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Psychic Hotlines are taking over the world. If you don't believe us, just check the late-nite cable lineup. And if that doesn't make a believer of you, check out the
Business and Economy
Psychic and Astrology
section of Yahoo.
There are only about a zillion listings: Tarot Readers, Astrologers, Lucky Lotto 900 Numbers, I-Ching for the Lovelorn -- every imaginable genre of Psychic Content you could ever wish for.
To bring our readers up to speed on this fast-track Internet business trend, EGR was able to arrange a rare interview with the widely famed author of "Omar Reads the Stars," an astrological column that has run in hundreds of newspapers over many decades. Whether your focus is interactivity or straight merchandising, we're confident you'll glean some savvy ideas for your own online business from this unique and penetrating exchange.
Don't miss our Bonus Supplement and All-New Service:
EGR - Your Personal Psychic Hotline on the World Wide Web!
EGR: Well, it's certainly a pleasure to meet you in person after reading your horoscope columns in various newspapers over the years. By the way, everything you said has come true.
OMAR: Yeah? Pretty freaking amazing, ain't it?
EGR: I'm sure our readers are anxious to hear your advice on psychic business opportunities on the Web, but first tell us a little about how you got into this whole astrology thing in the first place?
OMAR: Well, the net wasn't around then, of course. Hell, television wasn't around then either. Newspapers were the big thing. A lot more people could read, for one thing.
EGR: Yes, literacy is certainly a social hot button these days, especially in an election year. So you eventually broke into syndication with your personal predictions. But what was it that decided you on that particular course?
OMAR: Well, my father was a Sephardic Jew and my mother was a dispossessed White Russian heiress. Dad wanted to be a banker and he tried real hard, but he was seriously dyslexic and couldn't add numbers with more than three digits, so it was pretty sad overall. Mom, on the other hand used to hang with the Czarina, and her family was loaded. I remember my dad saying -- this was almost every night at dinner -- "If only we'd seen the Revolution coming!"
EGR: So you're saying prediction was an early concern?
OMAR: Damn straight it was an early concern! After 1917 they never had any money and I grew up with all this poor-mouth whining all the time. Christ! Nearly drove me nuts. They got off way better than the Czarina and her people, I can tell you. I wasn't around that early, of course, but I understand it got pretty ugly...
EGR: I'm trying to place your accent. What country were you born in?
OMAR: Brooklyn. Maybe you've heard of it. Look kid, "Al Weisenkopf Reads the Stars" didn't look to be a big hit in the '30s so we went with Omar to get that Mysterious Orient flavor. Got the picture?
EGR: Perfectly. OK, but aside from dinner conversation, there must have been other reasons you opted for astrology over, say, veterinary medicine.
OMAR: Sure there were! Look, you could do market research and spend a lot of unnecessary bucks to come up with a fact everybody already knows, which is that 99.99% of the people out there would give their left gonad to know the answer to one burning question: "What's going to happen to me next?" It was true then. It's true now. It's what we call a sure thing.
EGR: Interesting. But how do you convince them that you know any more about it than they do?
OMAR: It's all in the tone and the delivery. It's gaining people's confidence. Showing them you really care about them and how they're doing, how they're managing to get by. Course, you don't have a freaking clue, but you go for general kinds of things that you figure will apply wholesale, so it sounds like you're reading their minds. Also, they gotta be pretty dumb for this to work, but that's never been any problem.
EGR: Give us an example.
OMAR: Well, you can pretty much count on everybody's boss being a royal prick, so you say like: "Job circumstances improve as you learn to accommodate new perspectives." Words like accommodate are good, because nobody's quite sure what it means. Basically, in something like this, what you're really "predicting" is what they're already doing, which in this case is brown-nosing their managers. And they get a little charge out of that reinforcement.
EGR: That seems quite cynical and manipulative if I may say so.
OMAR: So what? It works. Business is about what works.
The Peer-to-Peer Paradigm
EGR: But will it work online? What differences from broadcast media do peer-to-peer communications bring to the picture?
OMAR: Everybody seems to want to talk about this peer-to-peer thing. Always reminds me of a couple yokels taking a whiz out in the back forty. I will tell you what the difference is. Are you listening carefully? Nothing! Nada! Zippo! We're talking human nature here, my boy. People need to believe their lives matter to somebody other than themselves. Naturally, in the vast majority of cases they really don't. So what I do is provide a little harmless comfort in a world where nobody gives a shit whether you live or die. What's so bad about that?
EGR: Well, yes, it does cast things in a somewhat different light. And this is why astrology, psychic readers and so on have successfully transitioned from print media to television, and now to the Internet?
OMAR: You got it. Like I said, a sure thing.
EGR: And have you made this transition yourself?
OMAR: We're leveraging the old brand equity like everybody else, sure, but we're also exploring some new arrangements where "Omar" isn't a visible piece of the deal. I been having a lot of talks with Tony Robbins -- you know, the guy with the teeth -- and Cher, and of course Fran Tarkenton. These are the people who made the infomercial thing really go.
EGR: I read a piece in The New York Times that said Tarkenton has recently set himself up as an Internet consultant. Is this how you got working with him?
OMAR: Fran? [laughs] Oh no, I've known the guy forever. Although yeah, my people are having his people do the whole website shtick -- the Shockwave, the Java applets, the promotional stuff. Like that.
EGR: Do you think Tarkenton learned a lot from the infomercial business that's applicable to the net?
OMAR: Of course he did. I mean, you can't do it justice online quite yet, but he's really got that thing down where he looks right in your eyes and says "But come on, this is all too good to be true, isn't it?" Watching him and Robbins do that routine always gives me a hard on. Speaking of which, and much as I love the guy, I wonder whether Fran isn't a little... [flips wrist] You know?
OMAR: You know, the whole football thing he comes out of. All those beefy dudes taking showers together all the time and flicking towels at each other's butts and everything...
EGR: EGR has no interest in the sexual orientation of individuals, if that's what you're suggesting. Let's move on to your future plans for online. What's in the cards in that respect?
OMAR: Well, we landed the Pointcast deal and we learned a lot from that. We supply all the astrological content for them as well as Pathfinder and AOL. Also -- and this is a departure for us to be sure -- we're working with Time-Life on a new thing they're putting together called "The Amazing World of Animals That Eat Their Own Young." It's a kids series, for the most part, but it's got adult tie-ins too. The residuals from the ancillary merchandising alone made it a real sweet proposition. As you can imagine, we're pretty excited about the project.
EGR: And will there be a paranormal dimension to this? Is that how you got involved?
OMAR: Yeah, there's an interactive game where the kids can have like an "Avatar" I guess they call it, and ask a kind of oracle about their chances of being gobbled. We're totally focused on making it be a real fun experience for them. We got R.L. Stine working with us on the copy. Kind of a psychic Goosebumps motif. Man, now there's a guy raking in the bucks!
EGR: And how will this be released?
OMAR: Initially, it'll be a set of books like you see at the supermarket checkout counters. But there's also a Sega deal in the works and a CD-ROM. Plus of course the website -- we landed a lot of the CGI work for that in addition to consulting on the psychic stuff. MCI is handling the dialup campaign: 1-800-BITEME. I'm not in the talks, personally, but evidently Microsoft and @HOME are bidding the rights straight into the stratosphere.
EGR: It sounds as if congratulations are in order!
It's been terrific of you to talk with our readers about a career that has spanned at least three major media paradigms. I wonder if you'd be willing to share your views on EGR itself. Do you have any advice for an online webzine just getting started?
OMAR: I'm glad you asked that. The only reason I agreed to this interview -- as you know, I do very few -- was that I was real impressed with that SmegmaWeb thing you did a few years back. In fact, an article about you in Ad Age was what got me to thinking that the Internet was going to be the next big thing.
EGR: Oh, you must mean MecklerWeb. Yes, an early effort to be sure.
OMAR: Yeah, that was it. Well, you had something going there for a minute but it looks like you fucked it up. Now this EGR thing, I don't know. The big thing I'd say right off is to 86 the irony. Nobody wants irony. They want straight talk they can understand with a fourth-grade vocabulary.
EGR: Well, we thought about that, but...
OMAR: Don't interrupt! You want my advice or what? OK, the irony thing? What do you need with that? You're just reporting real events here anyway, right? I mean, nothing I've read -- and I did go over the back issues you sent me -- sounds anything but factual. Then why bring a horse into it? Mr. Ed, jesus! You pull stuff like that, nobody's going to take you seriously. And who the hell is Thomas Pynchon? Look, I've read Gravity's Rainbow too -- even got a few laughs... remember that song the guy sings in there about "the penis he thought was his own"? God, I about died. But so what? The hosers don't know what you're talking about. Lose the highbrow shit.
You gotta get down where your audience lives. You gotta know what makes em tick and stay aware of that every waking minute. I can tell you from long experience, they're a bunch of ignorant fools. Poor bastards don't know where their identities leave off and the medium begins. Well hey, that's an opportunity, son. Work it for all it's worth! You get that formula down -- and it is a formula, make no mistake -- you'll be beating the advertisers off with a stick!
EGR: Great advice, Omar. We'll be sure to make the changes you suggest. Perhaps we can work them into our new EGR service, Your Personal Psychic Hotline on the World Wide Web!. For our readers who are getting this via email, that URL again is:
OMAR: There you go! Best of luck with it, kid. Everybody's gotta start someplace.
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