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Cash mobs grow in popularity

Flash mobs have been popular for a while, and now we’re seeing the emergence of “cash mobs,” mostly targeting small local businesses.

Andrew Samtoy took part in the flash mob that invaded the West Side Market one day in December 2010 and serenaded stunned shoppers with the “Hallelujah” chorus from Handel’s Messiah, evoking an ovation.

That experience helped fuel his dismay when, in June of 2011, a flash mob of marauding youths shut down the Coventry Street Fair. While Cleveland Heights imposed a curfew, Samtoy and friends devised an ennobling counter attack.

On Saturday, a wholesome grocer in Lakewood will become the latest local business swarmed by a “cash mob,” a new and calculated kind of flash mob. Dozens and maybe hundreds of people will descend upon Nature’s Bin on Sloane Avenue to spend money, meet new friends, and maybe feel better about their capacity to boost a local business and shape their world.

It’s that local, can-do quality of the cash mob that accounts for its success, Samtoy believes. The ability to harness grassroots energy helped an impulsive idea become a national sensation.

While an in-the-know crowd mobs the Bin, similar scenes will unfold at businesses in cities across the country. The first National Cash Mob Day illustrates the rapid rise and intriguing popularity of a phenomenon orchestrated from Cleveland.
Since November, when the first local cash mob trooped into a Tremont bookstore, the free-spending teams have mustered in more than 150 U.S. cities. London, England, recently reported its first cash mob, and new versions and varieties arise almost weekly.

“Something about it caught on,” said Samtoy, as surprised as anyone. “I thought it was a good idea but, look, I have a lot of ideas.”

Not all of them crescendo, nor are they usually meant to.

Another example involved a hardware store in Chagrin Falls.

This past Saturday, cash mobs descended on businesses all around the country.

It’s a great tool to help businesses that anchor your community, and the impact will likely go well beyond one day of sales, as consumers rediscover places they would like to frequent on a consistent basis.

The rise of Kindle Singles

The rise of e-readers like the Kindle is having a huge impact on the publishing industry, and it’s also spawning new forms of books that can be sold.

The Kindle Single is not a promising name. It sounds like a new kind of prefabricated fire log, or a type of person you might meet on the dating service eHarmony — perhaps a lonely independent bookstore owner put out of business by Amazon.com.

Here’s what Kindle Singles actually are: probably the best reason to buy an e-reader in the first place. They’re works of long-form journalism that seek out that sweet spot between magazine articles and hardcover books. Amazon calls them “compelling ideas expressed at their natural length.” If I didn’t loathe the word “compelling,” I’d think that wasn’t a half-bad slogan.

I recently sat down and read 15 of these boutique minibooks. Most are blah; a few are so subliterate they made my temples ache. But several — like John Hooper’s reportage on the Costa Concordia disaster, Jane Hirshfield on haiku and Jonathan Mahler on Joe Paterno — are so good they awaken you to the promise of what feels almost like a new genre: long enough for genuine complexity, short enough that you don’t need journalistic starches and fillers.

Amazon hardly has a monopoly on this novella-length form. Digital publishers like Byliner and the Atavist are commissioning articles of this length that can be purchased and read on any e-reader, or on laptops or phones. But Amazon cherry-picks the best and is commissioning its own articles and essays under the editorship of the journalist David Blum.

It will be fascinating to see how this evolves, as I can see the attraction to these shorter books. This opens up even more opportunities for writers, and that’s a good thing.

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