Too many choices?

I read a marketing book recently that discussed the idea that when it comes to making a purchasing decision, too many choices can be so overwhelming that a potential customer won’t make any choice.

I found a New York Times article that discusses the same phenomenon. In “Too Many Choices: A Problem That Can Paralyze,” Alina Tugend states, “Although it has long been the common wisdom in our country that there is no such thing as too many choices, as psychologists and economists study the issue, they are concluding that an overload of options may actually paralyze people or push them into decisions that are against their own best interest.”

Tugend goes on to discuss a study in California where customers were given samples of Wilkin & Sons jam. When given a greater assortment of jams to sample, more people were enticed to try some, but less actually made a purchase. Similarly, in choosing a 401(k) retirement plan, “studies have shown that if more fund options are offered, fewer people participate. And the highest participation rates are among those employees who are automatically enrolled in their company’s 401(k)’s unless they actively choose not to.”

What does this have to do with bookplates?? Bookplate Ink offers over 150 choices of bookplate designs, more than any other company we have found. We have ships, tomatoes, a rhinoceros, fairies, owls, flowers, musical instruments, a frog, boys, girls, maps, oh! and books. Perhaps the choices are overwhelming for our customers. This is a concern.

On the other hand, there is sometimes a design that doesn’t sell very well, but is perfect for one customer. Like the mustang horse, which was a wonderful bookplate for an elementary school whose mascot is a mustang. Or the now out-of-print Kermit the Frog bookplate for that Sesame Street lover. How about the biplane design for books donated from an aviation lover’s library?

Everytime I think we should take some designs off our website, one of these orders comes in. And the truth is, we have designs in our archives that aren’t even on the website. What’s your opinion? Is more better or is less easier? Should we streamline our offerings?

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Bookplate for Malawian book

Who knew that printing bookplates would be such a great way to find out about interesting projects around the world?

We recently received a second order from Richard Hewitt, a customer from the United Kingdom who teaches at the Kamuzu Academy in Malawi. Mr. Hewitt’s first order was for bookplates for his own use. This second order is for bookplates that will be placed in presentation copies of a book by Fr. Claude Boucher about a traditional Malawian dance, Gulu Wamkulu. For a fascinating explanation of this dance performed by select Chewa men, see http://www.unesco.org/culture/intangible-heritage/22afr_uk.htm.

Fr. Boucher is a Canadian missionary and White Father, a popular name for Missionaries of Africa, a Catholic religious order founded by Cardinal Lavigerie in the nineteenth century for missionary activity in Africa and the Middle East. The name “White Fathers” comes from the white habits worn by the early missionaries. Nowadays, just about all new recruits to the White Fathers are Africans themselves. Boucher came to Malawi from Quebec in 1967 and founded the Kungoni Centre of Culture and Art in 1976.

According to the Kungoni Centre website, Fr. Goucher is an initiated member of the Nyau secret society and as such “has been privileged to see and document songs, dances and information that have not previously been revealed to any non-Malawian. This rich cultural heritage is in the process of being lost as Gule Wamkulu continues to be pressured by Western values and urbanization.” Boucher’s book, When Animals Sing and Spirits Dance: Gule Wamkulu: The Great Dance of the Chewa People of Malawi, is due to be published in August, and will be the first book-length study of this traditional Malawian dance. More information will be available at http://www.kasiyamaliro.org/.

The bookplate we will be printing for the book, shown here, is Claude Boucher’s own design. It offers a literal illustration of a Chewa proverb, appropriate to thank those who have helped to fund the book. Malawian villagers support the roof of a traditional village hut by carrying it on their heads. They are helped by ancestral spirits (supernaturally elongated, pale, androgynous), who collaborate with the living in their work. God is depicted in the form of a mask with tribal scarification. Two of his aspects are suggested: Mphambe, the God of lightning; and Chiuta, the God of the rainbow, who serves to unite heaven and earth.

We are pleased to be a small part of this wonderful project supporting an important part of the Malawian culture.