Why is this interesting? - The Trade Journal Edition

On blockchain in pasta, millennials in the funeral industry, and the wonderful world of trade journals

Tim Hwang (TH) is a generalist’s generalist. His interests range from internet memes, to the history of children’s games, to artificial intelligence ethics and governance, to information warfare, to divination, and, because why not, to the visual culture of Mark Zuckerberg. The difference between Tim and your ordinary generalist is he finds ways to turn all these things into strange and interesting projects. I’ve been bothering him for months to contribute an edition to WITI and he finally agreed. Enjoy! - Noah (NRB)

Tim here. Deep in a research rabbit hole around the middle of last year, I had the excellent fortune to come across the existence of a magazine entitled Pasta Professional, a quarterly trade journal that boldly bills itself as the “international magazine for pasta producers”.

Pasta Professional blew my mind. The journal is crammed with the inside baseball of global pasta manufacturing. Industry leaders pen op-eds musing about the potential impact of Brexit on British consumption of pasta. The magazine examines a much wider collection of topics than you might imagine, ranging from the potential applications of blockchain in the industry to reports of the opening of new grain terminals in Ukraine. Pasta is not just an industry: in the pages of Pasta Professional, pasta is a lens through which to understand the world. 

If you are anything like me, browsing through a publication like Pasta Professional inspires little shouts of glee and evokes a profound level of curiosity. Just check out some of these recent headlines:

Why is this interesting?

Trade journals represent a rare chance to peer into the inner workings of what is, in effect, a  parallel universe. That’s extremely fun for a number of reasons. For one, widely disparate industries frequently enact the same tropes and dramas regardless of what they do. Pasta has the upstart up-and-comers, the overhyped innovations, and an established ecosystem of hyper-opinionated thought-leaders that anyone from, say, the technology industry will find oddly familiar. 

Looking across trade journals, it also becomes rapidly clear how frequently the same concerns are impacting wildly disparate industries. Whether you are a laundromat professional or a captain of the elevator industry, it seems like everyone is simultaneously excited and concerned about artificial intelligence. It turns out that pretty much every industry has done a stock “millennials are killing us” feature, from funeral directors to plumbers. And the list goes on. 

As much as the similarities are fascinating, trade journals really shine in their idiosyncrasies. A magazine like Pasta Professional goes deep on concerns and developments that would be otherwise invisible to someone outside of the industry. Know anything about the global menace of wheat rust? How about Barilla’s recent foray into streetwear? You’ll be hard-pressed to find a better way to learn about this kind of stuff than from trade publication. 

This got me thinking. Pasta Professional is just one of countless niche trade publications out there. Some research surfaces a cavalcade of intriguing titles: American Funeral Director, Elevator World, American Laundry News, Parking Today

So began Trade Journal Cooperative, a subscription service that I launched about a year or so ago which mails you a trade journal from a different selected industry once a quarter for a fee. By buying in bulk, we’re able to collectively get access to publications that would otherwise be inaccessible or require an incredibly expensive subscription to acquire (one of my current ambitions is to negotiate a bulk price for Military Thought, the in-house rag of the Russian Defense Ministry). I like to think of the whole enterprise as National Geographic, but, you know, for late capitalism. 

If you’re interested, the deadline to subscribe to our Fall 2019 issue is tomorrow, October 1. (TH)

Chart of the Day: 

FromPizza Today’s annual Pizza Power State of the Industry Report. (TH)

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Thanks for reading,

Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN) & Tim (TH)

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