One of those new service sector jobs you have heard about (artisanal markets in everything)

Someone just paid David Rees, of Beacon, N.Y., $35 to sharpen a pencil.

“I think people think: ‘Wow, I can’t believe he actually did it,'” Rees said. “I wasn’t sure what would happen when I sent this guy my money.”

Now before you write him off as some con-artist whittling away on pre-packaged No. 2s from a farmhouse upstate you should know Rees is a sharp guy.  He considers himself an artisanal pencil sharpener.

“Internet commenters have definitely made this argument before,” Rees said. “Now, a pencil is a completely transparent communication tool. There’s no secret to it.”

As for his pencils, he began sharpening those after leaving a job as a political cartoonist to work for the 2010 Census, where he spent all day recording his findings with a No. 2 pencil.

“I thought there’s got to be a way to get paid to sharpen pencils for people,” he said.

1,804 flawlessly sharpened mostly No. 2 pencils later, Rees has penned a book on his art form, collected an arsenal of different sharpeners, and taught classes to students who sharpen better than he does.

The article is here.  And yet our artisan is not happy:

When Rees started, he hoped every busted tip would lead the writer to pay for a sharpening. Instead, most customers order David’s pencil points and display them as artwork.

“The whole point of the business is to remind people to appreciate yellow, No. 2 pencils because they’re really cool and interesting,” he said. “And to make a ton of money.”

But at this point, work feels like work.

“You do anything long enough for money, it just starts to become a job,” he said.

So as he nears the nice round number of 2,000 sharpenings, Rees suggested that soon he’d like to clean out his sharpeners for good, leaving the world a much duller place.

His website sells his book and sharpened pencils. The books ship quickly, the pencils take approximately six weeks to ship, and cost more than the book.

As I argue in Average is Over, marketing — in the broad sense of that term — is a growth sector for the future.  You might recall that three years ago he was charging only $15 per pencil.

For the pointer I thank Samir Varma.


America and Japan are converging.

I believe it's called 'hikaru tsuchidango'.

That is indeed a very broad definition of 'marketing'. It's more like self-branding.

After all, some artist managed to sell cans of his feces for decent money, did he not?'s_Shit . Sold for $124,000. So I guess your pencil sharpener artist still has ways to go, with his pitiful $35 a pop.

And, as I observed elsewhere, those collecting those cans of shit certainly get a frisson of the second-degree social commentary on modern art of it all. "hihihi, how funny, how fresh, how deep, underlining the fecklessness and worthlessness of most modern art despite the prices it commands. The old Marxist issue of prices versus value, if you will, dear chap. So I guess I'll pay the price of a small flat for a can of actual shit". How much would these art collectors pay for a can full of a homeless guy's shit?

Yes, self-branding is indeed an extremely powerful force in our winner-takes-all socio-economic structure. Just as the ability to read and manipulate internal politics inside a company matters a lot more than any actual skill or smarts. During my MBA, we were taught that judging people on outcomes was not right. Luck interfered. One had to reward people on the quality of the decision making under uncertainty. In reality, you'd be lucky to be judged on performance rather than your ability to project an impression of 'leadership' (whatever that might be). But it also brings the unfairness and stupidity of the whole system and thus of wealth inequality in sharp relief.

If what you're selling is dependent upon your own image, then self branding is indeed marketing. See athletes, Sam Adams beer, most art, etc.

David Rees makes a good point.

Try the veal.

Get Your War Own ( for the final strips ) is a perfect example of just how cynical self-marketing leads a certain group of people to ignore just how vicious satire can be, even for one of the owners of one of the best hidden satire sites on the web.

Yes, those cartoons are vicious. Not funny or interesting, either.

Yeah, using clip art is not exactly scintillating artistry, though a perfect critique of American in the 21st century - but hey, what is the current body count in Iraq, after we got our war on a decade ago?

Yeah, that's right, just like the cartoon, no one in the U.S. is interested bothering to update the body count., except for the occasional coordinated car bombings that exceed the number of dead in a typically boring American mass shooting.

Iraq is not a great place to be right now. But then again, that was also true, and there was also a high body count, when Hussein was in power. What was the overall net effect of American policy? What would an alternative universe in which we never invaded Iraq look like?

We removed Hussein. Other groups took advantage of this to start a conflict over longstanding sectarian grievances. Who is responsible for the resulting violence? On the one hand, if we make a mess, we deserve blame. But on the other hand, failing to treat the Iraqis as genuine actors in the situation is pure paternalism.

Serious evaluation of the events is hard, while making comics that say things like "Our president is a shoe" is easy. Was it ever about the people of Iraq, anyway? The comics stopped the moment Obama took office. People are still suffering and dying, but the object of mockery is gone, so he's all out of ideas--forever sharpening his pencil and writing nothing.

...but the object of mockery is gone, so he’s all out of ideas–forever sharpening his pencil and writing nothing.

That's apt for the Jon Stewart's Daily Show, Colbert et al. They're much funnier as opposition than as apologists.

Recently, the beaches of Hamptons have seen Stone-Skipping Concierges who find flat stones for the children of billionaires to skip into the ocean.

"When Rees started, he hoped every busted tip would lead the writer to pay for a sharpening. Instead, most customers order David’s pencil points and display them as artwork."

At $35 a pop for something anyone can do in less than a minute, what did he expect? Those who took him up on it probably did it for the novelty and the status symbolism that that decadence displayed.

Someone needs to tell the guy with the typewriter in the park that this is why he got all the angry comments.

I have a vested interest in not letting my country become this. Would be different if it were at all funny. Or if the guy could cuss well.

Comments for this post are closed