full of terrific card magic). They have been incredibly rare and go for silly money on the secondhand market. We are thrilled to bring you a high-quality production of these important historical books, and this is welcome news for the serious card student. Andi Gladwin is also hard at work on a retrospective of Ed Marlo’s career and work. Stay tuned for details.
Angelo Carbone’s named card rise (where you name truly any card, and it then rises from the card box) is called “Notion of Motion,” and we will release this trick in 2024.
The Seer Table was featured at our booth at Magic Live. We previewed it there, and it was–if we may be so bold–the hit of the dealer room. It’s an innocent-looking side table, but there is a closed-circuit infrared camera hidden in the base, which sends the feed to a monitor backstage, offsite, or anywhere you wish. This allows for a whole range of miracle-level effects with cards, hand-written notes, and more. It will be expensive, but it is also the coolest gadget you’ve ever seen.
Tim Hill’s “Emergence” is the best Coins to Glass we’ve ever encountered, and it works thanks to a James Bond-like gimmick that has to be seen to be believed. After lots of production delays and hiccups with early models, we’re finally going to officially release “Emergence” in Q1 of 2024.
Luke Jermay is one of our most popular creators and collaborators, and his book test is the best-in-class. We have already filmed the performance and tutorial videos. The books themselves are in production and the product will come out in 2024.
Our own Joshua Jay will also release The Particle System, his own memorized stack book, along with a whole system of card magic that is high-impact and easy-to-learn. This is a highly anticipated book, and it will come out at the end of 2024.
Finding the Balance
The thing that sets us apart from nearly every other magic company is that we are both, first and foremost, magicians. We both create and perform magic, basically, as a full-time job. Vanishing Inc. has become our other full-time job. That is, truly, our blessing and our curse. It’s a blessing because we get to spend all of our time immersed in creating and producing fantastic magic. We get to work with our favorite magicians to bring you the very best magic in the marketplace.
But sometimes it feels like a curse because putting attention into one aspect of our careers means, necessarily, neglecting the other. We are in constant search of balance.
When there is an imbalance, it’s almost always weighted toward the Vanishing Inc. side. Vanishing Inc. requires constant attention, and this often comes at the cost of our own performing careers. Happily (for us, anyway), we both made major strides in our performance careers. We both staged brand-new shows this year and debuted new material. We both have been hard at work on new material, some of which you’ll be seeing very soon.
Josh's Update (as written by Andi)
I’m often in awe of Josh, because he somehow manages to pack in a seemingly full-time performing career on the side of his Vanishing Inc. duties. And I’m proud of what he has accomplished.
He launched Look Closer, a brand new parlor show of original material. I saw it in Chicago, and it was tremendous. My favorite piece from that show was a hand-shadow interlude in which a ring vanishes and appears inside a flashlight held by a participant. Josh took hand-shadow lessons for over a year just to try this new trick.
Josh also has a sold-out performance at Carnegie Hall on January 31st. I know this has been in the works for a long time, and I’ll be there in New York cheering him on. This will also kickoff a month-long run at the Midnight Theatre, where folks can see Joshua all month long in February.
He toured with his show and lecture to many far-off places this year, including South Korea, Lebanon, Israel, and Patagonia (unsurprisingly he also crossed the million-miler mark with Delta Airlines).
Josh appeared on this season’s Masters of Illusion on the CW network, doing a host of original and unpublished material.
Andi's Update (as written by Josh)
Andi told me last year that his goal for 2023 was to write and perform a brand-new close-up show of original material. When Andi sets his mind to do something, he follows through…but this is a monumental goal and something that would normally take at least three years. But Andi still surprises me, and this year, he debuted Shuffled at the Rhapsody Theater, a show of card magic in which each attendee brings their own deck of cards to be used during the show.
The show opened to rave reviews, including this excerpt which I like so much: “Shuffled was a truly wonderful experience. Interactive, clever, and honest, Andi Gladwin delivered an improvisational card show that would make Second City proud.” The impressive thing about that review is every one of those things was in Andi’s mantra for the show.
Andi also appeared on Masters of Illusion on the CW, and it was so nice that we were able to film our segments on the same day, on the LA soundstage.
Andi co-produced and hosted his first television-quality live-stream event, coordinating with the teams of Penn & Teller, David Copperfield, and Piff the Magic Dragon. He was as good as I’ve ever seen him on camera: relaxed, funny, and full of energy. On that same trip, Andi appeared on Penn’s podcast, Sunday School, and I’m hopeful that he’ll be making return appearances because this kind of relaxed, improv. comedy outlet is where Andi is at his very best.
Years ago Joshua Jay edited and compiled Magic in Mind, a nearly-five-hundred page ebook that sought to collect the very best magic theory writing in magic’s history. It included articles from modern legends like Juan Tamariz, Tommy Wonder, Max Maven, Darwin Ortiz, Jamy Ian Swiss, Roberto Giobbi, and more, and also historically important works by Robert-Houdin, Dariel Fitzkee, and Henning Nelms. The result is, truly, essential reading to take your magic to the next level. That book was free, and remains a free download on our site. If you haven’t downloaded and studied it, it’s there for you. But that’s not the free gift.
The free gift is that thanks to the amazing efforts of Dean Bootcheck, Magic in Mind is now available as an audiobook as well. You can listen to more than fifteen hours of riveting, game-changing magic theory as you drive, run, walk, or go about your life. We thank Dean and we’re proud to make the audiobook available to you for free. Download it here
We mean it when we say that we view Vanishing Inc. as a community, and if you’ve read this far into our letter, then you’re exactly who we’re thinking about when we think about the Vanishing Inc. “family.” And families thrive on communication. So if you have ideas for us or feedback you’d like to share, we would love to hear from you: email@example.com
Thanks again for your continued support, and an early Happy New Year,
Joshua Jay and Andi Gladwin
Vanishing Inc. Cofounders
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