Sunday Notes (2.5.2023)
A slight departure . . . .
Suppose a big consulting company asked me to talk with an unnamed client about the future of the global Tarot market. (They did!)
Suppose the consultation actually happened. (It didn’t!)
But I’d already given the topic some thought—and there’s no sense letting my time go to waste. So here are a few things I might have said . . .
First: It’s important to recognize that the subject of Tarot is complex—and the “market” for Tarot goods and services is diverse. I’ve offered a more detailed landscape in Ten Doors to Tarot, but for the purpose of discussion, I’ll propose four big categories:
Lifestyle. Using Tarot for introspection, personal growth, recreation, etc.
Commercial. Offering readings, books, and/or courses for profit
Creative. Designing, executing, and/or collecting Tarot decks, as well as using Tarot for artistic inspiration
Scholarly. Exploring the history and underlying ideas of Tarot
(And yes! Those categories do line up with the four suits—in order, Cups, Pentacles, Wands, Swords.)
The Lifestyle and Commercial categories dominate social media, and shape popular ideas about Tarot.
The Creative category divides into two main groups—a few big companies (like Lo Scarabeo or U. S. Games Systems), and niche marketplaces (like Etsy and Kickstarter) for indie efforts.
The Scholarly category is little known, therefore underserved.
Second: The Commercial and Creative categories are ripe for AI exploitation. If the goal is to create new decks that will sell in big numbers, around the world, it will be easy enough to plug in market research, provide design models, and let AI produce decks tailored to specific groups and aesthetic preferences. There are already many such decks, of course. But AI could decrease the costs of production and facilitate micro-targeting. (I’ll write more about Tarot and AI in a future post.)
From a product perspective . . . if I wanted to exploit the market potential of AI + Tarot in a distinctive way, I’d create a gadget that lets customers choose from a variety of esoteric and artistic parameters—instructing the AI engine to create their very own, hyper-personalized decks. Then print-on-demand, and voila.
Third: If I wanted to fill gaps in the existing Tarot marketplace, and stand out in a crowded field, I’d fund the following:
A grant program that would enable artists and scholars to focus on expanding the Tarot universe without so much worry about monetization.
An online journal that would publish serious, innovative Tarot-related work—scholarship and fiction, as well as art and ideas. It could be combined with a curated marketplace for high-quality Tarot products.
Those undertakings would not be profitable in themselves—but they could help to build a unique brand identity.
Fourth: If I wanted to exploit the market for Lifestyle Tarot, I’d create a non-profit, curated, Thumbtack-type hub, with consistently formatted information (profiles, sample readings, payment information, etc.) that visitors could use to compare and choose. Again, for branding purposes more than profit.
Finally . . . . Those branding strategies would be a boon to serious Tarot, but would cost a fortune if carried out globally. And what would the underlying revenue source actually be? I’m not sure how many commercial decks can be absorbed in a self-limiting market that depends to a great extent on people whose purchasing interest is casual, impulsive, occasional, or circumstantial.
As far as I can imagine, expanded deck sales are most likely to come from an expanded consumer pool. And that would mean exposing more people to the varied dimensions of Tarot, as well as increasing the quality of Tarot offerings.
But I was only asked to provide opinions, based on experience, not to advise on a business model. So--there you are, whoever you are!
This coming week I’ll get back to “the list.”
If you’re just joining EP . . . several decades ago, I left myself five pages of handwritten reminders to “look for” Tarot-related material. In those days, it was hard to track down obscure texts, but now that I can just Google stuff, I’ve returned to the quest.
Some of the list items are now readily available—no sleuthing required. And a few of the more obscure ones have already been brought to light by others.
Playboy 19, Jan 1972, p. 102-ff
This turns out to be an article by fantasy/horror writer Ray Russell (“Tarot: A Fresh Look at an Arcane Art”) plus a nude and very shiny interpretation of several Major Arcana cards, photographed by Alexis Urba.
You can see the photo spread—fair warning!—courtesy of a blog called (yes, really) PipesandPjsPictorials. Otherwise, or in the meantime, here’s the first paragraph of Russell’s essay:
Many of us in the modern world have never actually seen a tarot card. If we have heard of the tarot, it has likely been through the filter of sophisticated literary allusion, such as T. S. Eliot's The Wasteland, which draws much of its poetic imagery from the mystical cards. In times past, however, the tarot was considered by king and commoner alike to be a mirror of life: vivid, valid, vital; worthy of respect, of trust and of fear.
There are still some list-mysteries to unravel or illuminate, so . . . .
More soon. C