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The Bookstore That erupted Like A Volcano

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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.

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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.”

Collectors Treasury bookstore, owned by brothers Geoffrey and Jonathan Klass. Picture: Gypseenia Lion

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.

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“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.

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The Highest-Paid Actors 2019: Dwayne Johnson, Bradley Cooper And Chris Hemsworth

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A bankable leading man is still one of Hollywood’s surest bets, even if your name isn’t Leonardo DiCaprio. While the lucrative twenty-twenty deal ($20 million upfront and 20% of gross profit) doled out to the likes of Harrison Ford and Tom Cruise may be more or less gone, Hollywood still has its big-money brands, those actors who can promise an audience so big that they command not only an eight-figure salary to show up on set but also a decent chunk of a film’s nebulous “pool”—or the money left over after some but not all of the bills are paid. 

Dwayne Johnson, also known as the Rock, tops the Forbes list of the world’s ten highest-paid actors, collecting $89.4 million between June 1, 2018, and June 1, 2019.

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“It has to be audience first. What does the audience want, and what is the best scenario that we can create that will send them home happy?” Johnson told Forbes in 2018.

It seems he makes the audience happy. Johnson has landed a pay formula as close to the famed twenty-twenty deal of yore as any star can get these days. He’ll collect an upfront salary of up to $23.5 million—his highest quote yet—for the forthcoming Jumanji: The Next Level.

He also commands up to 15% of the pool from high-grossing franchise movies, including Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, which had a worldwide box office of $962.1 million. And he is paid $700,000 per episode for HBO’s Ballers and seven figures in royalties for his line of clothing, shoes and headphones with Under Armour.

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While Johnson’s deal is the biggest in the business right now, he’s not the only one with a lucrative deal. Robert Downey Jr. gets $20 million upfront and nearly 8% of the pool for his role as Iron Man, and that amounted to about $55 million for his work in Avengers: Endgame, which grossed $2.796 billion at the box office. 

That gross was so big that it secured spots on this year’s top-earner list for Chris Hemsworth, Bradley Cooper and Paul Rudd, in addition to Downey; together, they earned $284 million, with most of that coming from the franchise. 

“Celebrities such as Downey and (Scarlett) 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,” entertainment lawyer David Chidekel of Early Sullivan Wright Gizer & McRae told Forbes. 

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Cooper is the rare actor who can thank a bet on himself for his 2019 ranking. The actor earned only about 10% of his $57 million payday for voicing Rocket Raccoon in Avengers. 

Seventy percent came from A Star Is Born, the smaller musical drama that he directed, produced, cowrote and starred in with Lady Gaga. The movie was a passion project for Cooper, and he forfeited any upfront salary to go into the film and Gaga’s salary. It paid off—the movie, which had a production budget of only $36 million, grossed $435 million worldwide, leaving Cooper with an estimated $40 million. 

The full list is below. Earnings estimates are based on data from Nielsen, ComScore, Box Office Mojo and IMDB, as well as interviews with industry insiders. All figures are pretax; fees for agents, managers and lawyers (generally 10%, 15% and 5%, respectively) are not deducted.

The World’s Highest-Paid Actors Of 2019

10. Will Smith

Earnings: $35 million

9. Paul Rudd

Earnings: $41 million

8. Chris Evans

Earnings: $43.5 million

6. Adam Sandler (tie)

Earnings: $57 million

6. Bradley Cooper (tie)

Earnings: $57 million

5. Jackie Chan

Earnings: $58 million

4. Akshay Kumar

Earnings: $65 million

3. Robert Downey Jr.

Earnings: $66 million

2. Chris Hemsworth

Earnings: $76.4 million

1. Dwayne Johnson

-Madeline Berg; Forbes

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Comedian Jim Gaffigan Rakes In $30 Million By Ditching Netflix And Betting On Himself

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Gripping a lukewarm Heineken, Jim Gaffigan hunches his six-foot-one frame over a peeling table in the green room of the An Grianán Theatre in Letterkenny, Ireland. Summer nights are never terribly hot in these parts, but this one is warm enough to need some air conditioning, which the theater almost never uses. It’s hardly a glamorous moment. But then again, glamour isn’t really his thing.

“There’s nothing sexy about Jim Gaffigan,” he says, sweat dotting his brow. “I’m not young. I don’t have a full head of hair. I’m out of shape. I don’t talk about having dinner with Kanye.”

Fortunately for him, he is funny. Just ask the more than 300,000 people in 15 countries who’ve paid an average of $56 to see his latest routine. For the 53-year-old father of five, it’s been a grueling schedule: more than 75 cities in the past year, including whistle-stops like Letterkenny, a northern community of 20,000 that was once lauded as the Republic’s “tidiest town.”

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They may not offer much sizzle, but places like this are the lifeblood of Gaffigan’s business. He has raked in $30 million this year, putting him at No. 3 on Forbes’ list of the highest-earning stand-up comedians. Half of that was earned by putting “butts in seats.”

The rest comes from spreading his punch lines far and wide. And in this business, if those jokes are funny enough—and your reach wide enough—you can fill a lot of seats with a lot of butts. With the right distribution deal, those jokes can deliver exponential returns. But that’s where it gets a bit tricky.

“In the entertainment industry, every house is made of ice and it’s melting,” Gaffigan says. “So you’d better be building a new house.”  

Gaffigan’s been building. In 2016, he agreed to partner with Netflix, the industry’s dominant force and home to original specials from all but one of the comedians on Forbes’ ranking. Last year he cut loose from the kingmaker and placed a bigger bet on himself, pairing up with Comedy Dynamics, an independent producer, to release his next special everywhere but Netflix. 

Gaffigan will star in the first original stand-up special on Amazon, which is going after the streaming giant with a push into comedy. Quality Time goes live today, and it can be shopped on the open streaming market when its exclusive run with Amazon Prime Video is up in two years. And that market is only expanding.

Gaffigan has learned a bit about home building in the entertainment industry. He cut his teeth on the club circuit in the early 1990s, when HBO was the primary destination for stand-up specials and Comedy Central was a fledgling cable network.

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In 2000, he landed what was then the holy grail of comedy success—a broadcast sitcom—which was the source of the fortunes the creators of Seinfeld and Roseanne minted once they had enough seasons on the air and could sell the series into syndication.

Gaffigan’s shot proved to be short-lived, but six years later he scored a second chance and headlined a Comedy Central special called Beyond the Pale. This time it paid dividends, landing him his first theater show a month later. The butts were now coming to the seats, and while his rise was live, in person, with microphone in hand, his breakout was digital.

At the time, YouTube was changing the rules of the game, providing comedians a global platform with unprecedented distribution. Then Twitter emerged, giving comedy bookers a real-time assessment of who was attracting audiences.

READ MORE | The World’s Highest-Paid Comedians Of 2018

Then came the debut of streaming on Netflix, which latched onto comedy as a cheap and effective way to lure subscribers, while some, notably the now disgraced Louis C.K., used streaming to control their own distribution, making their shows available for fans to purchase directly.

“It was a technological wave that crashed over the stand-up world,” says Wayne Federman, a comedian and professor of the history of stand-up at the University of Southern California. “And we’re still all trying to figure out what’s going on.”

Gaffigan’s first original Netflix special aired in 2017, long after the company had reshaped the industry. It was a promising place to be: Aziz Ansari and Ali Wong were propelled into superstar status through their Netflix specials, while household names like Dave Chappelle and Jerry Seinfeld reportedly cashed in with $60 million (Chappelle) and $100 million (Seinfeld) paydays in exchange for long-term, multi-program deals. Gaffigan’s first special, Cinco, sold for a more modest seven-figure sum.

Jim Gaffigan stand up comedy specials for Netflix and Amazon Original
COURTESY

It was more than just a check; it was access to a potential audience of nearly 94 million. Although Netflix’s subscriber base has grown since then, so has its stand-up library. The platform now shops nearly four times the number of original stand-up specials than when Cinco debuted.

That makes it harder to stand out in the scroll. Plus, the streamer often holds onto specials in perpetuity, including Cinco. The up-front money is nice, but there is no ability to earn on the back end. 

Gaffigan used his next special, 2018’s Noble Ape, which was directed and cowritten by his wife, Jeannie Gaffigan, to test the waters. Comedy Dynamics bought the rights and made it available everywhere Netflix wasn’t. It had a theatrical release and could be purchased and rented on multiple services, including  iTunes, YouTube and Walmart’s VUDU.

Later, there were short streaming windows on Comedy Central and Amazon Prime. According to Comedy Dynamics CEO Brian Volk-Weiss, it was even syndicated to planes and cruise ships. The up-front payment to Gaffigan from Comedy Dynamics was lower than at Netflix, but the wide distribution allowed him to earn on the back end, bringing in a total of $10 million, according to Forbes estimates.

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And new services are on the way from Apple, WarnerMedia, NBCUniversal and Disney, any one of which could choose to pursue cheap-to-produce and popular stand-up specials. 

Because of this widening field, stand-up specials may have more life (and revenue) in them, and that could be good for comedians looking to gamble on their success with deals that offer back-end participation. “We have titles in our library that are making more in year 12 than they made in year one,” says Volk-Weiss, whose company also owns specials by Bob Saget, Iliza Shlesinger and Janeane Garofalo.

Still, leaving Netflix means walking away from a partner that has now established itself as a formidable entertainment company. Netflix has some 180 original hour-long stand-up specials and is singularly focused on exploiting content around the world. Gaffigan, though, is content to keep the bet on himself.

“In the entertainment industry, every house is made of ice and it’s melting. So you’d better be building a new house.”

In the stuffy backstage room in Letterkenny, Gaffigan reviews some of the new material he tried out on stage. A joke about Ireland’s nonsensical roads killed it. He stumbled with a bit about the English. The classics played well—“My dad never went to a parent-teacher conference; my dad didn’t know I went to school.”  

And he’s well aware that Amazon’s core mission is to sell stuff, even though it has won critical acclaim for shows like The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and Transparent. With plans to deliver three more specials over the next five years, he’s got time to see just how good a partner the retailer might be. Along the way, he may decide it’s time to find a new neighborhood.

“The reason I went to Amazon is to expand my audience,” he says. “I don’t know what they’re gonna do and I don’t fully understand their marketing might. I might be pleasantly surprised. I mean, it’s a huge corporation. They could probably make more selling socks.”

-Ariel Shapiro; Forbes

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Mr Eazi On A Global Campaign To Mentor And Fund African Artists

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Nigerian-born artist Mr Eazi is investing in the next generation of African talent.


He has launched emPawa Africa, a talent incubator program that provides emerging artists with tools, startup funding, and mentorship to become artist-entrepreneurs.

Mr Eazi conceived emPawa Africa in November 2018 as a new model for artist development.

“EmPawa is an initiative I created with one simple mission: Helping new artists reach their full potential musically by equipping them with the knowledge and funding to do so,” Mr Eazi said in a statement.

“It’s something I wish someone had created when I first started making music. Sometimes, all it takes is that one person to believe in you,” he added.

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The program opened submission on August 15 and 30 African artists will be selected to receive a non-repayable grant to fund their first pro-quality music videos, mentorship, marketing services and support to launch an international recording career.

Via Instagram, entrants will have to upload a short video clip of themselves performing to an original song, cover or freestyle, with the hashtag #emPawa30.

These submissions will be evaluated by Mr Eazi and his music-industry colleagues.

African artists from the diaspora are also encouraged to apply.

The #emPawa30 program will include 10 artists from Nigeria, 10 artists from other countries on the African continent and five UK based African artists.

The remaining five spots open to African-born artists in countries around the world, including the US and Canada.

YouTube Music is also partnering with the program to provide support for the 10 Nigerian artists in the #emPawa30 cohort.

YouTube’s Global Head of Music, Lyor Cohen, announced during a fireside chat with Mr Eazi at last month’s Google for Nigeria Week.

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Once selected, the lucky 30 will get to work as part of a seven month mentorship program with mentors such as Diplo, afrobeats producers E. Kelly, Juls and GuiltyBeatz, South African rapper Kwesta, Ghanaian rapper Sarkodie, Tanzanian music superstar Diamond Platnumz, afrobeats veteran DJ Neptune and executives from the African music industry and Mr Eazi.

The final 30 artists will be announced on September 30.

Mr Eazi has generated more than 900 million streams worldwide, including over 226 million plays on YouTube alone.

He has collaborated with international artists like Beyonce, Major Lazor and fellow Nigerian Burna Boy.

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