ASCII by Jason Scott

Jason Scott's Weblog

Statement on Sockington Selling Out —

I’ve mentioned it a few times in this weblog, and obviously other people have made the connection over time, but I’m the guy who does stuff with Sockington, the most popular cat on Twitter. His little daily concerns with tuna, windows, toys, and more tuna have been a part of my life for a couple years now.

It might be confusing to people to think of me having both Sockington and Computer History in my life, but it’s really not that big a deal.  Unfortunately, narrative structure tends to favor one-note or specific-sided individuals, negating other sides because it would confuse the story. So when you know a guy is into bulletin board systems and documentaries and data heritage and all that, it confuses things to think he also in somehow wrapped up with an online cat.

But wrapped up with this cat I am, both his online persona, and the actual cat. Both have variant days of pride and sorrow, of joy and delight and scratching.

The thing which some people may or may not totally grasp is that through a combination of dependable appearances on Twitter and something called the Featured Users list, Sockington has over 1,300,000 accounts on Twitter following him. This makes him one of the top 100 accounts out of a space of many millions. In some ways, that’s been big fun. In other ways, it’s given me way too much insight into the realm of celebrity and media and whackjobs and drive-by opinion tourism. I wouldn’t say anything has made me so unhappy that I wish this had never happened, so far. There have been a lot of things that make me happy it happened, and it will be a tough effort for the negative aspects to ever overtake the positive ones.

But as Sockington reached greater and greater “success”, defined here as “number of followers”, a steady refrain has come from all quarters: How do you intend to make money from this?

Not do I or if I intend, or even when I might want to – it’s more that the next logical step is to turn this fun little endeavor into a job. Or, more ideally, a fountain of coins raining into my cup.

Also, to a smaller amount, are people touched by the updates of Sockington and his little adventures, and the fun he brings into their twitter feeds daily, not unlike a comic strip without those bothersome drawings and arriving a few times a day, like the post used to. These people are actually pleading with me to not ruin “it”, where “it” is whatever situation Sockington is in. And the easiest way to do this is to “sell out”.

Now, “selling out” is a hot button topic with anything, but most often it’s used to label unexpected change. If someone does something a certain way, and suddenly they change, the first forces to look out for are outside ones. Did the person get approached by a food or drink company? Did the person acquire an expensive new home? Did the person find themselves kicked out of a group and need income from somewhere else?

And really, “Selling Out” is one of those things that you could stretch to mean anything you want it to. A band that has always had two members but now has four is “selling out” to being a plain old band.  A writer who writes incomprehensible books makes one that’s a straight noir mystery, and he’s “selling out” to be “more commercial”. And so on.

For me, “Selling Out” for something like Socks comes when the cat or myself are doing things we would never do on our own, and people give us money to convince us to do this. Oh, they may couch it as “paying for your time and effort” or “to help with your maintenance costs”, but it’s taking cash to do something otherwise never happening.

In May of 2009, there was a conference called the Social Media Marketplace, sponsored by the IAB, and at which I surely would have begun drinking terrible things so I could throw up on as many suits as possible.  And somehow, during one of the talks, Sockington came up.  On the panel were John Battelle of Federated Media and Ian Schafer of a marketing company called Deep Focus.  During this discussion, it was suggested that a cat food company, any of them, should immediately license or hire Sockington. (I know this because of twittering during the panel.) And this was the exchange that went by:

Battelle: Anyone know who’s behind Sockington?

Schafer: Just a guy.

Battelle: “Just a guy” has a price.

I can’t quite enunciate how angry I was, and how clearly it brought into clarity how I feel about this, this way of looking at things. The Battelles of the would would as soon grind Socks into hamburger and sell him on street corners as give him a toy to play with. A way of looking at the world where everything has a tag on it. An outlook where bright people work together to make the world worse while packaging it so they think they’re making it better. I don’t ever want to be a part of that.

So here we go.

I am not going to sell Socks out.  Period.  Drag your “proposal” or ‘touching base” or “big idea” or “possibility” to your trash icon, or I’ll kindly take the time to do it for you.  The store is closed. It was never open.

That’s it.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled cat.


Categorised as: jason his own self

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40 Comments

  1. Jason Scott says:

    To address this before it becomes the natural response – it’s hard for me to see his T-shirt and possible book as selling out because they’re additional crafted items stemming from the whole idea of Sockington. I suppose if the moving of the books becomes a constant, unending refrain from the cat or some sort of paywall approaches or you suddenly can’t get Sockington tweets, yeah. But a chance for something enjoyable and maybe an additional funny thing seems to be in theme. I’ll happily debate that, because it’s an interesting question.

  2. stonecypher says:

    Lovely piece, Jason, and I am whole-heartedly supportive of you, as a big fan of Sockington. And you’re absolutely right about the books and t-shirt – that’s not selling out, it’s an extention of the experience. Bravo to you for sticking to your guns! Long Socks and his Army!

  3. shokwave says:

    selling sockington socks is not selling out it’s hilarious; Sockington(R) Brand Cat Food For Cats By Cats With Plenty Of Tuna Yum! is selling out, yeah? my barometer on the matter of t-shirts etc is when you hear about someone writing sockington on their t-shirt or making a sockington bumper sticker or something, there is desire for it, so go to it.

  4. Victoria Massey says:

    Please do continue with book, picture, like maybe post cards, and I’d really like some Socks socks. I don’t think that’s selling out. I really do want more of him and you don’t have time to facebook and twitter gems all day. Please consider Socks socks.

  5. I agree. To make money with what you like and with 100% respect for the thing is not selling out, it’s a job. It’s maybe an interesting job, a rare job, or a job better than 100 other jobs. But it’s totally ok. And especially for you. You don’t have one of those standard jobs anymore. I would LOVE to hear that you can get some income from your Sockington thing.

    Book is the best idea. It’s content and entertainment, of course it costs money. Get a book deal, let them pay your bills for half a year, it’s a dream.

    I make music for a living (mostly). Next to my game music, I have an “underground” band which supports me quite well. I am well aware of that sell out question. I think, people believe entertainment and art are no real labour, that’s not a job. Or that sticking a price tag to something spoils it somehow. Nonsense, we creators need to spend working days to complete something others consume. I would never say: “That’s delicous ice cream, but it’s SOO commercial that the guy takes money for the ice cream, that really spoils my experience. Sellout!”

  6. Keith Hosey says:

    Jason, THANK YOU so much for sharing Sockington, Penny Cat and Tweetie, with the world. My Wife and I can’t get enough of your tales told from the cat perspective. I know many of your fans don’t have cats themselves, I wanted to tell you we adopted a rescue kitty (Sookie) a few months before we discovered Twitter and @sockington. Your tweets, etc. have time and time again struck home with us and Sookie. We have permanently adopted socks-isms for a variety of items, including shakymouse, “cat TV” and her closet “safaris” in our home. We often mention your tweets when our cat does something similar (what happens behind the couch stays behind the couch). You’ve captured the cat persona so well. Keep them coming. My wife is getting a T-shirt for Christmas.

  7. Mary says:

    I agree that a book (and t-shirts) is not selling out. The truth is, the Sockington (and Penny and Sockelganger) tweets are really well-written and entertaining and I think a lot of people would love to see a book come from it. If you get some income from that, it is well-earned. I’m glad to hear that there won’t be Sockington-endorsed cat food, though.

  8. You’ve got the right idea, Jason. Everything has a tag these days, it’s expected. Entire goals of people these days is to invent something neat enough Microsoft or AT&T buys it for millions. Fight the good fight man! If we don’t actually enjoy what we do, what’s the point of anything?

    I will say though (because it was suggested above in other posts), the book and the t-shirt things are benign enough. But start selling Socks socks, jackets, hats, etc – enough things where you can refer to that segment of the Sockington online thing as a “Socks Store” or what not – well I’d consider that perilously close to what you’re trying to avoid.

  9. Sally says:

    I hate that the top 100 twitter has become a bunch of celebrities, with very few exceptions, Sockington being one of those exceptions, which is one of the reasons I think Sockington is so great. Twitter not so great. Mainly because it has become just another venue for superstar celebrities, as if they didn’t have enough already. I only hope that Sockington gets more acclaim and success and that he becomes the number 1 followed twitterer, because he’s LEGIT. He’s a true viral creation – your creation. Well done Jason and good luck with everything the future holds for you and Sockington!

  10. Meri says:

    Score one for the Bearded One and the Fuzzy guys! I completely agree with your point of view. I also am going to buy said book, as well as make donation to archive fund. Keep up the good tweets, and to hell with the corp types who believe “every guy” has a price!!

  11. Riz says:

    Three cheers, Jason. Obviously, Battelle is NOT a cat person & doesn’t get that Socks is a sentient being and family member, not a commodity to be bought, sold and bartered. The t-shirts are awesome–and sold through a small site, not a major etailer. The book… can’t wait for it (and as a librarian, will do my best to get it on our browse shelf because patrons NEED that kind of break). The other thing… you’ve made sure that money has gone to animal welfare (I forget what the sitch was). You folks also just adopted another stray. You’re doing the right thing. Socks, Penny and Tweetie are lovely kitties who are obviously well-loved and cared for. Keep it up, and thanks for those little joyful moments during the day.

  12. Rabscuttle says:

    I LOVE the Sockington t-shirt. And Sockington. And if you decide there’s something you want to do with him that makes you some money, I would offer only a thumbs-up and a hearty “huzzah!”

  13. ana says:

    the selling of books and shirts and whatnot should not be considered selling out. these are items that not only spring from the source itself, but also (in the case of the book, at least) are built on requests from the fans themselves. you asked if people wanted it, and people said yes.

    besides, buying a shirt or mug or book lets people feel as if they are supporting whatever the idea or product is – in a capitalist society, what is the best way to show you like something? give it money, that way it can keep doing whatever it is that you like.

    otherwise, you are owed a lot of respect for making this decision. as soon as this project stops being fun for you, it will stop being fun for us as well. getting on the marketing band wagon is the fastest way to burn out. thank you for creating and preserving this little happy moment for our days.

  14. McSherrie says:

    Bravo, good sir! The happiness that Sockington’s tweets give to people is a wonderful thing, certainly, but it is nice to know that you have never lost track of the fact that it is the cat himself who is important.

    Please give Sockington, Sockelganger, and – perhaps most importantly – Penny skritches for me.

  15. Yay Jason!
    Always remember, you will never just be “some guy” to Sockington, Penny and the Sockelganger. You will be the guy who knows how to open the cat food cans. And you’ll never just be “some guy” to me. Thanks for taking such a wise, sensible and intelligent stand.

  16. daphne says:

    I completely agree with you and understand your position. To hear that some marketing panel had so nonchalantly and self-assuredly remarked that “‘Just a guy’ has a price” — followed by a round of chuckling, no doubt — I would be absolutely livid as well. It might be news to Mr. Marketeer, but some people’s integrity in their endeavors actually can’t be bought at any price. Sometimes money isn’t the be all and end all. Thank you for staying true and making the world that much better!

    p.s. Please send my regards to Socks, Penny, and Tweetie… what a bunch of lucky cats. :)

  17. Kaa says:

    Huzzah. I’m sure those stuffed-suit morons that licensed or hired Sockington would suddenly think they had a say in what he said on Twitter or a directive to mention TwoToneCat brand cat food x times per day or something. And, frankly, that would be “selling out.”

    I’m glad you’r sticking to your guns/principles. I like Sockington the way he is. :)

  18. Deb says:

    I think YOU producing and being behind a book or t-shirts is not selling out. Heck if YOU made cat treats and sold them online “Socks Favorite whatever” I wouldnt call that selling out. But when YOU get taken out of the equation (licensing) that is where selling out starts. But when YOU can keep contol on things, if you made some calendars, notecards, stickers etc that fit in theme not an issue. It is your creativity that makes Sockington.

  19. Liane Benson says:

    Right on, Jason. Smooches to Sockington et al.

  20. LateBlt says:

    “Selling out” is not a binary label; you’re not just either sold-out or not-sold-out. It’s a range, like being “big.” Sure, some things are big, but then there are bigger things, and even bigger things than those things. There isn’t some magical point at which you suddenly flip and are selling out when you weren’t before.

    The t-shirt and book are a small step on the road to commercialization. I’m not saying that they’re evil or that they’ll ruin anything, but simply that they _could be perceived_ as selling out by someone who wanted to construe them as such. They may move the Twitter feed one small step closer to the world of marketing that you’re describing, but I don’t think anyone sees this as a hugely negative process as long as it doesn’t interfere with the innocent fun that made Sockington popular to begin with.

  21. Jamie Martin says:

    Who’s this Jason Scott fellow? I want to hear how Sockington feels about this whole thing!

  22. NascarAddict says:

    I have enjoyed the Socks persona from the day I discovered it. You have brought many smiles and giggles to my life. I have bought two Socks “quote” shirts and love telling people who Socks is. Wherever you decide to take Socks, as his creator you deserve it. I will not look down on you if I see a line of Socks toys at Walmart. As a matter of fact, I would buy them all for my 4 catboys. I think every cat should have a Baron VonMousie. You have to decide what you can live with and what would affect your readers. Your adoption of Sockelganger already inspired me to adopt my new kitten “Smoke”. It is not our business to decide if you “sell out” or not. I will continue to look for Sock’s tweets every day. Thanks for all the laughs.

  23. Partly Anonymous says:

    I have to admire you over this, not that I expected you to do anything else, given that if you wanted to “monetize” your projects, you could have done this a long, long time ago with textfiles.com and this blog. Your stance on this has discouraged me from using advertising on any of my projects, current and future.

    I’m one of those “people touched by the updates of Sockington and his little adventures” (I had three cats, who passed away, not so long ago, so Socks and the ‘Ganger bring me a lot of smiles). When you said that these scumbags “would as soon grind Socks into hamburger and sell him on street corners as give him a toy to play with”, well, that hit me pretty hard, because I suspect it’s entirely true. They can’t imagine a world in which they do something great for other people *just because they can*. Fuck them.

    Oh, and that photo of Socks is one of my favourite pictures ever. :) As an occasional photographer I’d love to know how you get the colour so perfect indoors.

  24. sam says:

    I also want socks socks. With little rubber grippys on the bottom for being lazy around the house like socks. And maybe a Baron Von Shakymouse for my cat. That’s not selling out though. That’s just awesome.

  25. Pam MInch says:

    Good for you, Jason! Although I am one of Sockington’s fans who would LOVE to have a book or anything featuring his puss, I would never want to impose on his or yours or the family’s lifestyle or joy. It’s most important that Sockington, Penny and Tweetie be loved and cared for by their family. Period. And although this 15 minutes is probably keeping you extremely busy in a lot of negative and imposing ways, I wouldn’t blame you if you just chucked it all in now and Socks faded off into the sunset. Remember, all of Sockington’s (and your) REAL fans only want what’s best for your family. Whatever you decide to do, we know you have your cats’ best interest at heart.

  26. RossH says:

    I’m always amused by the notion of ‘selling out’. It seems to be a label rather selfish people apply to people they (allegedly) like, and want to keep to themselves. I like you as long as you stay poor and obscure.

    I say do the book; it doesn’t affect the Sockington twitter in any way, it’s just a different medium to publish the material. Screw anyone who thinks you ‘sold out’, they are all leeches.

  27. corq says:

    Lordy. @sockington is cuteness personified and I hope you both keep twittering – however what probably irks me most about this tale is these entities attempting to monetize the mindhive. Or pretty much anything else that moves, really. They don’t see a sense of community; they simply wanna latch their money-wagon to capture the natural enigmatic presence of a lovable cat, that other prople follow to enjoy. Not even *their* cat, mind you.

    Stay-at-home Moms, pimping cat toys to twitter followers of their twitter-cats, within the scope of social media culture, I *get*.

    It’s the premeditated, impersonailized attitude of
    “OMG we’re gonna latch onto THIS AWESOME TWITTER THING whatever the hell it is, snap up whatever coolness-factor emerges from it, wring it dry and cash our checks!” that probably irritates me most about it.

    Here’s hoping the dolts won’t kill the joy of it for you. Good luck.

  28. Paula says:

    Jason, do what you think is right for Sockington and his fans. However, I do think you’re being overly sensitive to selling out. I’d like to see more Sockington stuff: tuna, treats, toys, books, etc. It’s up to you and Sockington, though.

    Good luck!
    –Paula

  29. turtlesong says:

    i <3 reading sockington's updates. i <3 reading penny's updates. you do what you want/need to do and to hell with everyone else. you guys are a family and i'm sure if you do something wrong penny will let you know. and, not coincidentally, let all of us know as well.

    oh, and by the way, socks needs a toy. :)

  30. Leslie Sinnott says:

    Thank you. You said it well, succinctly and to the point. I admire you for your principles and for your creativity. I wish you exceptional success with your computer history/archives and thank you for the joy Socks, Penny and sockelganger bring into my life on a daily basis. Who needs one-dimensional people? Huzzah for the renaissance man!

  31. Church says:

    The book and t-shirt seem to be organic evolutions of the idea of Socks. Sort of how popular webcomics become books.

    Becoming a cat food shill is beneath Socks’ dignity, and an insult to his fans.

    (Unless it were pure, sushi-grade tuna.)

  32. Meg says:

    I heard you call Socks “just a sweet little cat” in one of your interviews. From that point on, I have never worried. Your post here only made me remember to send you some cat food money when payday comes. Kisses to all of you, from Mary CATherine’s mom

  33. Reeadpro says:

    As one of Sockington’s followers and fans, he has entertained us immensely. Don’t worry about selling out. But I for one would like to see him become as big as Snoopy or Garfield. Yes they were just cartoons, but their fans couldn’t get enough and bought books, t-shirts, posters, etc. He’s your cat, Twittifying him was your idea, and we want more of him. Selling out is doing something that’s outside of who he is and what he stands for — he would never pitch cat food; but he can continue to provide us enjoyment beyond Twitter in other types of content such as books and more. Everyone has been trying to figure out how to monetize social media. They’re just jealous that you and Sockington have provided us something that we have enjoyed so much for free, that we’d be willing to pay for more. SO share with us more Sockington — we’d be willing to pay for those things that keep him who he is while he entertains us some more. This is not selling out. Such creativity and enjoyment provided should be rewarded by those who benefit from it. Selling out would be losing control and allowing someone or some company to change his essence for their benefit, leverage their brand for his endorsement. There’s a difference in broadening his appeal and exposure and truly selling him to the highest bidder.

  34. Daphne B says:

    I have nothing real to add, I just wanted to say that I have always thought you have the cutest cat alive.

  35. Bryn says:

    Marketing types always think they know everything.

    Personally, I’d love a tuna fish plushie, with Sockington’s paw of approval stitched into the side. I don’t think that would be selling out since Socks does love tuna.

  36. Simon Strandgaard says:

    Sockington is a great cat.

  37. RossH says:

    The Sockington photo above would make a great book cover!

  38. Kate Ebneter says:

    I’ve spent a lot of time combing through your textfile archives recently, and had absolutely no idea that they were related to Socks. I thoroughly applaud your stand here, and thank you for brightening my day with Socks and Tweetie and Penny. Plz continue.

  39. Mary says:

    Jason, I’m glad you’re against doing things you’d never do — with or without Socks — but I wouldn’t hold it against you if you somehow were able to make a little bit of money because people like you all. I don’t see anything wrong with that, as long as it doesn’t change who you are and what you believe. I was genuinely terrified when Socks went missing for that short but awful period a while ago. It was then I realized I kind of consider you all family. And I’ll be happy for anything that makes all your lives a little better, easier or more pleasant. Thanks for sharing Socks and Penny and Sockelganger. Love you all.

  40. Why aren’t you in negotiations with Purina and their competitors? Endorsements! An expanded line of shirts, socks, sweaters, boxers, and thongs! Haven’t you ever seen any of those movies where the agent explains the monetization of fame to the up-and-coming hero? I can see it now, “Sockington Takes Manhattan!” Your cat’s name, up in lights, man!

    :::::James