Well, as the xkcd homepage is telling us, there is some new shit in the store. I am the expert on new xkcd shit, so let's take a look.
First off, the prints. Looks like the new ones are comics 627 and 688. Both of these are actually images which I think work better as posters than as a comics - especially the Tech Support one, which literally says it should be printed out and put up (luckily it doesn't say "everyone, buy a print of this in the store, put it up, now you are a computer expert!"). "Self-Description" is really more the kind of thing where when you see it, you say "Huh" rather than "ha," so as a poster, a reader is not expecting a joke, and shouldn't be disappointed. (theoretical experiment for xkcd fans: Put up a poster of "Self-Description" and see if anyone laughs at it and tells you it's funny. no? that is what I thought).
But the broader point about the prints is this: the pricing. Now I'm not the first to bring this up (Rob and Super Sam seem to have been, according to my old e-mails) but look: It's all well and good to charge $15 for prints (well, maybe not, but if people are willing to pay it, fine). But don't go and pretend you are doing some cool, radiohead style edgy anti-corporate rebellious thing. Randall writes that he's pricing the prints "Radiohead Style," but that's a blatant lie. Radiohead style would be letting people pay however much they want, including nothing. INCLUDING NOTHING. That is key. Click that link, and read the last sentence of the second paragraph real close: "And it's perfectly acceptable to pay nothing at all." That's what makes it crazy! No one cares that you could pay more than a usual price for the album, that's not news (What! Radiohead will be glad to take money you want to give them! Well stop the presses, mother fuckers!)
No. The point is that they were giving their album away for cheap or free. That is the news. That is the significance. That is what it means to price something Radiohead style.
To do what Randall does in his story - to say "You can pay me whatever you want, as long as it is above the price of $15, which is, come to think of it, kind of a lot for a black and white printed piece of paper" - that is not selling something radiohead style. That is trying to get their cool cache without having to actually sacrifice any income. LAME.
Also! I know, you thought I was done, I thought so too, but it was a lie - ALSO: Note that the minimum price for all the prints is $15. Right? But look closely! The default price is a whopping $25! If you want to pay less than $25 - I'll remind you that this is for a single sheet of paper with some black ink on it - you have to actively lower the price if you want to pay less than that. Meaning, there is a certain amount of pressure on you if you do so. You may think I am exaggerating and being paranoid, and I am, but I ask you THIS: Why is the default price $25? Why not $15, which is really high enough?
also, it may mean nothing, but I see that comics 500 - 700 are only represented by a mere 4 prints, while the earler comics get 15. I would say that that's because there are fewer good ones recently, but hey, I am probably biased.
Was I going to say something else? Oh yes. The posters! of course. Gravity Wells and Movie Narratives are now available as posters. RAISE YOUR HAND IF YOU ARE SURPRISED! I sure am not. The pattern with this is pretty clear: Randall makes a comic that is huge, and detailed, and took a ton of work. It's so big that you have to click it to see it full size, it doesn't fit within the confines of a mere website. And we all go, "dang, say what you will about how lame the content is, that shit took effort." And then he makes it into a poster to sell, and we go "Oh, right. That explains it."
Here, I'll quote from my Gravity Wells post, which in turn quotes from the Movie Narratives post:
The last overly-complex comic he made was the Movie Narratives chart, and back when he made that, I wrote two things about it that I think are worth mentioning now:But is there anyone out there who seriously doubts that this will not be turned into a poster, probably before christmas, and that Randall had this in mind when he made it?Clearly my prediction was wrong, and this is still not available as a poster. So I admit that I was overly critical on that one, and Randall did not act as lame or pathetic as I said he would. That's nice. Likewise, I think this comic feels like an advertisement for a soon-to-be-available poster, but until that is actually the case, I for one will not say anything.
Well, so much for that. Now the comic is an advertisement for a poster and I can say whatever I want. What I want to say is this: xkcd, the comic, is basically just an advertisement for xkcd, the store. The comic continues to somehow create this nerd cult for the comic and for its products, and for some stupid reason people don't seem to realise that that's all the comic is. That's why he needs to dumb down the math and science: so that more people will get the jokes, and therefore, will be susceptible to his comic-based advertising.
Look at the 3 newest shirts - woodpecker polo, Mr. Hat polo, raptor polo - and the tie, as well, which is new: none of them make sense on their own. They don't have a self contained joke, like the old shirts. A person who does not know xkcd will not understand those shirts. And that's the point! The point is so that people can buy them and feel like they are part of the club, and have fake-nerds come up to them and compliment them on their shirts and make them feel special, or so that non-xkcd fans can ask about them and the wearers can feel superior while explaining this particular piece of the Club Uniform. The comic just advertises the shirts etc and gives readers a false sense of nerdiness and non-cool coolness. People buying the shirts makes Randall realise he has to keep appealing to as broad an audience as possible.
it's a terrible cycle and i hate it, the end.