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Mike Ince
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Profile of Mike Ince
One of the best kept secrets in magic and mentalism was recently given away at no cost to an untold number of people, perhaps thousands. In online forum discussions, performers and hobbyists are once again taking sides over the divisive issue of Exposure. This time, the Exposers aren’t wearing masks… they’re creators and magic sellers.

This week, a mass email was sent by one of the most successful and well-known magic retailers online. Within the first four sentences of the message, one of the core secrets of professional mentalists and magicians was succinctly explained. While an old well-guarded secret, the technique is one that performers on television have used to secretly obtain the information that participants are thinking of, hence, in the Sea of Secrets it’s a Great White (think primetime TV special-type stuff… legends and careers have been built using this method). The email included a link to the retailer’s website, where interested readers could watch the distributor’s demo video detailing some of the selling points for an information-gathering device. Once at the site, prospects were also able to view a short video clearly and systematically explaining other principles and tools of the mentalist (to the website’s credit, this second video was promptly removed after a few magicians voiced their concerns over what they recognized to be senseless exposure).

Magic stores have always been involved in a form of exposure which most magicians are comfortable with, i.e., the selling and exposure of secrets to paying customers. The secrets discussed in this case were emailed and freely posted to those who had not paid for the right to learn them. Presumably, as one member of the Magic Café observed, this email was sent to everyone in the seller’s database, including every ten year old that’s ever used his mom’s credit card to buy a sponge ball from the website.

In their defense, the website stated in a private email that “we don’t feel this level of exposure crosses any line that most other magic products don’t also cross.”
This knee-jerk “everyone else is doing it” response is a weak argument, and unfortunately it is now commonly given by those who profit from Exposure. In this case, however, everyone else is NOT doing it. Everyone else is not participating in irresponsible Exposure of advanced methods to prospective buyers through emails. Everyone else is not posting publicly-available demonstration videos that detail ‘too much information.’ (Doesn’t it seem too many demonstration videos show either too much information or not enough?)

Another assertion made by the seller was that “some people have the impression [Store Name] gets a lot of visitors who aren't magicians. That's really not been our experience. It's very much a "magicians only" crowd at [Store Name]. Our email newsletter is for magicians. Our website is for magicians.” Yes. They’re all “magicians.” There is no distinction between the hobbyist and the pro. Old magicians, young magicians and their moms, and all those who have had at one time a passing interest in magic are now privy to the secrets professionals use to make their living. What’s even better? Those precious secrets are given for free to those who didn’t even ask for them! Shouldn’t we expect one of the leading magic sellers in North America to take more care with the knowledge passed down through generations?

Had an effect description been emailed instead, with a link to a non-exposing performance clip, no breach would have occurred. For those more interested in the inner-workings of the device, a link to separate password-protected footage would keep out the uninitiated who have no business collecting secrets unpaid for.

The website removed one of the offending informational videos after drawing criticism, and they should be recognized for that. However, the fact they posted it in the first place raises questions about their commitment to preserving the art of magic as well as its secrets. I’m afraid they have disrespected the great thinkers who have created the principles upon which their products are based. The Annemanns, the Vernons, the Germains, Kellars and Al Bakers, all these creators didn’t generously pass their secrets to us for the sake of Exposure or to sell our products, but so we would delight audiences with our own performances.

In every case, someone always retorts, “It’s just one little exposure among many.” What if that’s true? A series of little exposures causes a crumbling effect in the walls around our secrets, inexorably leading to collapse. Those walls protect our secrets, and without secrets our effectiveness and some of our livelihoods become seriously weakened. There is no magic without mystery.

As a longtime employee of a “brick and mortar” magic store, I understand that sellers run businesses and want to sell as much as possible. Too many magic sellers sacrifice the integrity of Magic for the sake of selling, using Exposure in an attempt to excite customers into making purchases. If everyone knows the secret, though, no one experiences the true wonder of the effect. To kill the wonder through Exposure is to kill part of what motivates purchases. To build their mansions, these magic retailers are cutting off the branches they’re sitting on. Maybe they’ve let dollars get in the way of their sense.

I refuse to buy the product in question until this incident of Exposure is rectified. I am also hesitant to support a magic supplier who through Exposure might ultimately harm the future of my profession.

“What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly.” – Thomas Paine

The secret of deception is in making the truth seem ridiculous.
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Profile of Acar
Hi Mike,

I wrote the email you're talking about.

First off, I'm really sorry that I caused you pain. That is the LAST thing I'd want to do.

As retailers we walk a very fine line. And the line is tuned slightly differently for many different folks.

But the bottom line is, if the email I sent made you uncomfortable, then it WAS TOO FAR.

As you saw, I immediately took down the video that you referred to, but I know you also took issue to the words in the email.

Not to JUSTIFY, but to merely DESCRIBE my thought process:

From where I sat, the purpose of the methods mentioned in the email and video are clearly described on the descriptions of dozens of products that we sell, that mentalists created to teach them. I will avoid referencing them here in the spirit of your post to stay clear of informing yet more uninitiated at this magical open forum.

As for the reference to the "professional secret" that was advertised, I think that you're totally right. It could have been presented more subtly OR NOT AT ALL. However, what I've found from professionals who have reacted similarly is that the professional mentalists have read between the lines of the email to "see" deeper secrets than were there.

For instance, I wrote that on TV when a magician does a trick quickly, sometimes you're only seeing part of the performance. An uninitiated magician would simply read that "camera tricks are used to enhance or present magic tricks on TV." -- something most lay people believe, or that part of the trick was cut out -- something that all reality tv fans believe. The truly "professional" application of the method and device discussed (___-show work) is not really in the email.

All else aside, the BOTTOM LINE is if you were uncomfortable with this email, then it crossed the line.

Amidst the fine lines of magic retail I clearly made a mistake in how this was presented and I'm sincerely sorry.

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