Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Will popularity kill letterboxing?

Lnd-Crzr recently e-mailed a few “oldtimers” wondering what direction letterboxing will take as the mass media discovers and promotes it.

Sorry if I am breaking confidence, Ron, but this is such an important subject I wanted to post it to the blog and invite people to use the comments to voice their own predictions and opinions.

Many letterboxers fear that the sudden recognition of the hobby will overwhelm us with new boxes, newbie searchers and semi-muggles who damage boxes or give the rest of us a bad name.

At the heart of this is the nagging irritation that an activity that made us special – and is special to us – is now not all that exclusive. What happens when a niche hobby gets so popular it has a section at Michael’s?

Right now, letterboxing doesn’t make it on the Harris list of top hobbies , but that is a moving target. Hobbies constantly walk the line between “fad” and “lifestyle.” Big chain hobby stores are actually pretty good indicators of what is in.

My prediction is that letterboxing will boom outrageously for a year or two, then take a big dive as the next fad kicks in. That’s both good and bad for those of us who enjoy it now. We will get plenty of supplies and boxes to find, but have to search in a crowded field. For a while.

Hobby fads have a definite life cycle. They start underground, leak out, boom, then fizzle. Sort of fizzle. Old hobbies never die, they just fade back to the realm of the diehards.

Think of the aisles hobby stores of recent yore. Remember tole painting? How about pogs? CB radio? Hackey sack? Slot cars? None are dead, but all were threatened by popularity at some time. Letterboxing, too, will survive. It may get commercial and less tasteful for a time, but then the folks who really aren’t up to the hunt will drop out. My guess is PLB will absorb much of the shock, as it is more of a carving craft than a search hobby.

Keep in mind that letterboxing is not at all new. James Perrott started it in 1854. But it was something of a secret in the U.S. until the Smithsonian article in April 1998. Most of us “found” letterboxing after reading or hearing a story – or through a friend who did the same.

Even if we wanted the slam the door on new folks, it is impossible. And in my mind, unfair. We have no right to letterboxing, only opportunity.

If you want to stick with it, teach the newbies how to keep out of trouble and plant challenging boxes. And wait patiently for the commotion to die down.

And if you don’t like the change? A new hobby is always just around the corner.


Lnd-Crzr said...

Just to clarify, my intent has never been to slam doors on new folks. In fact, I think I've been the first contact for many a new folk and would ask any to show an instance where I provided anything less than an enthusiastic welcome and of course a short spiel regarding proper re-hideation.

I do recognize the growth and don’t fear it, but simply because the media has picked up on our hobby I see no reason for us to advertise it. I value the discretion aspect and appreciate the ‘underground’ feel of it all.

Educate? Certainly. I think we all try our best and it seems to have paid off considering the number of active boxes we have and the rather small amount that have gone missing. Can we do more? Sure.

So why do I shy away from publicity? Several reasons. One, I feel it flies in the face of discretion and discreetness, which I feel, are fundamental to the hobby. Two, I have bad ties with publicity. After my first bit of publicity I had two boxes go missing within about 10 days. Who or what happened I’ll never be sure, but at the time I only had 12 boxes or so planted, plus these were my first losses.

As I have always stated, these are just my views and feeling. No one has any more right than another regarding ‘what to do’ with LB. Certainly we should all be able to voice our opinions regardless of how they align with others’.


Clyde Bentley said...

I really didn't mean to imply that Ron was anti-newcomer. Quite the opposite. If he had not organized the first gathering, you wouldn't have this blog and most of us wouldn't be boxing.

The concern with growth, however, is pretty general. It is hard to imagine how anyone who has letterboxed for a more than a few months wouldn't be nervous right now.

So my intent was to get the discussion ball rolling. And Lnd-Crz raised the Big Question: Do we publicize letterboxing or try to keep it under wraps? I have mixed feelings -- I'll answer press questions if they clarify what we are doing and I'm enthusiastic when I talk to people, but I don't go out of my way to "advertise." What do you think?

AJMonkeyMan said...

I agree we should help new comers. we do not need to box them out but we have no reason to publish it as ron said.

McMonkey Mom said...

In part, it was the discretion factor that drew me in to letterboxing. There are lots of other factors as well. I really enjoy puzzles and codes. I love being outside. The trails around here have always been great. I grew up in Columbia and have been introduced to new places that even I never knew existed. Albeit some are new since my childhood days. I have also re-visited places from my youth. (RBSP has changed a LOT!). I do enjoy the secrecy factor. It's like being a spy.

Like a spy I don't wish to share my all my secrets. However, it is a public domain. If they are smart enough, they will come. The very things that draw me to this hobby are what motivates me to share it with others that I think would also enjoy it. I want other people to have as much fun as I have. How could we possibly keep it underground? If others had not wanted to share then I might not be here and I LOVE it here! I certainly do not want to trumpet the info from the treetops but I would be happy to share what I do know if it would help.

I believe that all discussion can be a good exchange. It's never bad when ideas and thoughts are shared. What do you think?

Lnd-Crzr said...

So after all this hubbub am I seeing that we actually agree? It seems it can be summed up as 'Welcome/Educate all newcomers, but don't advertise it'.

I don't think anyone tries to 'keep it under wraps' as most of us are willing to talk about it when asked, and often share it with others we think would enjoy it, but publicizing it, that is drawing attention through other than individuals, seems to go against the core of the hobby AND the views being expressed here.


Perdu said...

It's a bit of a sticky wicket, no?

Here in the KC area we are finding some 'boxers so frustrated that they are starting to drop out. This is one of the reasons I chose to host an event in the area, to show support, to learn and learn from each other and while it may be a small gathering, I’ve been hearing from folks via e-mail that they are interested and want to meet other boxers (now whether or not they show is a different matter).

I agree that there has been, what I’m going to call, flash advertising; getting the word out there to folks without the accompanying information about the discretion and other nuances involved with this hobby/sport/art.

There is a lot to learn and personally I am enjoying the learning process. What a wonderful way to motivate one to get out in the fresh air, take a hike, learn a little something about a person/place/thing perhaps and if one is lucky to be rewarded by a find that has been well thought out, maybe even handmade and carefully planned.

I agree, that the popularity will most likely peak and wane and in the climb to it’s peak we may find some frustrations, but in the end it will endure. (wow…I think I need to step away from the podium now…)

We on the fringes of the state, I’m speaking for myself…the royal we, you know, look to the MidMo group for many things; among them trends – what’s working, what’s not, etc.

I think this is a very needed discussion. Additionally, the meeting minutes and suggestions are helpful. I try to put a packet of flyers in each of my plants (though I have not planted many and have made public the plants of only a few). The flyer I use is too lengthy; I think and like the idea of simplifying it to hit the highlights, list resources and some basics.

Thanks y’all!

Fox-fyr said...

Do you have a sense of what is frustrating the people who drop out of letterboxing? Is it that the boxes they look for are missing, or that there aren't enough boxes or some other reason?

I think the key concept between keeping the activity as secret as possible and advertising it to the world is BALANCE.
It's a bit like a three-legged stool. In one sense, or one leg of the stool, secrecy is vital to letterboxing or boxes would all go missing. On the other hand (or a second leg of the stool) we'd like to let people know the tips and tricks of the trade and we'd like to draw in new letterboxers to give life and variety to the hobby (i.e communication forums, advertising, discussion, etc). Therefore the third leg is to provide BALANCE.

Can you imagine if we were so secretive we didn't even have Gatherings to meet each other or blogs to discuss things on? On the other hand, can you imagine having a Gathering that was advertised so heavily that we get every Tom, Dick and Harry to show up at a Gathering or people whose only goal was to find as many boxes as possible with no thought for the box's survival or the experience of the people to come after them?

The magazine articles and other forms of advertising, while they are not all as equally well written, do have the benefit of drawing in new boxers. Can you imagine if we were so secretive that we never got to see new styles of artwork? (We can't all stumble into the hobby by finding a box accidentally). On the other hand, we all cringe when reporters and advertisers and others just don't get it.

Perhaps a good criteria to use when making decisions about letterboxing actions (whether it's talking to the press, setting up a project with an organization, or discussing it with new individuals) is to evaluate whether the action adds balance to the hobby or disrupts the balance.

For example, this fall and spring I am teaching two classes about letterboxing to Girl Scouts. I am doing so because a) they requested it--I did not approach them b) it is a way for them to earn a special interest badge so it's something they would be doing anyway and c) I'd rather they learn about it from me than some less reliable source (like the Chevrolet advertising staff).

On the other hand, considering balance, I might not necessarily go out of my way to offer the class to a group unless perhaps they had already started 'boxing and were showing signs of being bale to benefit from a lesson in etiquette or if I had some other good reason to do so.

For example, I have been considering teaching a letterboxing workshop to some state park interpreters next spring or fall as a way for them to draw more visitation and newer audiences to their parks while providing _quality_ interpretive experiences for the public. This would be an example where I BALANCE 1)the factor of introducing letterboxing to an audience that may be unaware of letterboxing (i.e. promotion) with 2) the likely positive impact of quality new boxes in new areas of the state and the enhanced visitor experiences generated.

My plans could all backfire, of course, but my intention is to provide a good balance between secrecy and promotion. And isn't that the true meaning of discretion?

queenbusick said...

OKAY - I read all the previous discussion from Jenny J and appreciate her reporting skills! My first impression was - wow - great - another legalistic hobby (that was a lot of sarcasm). Here is what I mean...

Scrapbooking took off among many in the last few years. When it grew there were many well intentioned folks preserving the hobby who gave suggestions etc. At the same time there was a group of loud folks who made 'rules' to go with the hobby which produced a lot of false guilt. The simplest big scrapbook rule was 'always scrapbook pictures in chronological order' and the rules started from there....

Luckily, there has been a great voice among scrappers the last 2 years debunking the myths and 'shoulds' (ie legalism) of scrapbooking.

My watchful eye is here because this is the thing that will kill the community already established among mid-MO.

Yes, there will be boxes lost. yes, there will be jerks who are disrespectful to the sport. But that's in every area of life - something totally unavoidable.

I agree education can be helpful, but it will not solve problems until the humans involved in corrupting the sport decide to quit involving their corruption of the hobby. So again, people are a problem.

My last 2 cents is this: keep things simple. This is a hobby and I will tell you if I ran across all these papers in a box, I would not read them. Keep it short, sweet and teach me how to play this sport fairly...with a little competitive edge (because I cannot resist competition).

Perdu said...

Yes, it seems for the most part that people are hearing about Lb, finding a source for clues (AQ, Letterboxing.org) and heading out without understanding the need to 1) be unobserved when finding/actually retrieving the box, 2) re-packing the box as it was found, 3) Re-hiding the box in the same place it was found, 4) making sure that the box is hidden from all angles, and 5) Completing steps 3) and 4) again without being observed by non-boxers.

It is basically what is being discussed here. The problem is that there is such a sparse number of boxes and boxers that when a box goes missing it seems a higher impact to the whole.

I have planted boxes that I have yet to complete the clues for and make public, because I'm considering WOM and/or perhaps a file on the Midwest Group rather than something more public, similar to some of the other Yahoo LB groups.

The few who I have either spoken with or been in e-mail contact with are just frustrated and ready to give up. On one hand, one might say let them...a lack of commitment and all. On the other hand, I think some support would go a long way here and these few ‘boxers seemed to perk up about the gathering.

Perhaps we need to meet to just talk about the ins and outs of ‘boxing in this area, perhaps we need to simply learn more from those that have been at it longer, so I have no idea what the KC event will wind up being – perhaps folks will hunt for boxes that I’m planting, perhaps some will plant their own, perhaps we’ll share a potluck and talk and perhaps learn tips and tricks from each other. I am very happy to know that a few MidMo ‘boxers are planning to attend and hope more can find it in their schedules as well, because y’all have so much that we can learn from (from locating planting spots to writing clues to carving ideas and carving skills, etc.).

The reason I include a flyer in my boxes is that the first few I found had them, I simply copied them and included them as well, but I agree that too much reading will go unread and my flyer is too full.

Baker said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Baker said...

I personally think that letterboxing will gain some higher level of interest, but I think more and more people find geocaching more appealing. I think many are put off by the idea of carving a stamp. I really don't think as long as geocaching is around, that it will ever hit a level that would be considered too high.