Good to the Last Flop

Will new e-zine celebrating Failure succeed in spite of itself?

What's so bad about failure, really?

Botching, blundering, bungling, blowing it, bollixing it.

Faltering, flunking, fumbling, flopping.

Nothing. Not a damn thing.

In fact, only people over 40 (careful, there), or maybe over 50, see failure as an embarrassment.

Those who are living the young, fast-paced turnover of the new dot-com world know that failures are just the building blocks for the yellow-brick road to an IPO Emerald City. Others embrace their parents' definition of failure, just looking for peace and love and happiness in the form of low stress, good music, good friends and a soft beer buzz.

Jason Zasky, Michael Hollingsworth and company are counting on failure to make them a big success.

On Monday, July 17, they plan to launch an online publication called Failure magazine at failuremag.com. Zasky, a 30-year-old musician, magazine editor and freelance writer from New York who is the e-zine's CEO, bills it as a media first.

"We're out to put all things failure all in one place, which no one has done before," he says. They will mine the arts, entertainment, business, science, technology, history and sports.

His goal is to entertain people with stories of amazing boo-boos (our word, not his; he is admittedly Very Serious about his venture and mustered only his one funny line, repeated in his press materials, that he "saw a failure in his future" when his cousin came up with the idea in 1996. But maybe his funny bone is a wee tired; he's been working 18-hour days, seven days a week for six weeks.)

Zasky stopped for lunch to hawk some PR on his way to Tucson to meet with Hollingsworth, whose Web design company, AIDM (Absolute Image Design Manufacturing), is designing and operating the site.

All you'll find at the site now is a little tease, with a moving stick man who builds the word "failure," letter by cumbersome letter, only to . . . well, you know.

What the site will offer at its inauguration are stories such as the tale of Moe Norman, the greatest golfer in the world. Not "The Shark." Moe. Few Americans have heard of him because the record-holding Canadian has lived a reclusive life in Florida after spending one torturous year on the PGA tour in the United States in the 1950s. But with an autistic-like aversion to the interpersonal requirements of playing in tournaments, he quit. Pro golfers know who he is; his unusual swing was calculated recently by a physicist as theperfect arc for a golf swing, says Zasky, clearly proud of having scored time with Norman for an interview.

Yet Norman never had a phone, and until recently, never had a bank account. The Rain Man of golf. A failure. Zasky's favorite so far.

Zasky also managed to snare Steve Wozniak, who holds his nose when he talks about mainstream press, to discuss Apple computer's infamous failure, not just its resurrection.

The e-zine's monthly updates will include a column by Robert McMath, a consumer product consultant who is the proud curator of 80,000 products stored in his New Products Showcase and Learning Center in Ithaca, New York. For 30 years, he has chronicled the demise of such marketing brain cramps as Clairol's Touch of Yogurt shampoo and American Kitchen's I Hate Peas -- vegetables shaped like French fries so kids would scarf them down.

McMath's book, What Were They Thinking?, is in its second printing, and he says he knows people have a fascination, as well as utilitarian interest, in failures, or he couldn't have made a career of them. He advises clients all over the world who want to make sure they don't repeat previous fiascoes.

But he hasn't really analyzed failuremag.com as a new product -- perhaps it will have to prove its way into his showcase first, as either a boner or a blockbuster.

"Hopefully the guy is going to be successful," McMath says. "A lot of it depends on what kind of exposure he gets in getting people to read it the first time."

The site will be highly interactive, with its most innovative idea the "bombsite," which will poll visitors on which of 15 upcoming movies they absolutely will not see and why. Failuremag.com will predict the bombs before they even arrive at theaters.

Merchandise is also ready to roll -- hats, tee shirts, lots of stuff with the failure insignia, and early market research indicates people in their 20s will snatch it up, Zasky says.

The target audience is 20 to 40, with a special emphasis on college kids, Zasky says. He hopes to find co-sponsors to brand the site on campuses. And who will want to advertise and "co-brand" or be the cover story for failure?

Zasky says most people get what he's trying to do, but not everyone can be so hip. Airlines, for example, couldn't stand even a whiff of failuremag.com, even for a positive story.

Zasky was either intentionally vague or just not fully organized yet on his marketing plans, but several advertising and marketing agencies say his idea could work.

Steve Klein, president of Creative Dept. Inc. of Scottsdale, pointed out that New Times doesn't quite jell with some advertisers, but others go nuts for us. You gotta have a niche.

"When I think of something like this, I go back to the initial MTV campaign, 'Your Parents Hate It,'" Klein says. "That was the whole reason that generation started watching it. This will do the same thing; it will attract way-left advertisers, real edgy stuff."

The risk lies more in being a Web magazine than in the message it carries, Klein says. There are so many, and whether they can succeed financially is still a big question.

Patrick Scofield, president of Concept Designworx Inc. in Tempe, says failure is probably a fair match for a college demographic.

"The anti-hero now rules," says Scofield, who is also president of the Arizona chapter of the Industrial Designers Association of America. "I sense a gentle rancor in kids this age. . . . I don't even think they have to have an upside -- just misery, death and destruction."

Some of that rancor isn't so gentle. Scofield kindly refers us to fuckedcompany.com, a cynical, angry site that chronicles the layoffs and rip-offs and rumored recent or soon-to-be failed Internet companies. "You can now search the news archives for all the bad news your little heart desires," the site proclaims.

That's not Zasky's style. He repeats several times that this is not about being personal, giving people grief for their failures. It's just interesting. And if there are some lessons there, fine.

One of Zasky's back-of-the-mind fears is that he'll succeed so well and so fast that he won't be able to handle it. Hollingsworth has contemplated that possibility, too.

Hollingsworth is a year outside the target demographic at 41 years old, and his company is ancient in Internet years -- he formed it in 1991 and has intentionally kept it a home-based company with a core of just five employees.

He's had big business; his Counting Crows original Web site won numerous awards. He's done sites for Bruce Hornsby, ZZ Top and Willie Nelson, among others.

"I think this is going to launch big. I think it's going to be a strong starter right out of the gate," Hollingsworth says. "It's kind of scary in a sense. . . . I think we would ride the wave and stay with Jason."

But Zasky prefers small because he can maintain the artistic flow among the people involved. "We don't have the big corporate problems that big firms have. We're just a few guys sitting around throwing ideas around and being creative."

Get too big, and it saps your creative life.

And that, of course, would mean failure.

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