A gargantuan eight-storey second-hand bookstore in the heart of downtown Johannesburg, not far from the city’s hipster havens, has for over four decades stocked nostalgia and hidden treasures on its shelves. FORBES AFRICA stepped into the time capsule that is the Collectors Treasury.
In the mid-1970s, Rissik Street in downtown Johannesburg was a tranquil road featuring an important landmark – a second-hand bookstore that offered an escape from the city’s orchestrated chaos. It was a true literary world in a period devoid of the sensory overload of today’s technology.
Books were the only source of knowledge for the young intellectuals in bell-bottoms and halter dresses that trickled in to spend hours pouring over the treasures in this bookstore called Collectors Treasury.
It has since moved shop from Rissik Street, and today, 45 years on, a little over a kilometer away, the same wonders, and much, much more can be found at 223 Commissioner Street. The 3,000 books, records and antiques collected since 1974 have now grown to over two million items.
All the vintage collectables are housed in an eight-storey building bursting at the seams with the sheer volume of material in it.
Brothers Geoffrey and Jonathan Klass, the co-owners of Collectors Treasury, have come to this realization, that the books are literally everywhere. From the entrance to the office where the men have to walk around them with caution, and from there, to the elevator, the staircase, the passages and even the restroom that has been turned into an impromptu storage space.
“People are definitely reading, and they are reading more.,” offers Geoffrey.
“We are at a stage where reading is not for pleasure. Reading is for utilitarian purposes because it is something that we seek to learn, something we have to know in order to advance.”
Also a recording engineer and musician, his brother Jonathan remarks that growing up with a doctor for a father, and a mother who collected antiques, inspired them to start the business.
Jonathan shies away from talking about his own personal collection of antiques because people always end up bargaining for him to sell it.
Their upbringing taught the men the value of history. This is the backbone of their business.
“Whenever we get anything into the shop, the first thing we want to know is what its origins are and where it comes from,” Jonathan says.
“You can’t know where you are or who you are in a particular context unless you know what has come before you. It is becoming part of a culture amongst the youngsters now, the so-called ‘hipsters’; they are the population coming in a lot.”
Young, inquisitive minds, in search of a deeper understanding of the world, feed their curiosity here while others walk in to simply explore the massive bookstore. Jonathan says it provides a much-needed alternative and relief to today’s smartphone-obsessed world.
“People are stuck in an electronic loop and they can’t get out of it. They haven’t studied the people who are the masters of their craft to know where they should go. I absorbed as much material as I could, and I still do it all the time.
“That is what our shop is about. You can’t come in here for five minutes and expect to absorb what is in here.
“It doesn’t matter what you read, so long as you read because ultimately the book is the theater of the mind.”
Geoffrey argues that despite the vast amount of information shared on the internet, it won’t ever replace the simplicity of a book.
“People’s knowledge is not as in-depth as it used to be, which is why this particular generation of youngsters is more enthusiastic about older stuff than the generation that came 15 years ago,” he says.
Books on African history are the top-sellers at the store because people are looking to make sense of their place in society.
By preserving what is often discarded, the store can become a repository of tradition while it allows the bookseller to determine what to sell.
“If I banned half the books, I’d be cutting out half the cultural influencers that someone could be exposed to. We cast our net widely, and limit it simply because of the volume of material there is. We make our own choices,” Geoffrey says.
Although digital innovations continue to grow in popularity, the culture of reading for the brothers will never be substituted for the sensory experience provided by a book.
“The world does not stand still. What we often think is the beginning of the revolution is the end. I think in a lot of ways the digital experience is in the decline. It goes back to the hipsters wanting to know what came before because they want to be hands-on. They want to feel, touch and see it.
“They don’t want the black box effect. Nobody is going to come in here with something the size of a cellphone with 7,000 books loaded on it and say, ‘I want to sell my library’. No one else will buy it,” Geoffrey says.
Jonathan says the shop has hidden treasures in the form of collectables that aren’t sold by regular retailers.
“As a toy collector, when I see the tin toys I used to have and played with as a child, it just brings back all those memories.”
“Nostalgia is a big part of it. So many times when I am in a market stall [selling goods], somebody will come along and say, ‘this is so nice, I remember it from when I was five years old’. It may be a vase or a piece of furniture or a gramophone. It could be anything and people will remember it,” Jonathan says.
Going out on Sundays for window-shopping at any time of the day is an activity the brothers certainly miss.
Since the early 1990s, the inner city changed from being an upmarket commercial space to an area rife with crime and dilapidated buildings. But the high levels of crime and population density have not hindered the brothers’ love for the inner city and the time capsule they step into daily.
When asked how the business survived the advent of the internet, an excited Jonathan explains the exclusivity of the store and its organic growth that few can imitate.
“Nobody can start Collectors Treasury if they wanted to. It developed on its own like a chemical reaction. We started collecting some stuff and it developed into what it is now, rather like a volcano. You can’t create a volcano,” he says.
A unique passion for selling second-hand books and understanding collectables is needed to stand the test of time. For Jonathan, the online model is not feasible because it is expensive on the one side, and on the other, it minimizes the effort it takes to acquire knowledge or a skill.
“It has got to be an educated thing. There are people trading from their homes, making it look easy. The same way people who write a book using spellcheck, or musicians using apps to write music who think they are musicians and they are not.
“The online experience is that anybody who can use a computer can become an instant ‘expert’, at times, they steal descriptions off the net, they steal inventory and market it. They do this to make out more than they know. They sound like they have a bookshop where, in fact, they have a garden shed,” Jonathan explains.
Understanding how the internet works helps buyers and sellers spot scammers from a mile away. With about 85,000 books up for sale on the internet, the brothers have expert knowledge on how to identify a legitimate seller.
Over the years, the few dealers and buyers have increased to over a million since the duo began selling online.
“You need to build a business, and not just sell. We buy what people want, and sometimes we reject books. People usually ask why we reject, but we need to check the market and know what they will buy,” Jonathan adds.
Geoffrey shares a different sentiment about their business model.
“There is a model; it is going with the flow. If someone wants to make money, they need to do something else. It is for the passion; as long as you are making enough to eat, the rest doesn’t matter. The stock is appreciating. If you sell it, you make money. It appreciates in value if you buy correctly,” he says.
He argues that people need to avoid the get-rich-quick syndrome as businesses differ.
“If I made a million, and I write a book on it, how many millionaires would there be? If Warren Buffet made a million, it is because the conditions at that particular time, plus his input, added up to making a million. You could give somebody the same amount of information now but time has passed and the river has flowed.
“You are not the same person that you were at the time that you made the million. I don’t think Bill Gates could make a million today because it was [under] different circumstances,” Geoffrey says.
The store houses items that are priceless from a bygone era. The brothers sell porcelain and antique figures from the early 1900s’ fashionable movement; items rarely sold by local dealers.
“The markets for the antique porcelains have dropped so much. The classical antiques that were fashionable 50 years ago are not wanted by the modern collectors to the same extent as the generation before,” Geoffrey says. “In a way, the subsequent generation tends to concentrate on buying back their youth. They buy the things that they couldn’t afford when they were younger and didn’t have any money.
“Collecting fashions shift so much. Modern collectors look for different things, but pretty is out!” The rustier and older the item, the more people want it. And they don’t mind stepping into a bookstore bursting with nostalgia and with motifs and messages from an era that has been long gone.
Executive Travel: NaakMusiQ’s Dubai
The South African actor and musician was impressed with the city’s architecture, food and work ethic.
South African actor and musician Anga Makubalo, known by his stage name NaakMusiQ, calls the Middle Eastern emirate of Dubai a luxury destination.
NaakMusiQ, who hails from Port Elizabeth in South Africa’s Eastern Cape Province, shot to fame after appearing in the award-winning South African soap opera Generations and has since been in a number of television shows.
He has also had a chart-topping music hit, Ntombi ft Bucie.
NaakMusiQ’s first trip to Dubai, known as the melting pot of the Middle East, was last year on an Emirates flight when he traveled Business Class. The fashion-lover admits to being a light packer, although there are some items he would never travel without, such as cologne, a pair of sneakers, and his music.
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“I also carry my scripts all the time. Because of the long flights, I can get tired of watching a movie, I can get tired of listening to music, so the next best thing is to get into my script and get a head start.”
He has been to Dubai before, but only transiting the airport connecting to another flight, so this was his first official trip into the glistening city.
“Dubai is everything that people say it is,” he says. “We went to the mall. It was crazy! I’ve never seen anything like it before. [The Dubai Mall] has a full-on aquarium inside. In the middle of the center, there’s like this huge fish tank. It’s crazy! That was probably the highlight of my visit.”
The actor was also intrigued by the city’s architecture and skyscrapers.
“I’m actually very huge on architecture. It’s actually something I wanted to study. Their engineering is absolutely insane. The way they’ve built this place and the designs – it’s luxury, one after the other. We drove for hours admiring the architecture because I’m such a nerd when it comes to that. I love it.”
Dubai has a sizeable African expatriate community, and no dearth of African culture. As a musician, NaaqMusiQ had been invited to the city.
“Africans that have immigrated to Dubai request their favorite African artist to come over so that they’re still connected to Africa and home. The nice thing about that is, as much as it is our people that have invited us there to perform, they have influenced people from there [Dubai] and other parts of the country [UAE] to come and listen to our music.
“Because they’ve become residents there, they have friendships where they introduce African music to the people of Dubai. So when we went there, there were quite a lot of people, even though some couldn’t sing along, there were a lot of people who went crazy when my song [Ntombi] played.”
During his time there, NaakMusiQ was also taken to restaurants serving African food. This came as somewhat of a surprise for the actor that the Arab city boasted a range of eateries specializing in African cuisine.
“We had a lot of Kenyan food that I hadn’t tasted before, which was really nice. They’ve got Tanzanian food, they’ve got South African food, Zambian food; it’s just a whole African experience there. And they do well actually.”
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While NaakMusiQ didn’t interact with the natives of Dubai, he did get a sense of what they are like. The hustle and bustle of the city left him greatly motivated.
“Everyone in Dubai is there to work. Everyone is there to hustle. People think that Dubai is this big, fun place, which it can be, but even people from there aren’t out partying every night. It’s people from the countries that are visiting that are out partying. Everyone else is really working. Some people are so hectic when it comes to business and money that they don’t have a life outside of their work.
“When they do have nights off, they choose to be at home or to put in extra hours working. It just made me want to work harder. That is the impact… Everyone there wants to do better. The standards there are incredibly high. What we would consider as good here is probably entry-level there,” says the hit-maker who now plans to return to Dubai wealthier and with more cash to splurge.
Stone Town: From Freddie Mercury To The Farms
The sights, scents and sounds of Zanzibar include a 73-year-old tale of the iconic late British singer-songwriter.
Dress conservatively when walking the streets of Stone Town,” advises the tourist brochures in the predominantly Islamic society of Zanzibar, yet, the tiny Tanzanian archipelago proudly claims Freddie Mercury, the controversial frontman of British band Queen, as its own.
The singer, born in the windswept streets of Stone Town in Zanzibar in 1946 and one of the world’s most iconic voices in pop-rock, is this tourist town’s biggest currency-spinner.
Stone Town, which is a maze of historic alleys and spice bazaars with timber shutters, an old Arab fort, churches, mosques and 19th-century stone buildings, is a World Heritage Site overlooking the sea. Within its dusty bowels, leading up from its myriad walkways, is Shangani Street, starting with a white-washed, two-storied yellow building that was once Freddie Mercury’s home.
There are countless tours offered to what is emblazoned in gold outside as ‘Freddie Mercury House’, featuring four fully-furnished hotel apartments with balconies overlooking the Indian Ocean.
Outside are framed glass cases with sepia images of the songwriter and vocalist, describing his famous connection with Zanzibar. Born Farrokh Bulsara, Mercury’s family had immigrated to Zanzibar from Gujarat in India. He was born to Bomi and Jer Bulsara who were originally Parsis (a Zoroastrian community that migrated to the Indian subcontinent from Persia). In 1964, the Zanzibar Revolution forced the family to flee.
The island community’s lucrative tourist trade is even today cashing in on Mercury’s global image, with tours offered at the Zoroastrian Fire Temple where the Parsi family once worshipped, and to a restaurant named Mercury offering fresh seafood.
“Imagine, Freddie Mercury played on these white sandy beaches and clear waters at one time,” says my tourist guide, Amour, proudly, before taking me on a two-hour walking tour of Stone Town. He points to the domed white Zanzibar High Court where Mercury’s father once worked as a cashier.
His house on Shangani Street, where the first settlers arrived, is a hub of activity, with tourists, and touts selling everything from icecream to tanzanite jewelry and African bric-à-brac. Just a few steps up, is the Shangani post office and buildings boasting Indian, African and European architecture, where you discover your own Bohemian Rhapsody.
Amour helps me weave through the heaving mass of human traffic in the busy streets, to a fish and vegetable market in Stone Town that also sells spices in pretty bamboo gift-packs. The fish is sold fresh and the spices overpower the stench.
“Zanzibar used to be the largest exporter of cloves in the world, but from 70 percent, it’s only nine percent now,” Amour rues, thrusting a packet of cloves into my hand, “and that’s sad, because of declining prices, more competitors and the poor encouragement of farmers.”
Earlier, I had visited the spice farms Zanzibar is so famous for, finishing off with lunch in a Swahili home stationed on a peak in one of the scented valleys. It was modest home-cooked fare but with aromas as strong as the spice farms the ingredients came from: a banana dish with coconut milk and cardamom, flavored cassava from the fields, fried tuna, rotis and the most fragrant pilaf (rice dish) I have ever eaten, watered down with lemon grass and ginger tea.
I had been to the Muyuni village in the south tasting the sweetest mangoes and bananas in all of Africa, passing seaweed-strewn beaches, paddy fields and potholed roads with bullock carts, dala dala taxis and motorbikes.
In the lush mangroves of Jozani, I encountered the endangered red colobus monkeys. In the spice plantations, down slippery forest paths, I tasted nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves off the trees.
The natural treats along the way also included lemons and sweet green oranges. As we passed the red mahogany trees, “beware of the green mambas or pythons”, my host had warned. A vendor in the middle of the forest showed us his wares in a wicker basket: soaps and perfumes made from the Ylang-Ylang trees by the womenfolk.
“In Europe, Chanel No. 5 is made from this. Here, we call it Chanel No. 0, our products have no chemical or alcohol,” he says, pointing to the tiny bottles filled with red liquid. “These farms are so rich in spices that the chicken running around are already spiced, you don’t need to flavor them when you cook them,” laughs Amour, towards the end of our outing. From Freddie Mercury to the farms, Zanzibar beckons the senses.
Marvel Money: How Six Avengers Made $340 Million Last Year
Since its premiere in April, Avengers: Endgame has been sending shockwaves across the Marvel multiverse, with a worldwide gross of $2.77 billion and counting after the movie’s return to theaters last month. With its domestic gross sitting at $848 million, Endgame is the second-highest-grossing film ever both in the U.S. and overseas.
That means a payday not just for Marvel Studios but also for the Avengers themselves, who have negotiated their way to superpowered deals. Forbes’ Celebrity 100 list of the world’s highest-earning entertainers this year features six Endgame heroes, from Chris Hemsworth (a.k.a. Thor) at No. 24 overall with $76.4 million (not all of his earnings were from Avengers) to Paul Rudd (Ant-Man) at No. 83 with $41 million. Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man), Bradley Cooper (Rocket Raccoon), Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow) and Chris Evans (Captain America) also assembled and made the cut. Together, the team earned $340 million.
“Celebrities such as Downey and Johansson currently have extreme leverage to demand enormous compensation packages from studios investing hundreds of millions of dollars in making tent-pole films, such as The Avengers series,” says entertainment lawyer David Chidekel of Early Sullivan Wright Gizer & McRae.
Kevin Feige, Marvel Studios’ president, seems to agree: “We started saying that the character is the marquee name, and I think that’s still true, but I think we’ve been very lucky and thankful that the actors that imbibe these characters have now become them,” he told Forbes of the highly compensated group in 2017.
Marvel signs actors to multi-movie deals that also include promotional commitments. These deals often start off in the seven figures, which helps explain why newer superheroes like Brie Larson (Captain Marvel) and Tom Holland (the latest Spider-Man) didn’t make the Celeb 100 cut. But as actors stay with the MCU, their salaries increase. Veteran Marvel stars can command an upfront salary as high as $20 million (Downey). Others top heroes can earn in the neighborhood of $15 million (Hemsworth, Johansson, Evans), while second-tier characters make about $8 million (Rudd).
But the real money comes in later. All of this year’s listees proved so valuable to Marvel that they were able to negotiate for a piece of the profit—also known as contingent compensation—on both the ensemble Avengers films and their individual superhero films.
“A studio’s incentive to grant contingent compensation to various actors, writers, directors and other key personnel is simple. Movie studios depend upon tent-pole films to support their financial performance,” says Chidekel.
These points pay off. Avengers: Endgame, for example, has made about $700 million in profit from its box office run so far. For Downey, who has around 8% in back-end points, that translates to about $55 million, for a grand total of $75 million for the one film.
Even smaller characters like Cooper can command about 1% of the back end, which would translate to $7 million for Endgame. For their star vehicles, these actors can negotiate an even bigger cut of the profit.
“The percent of budget cost have certainly skewed heavy, particularly on the Avengers movies, to cast now, whereas maybe in the early ones it was more visual effects or below the line,” Feige said in 2017. “But that’s okay because [the actors] are the best effects.”
These sky-high paychecks have proved to be a worthwhile investment for the studio. With a built-in audience of comic book fans, scripts that are both funny and socially aware, and a powerful marketing strategy, MCU films have grossed over $22 billion since 2008. These actors continually return many times their salaries in box-office dollars. For instance, while Downey earned that eye-popping $75 million from Endgame, the film grossed $36.90 at the box office for every dollar he was paid. Those on the lower end of the earnings spectrum, like Rudd, produced over $100 at the box office for every dollar they were paid.
“Certainly the strange alchemy of seeing characters you’ve never seen before teamed up together on screen, if they were different versions of those characters, it wouldn’t be as fun,” Feige said. “It’s expensive but well worth it.”
We think Nick Fury would agree.
-Madeline Berg; Forbes Staff
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