After A One-Hit Wonder

We have seen many one-hit wonder products in our time. For example, the pet rock or the Rubik’s cube are a milestone in invention history. The Wall Street Journal recently looked at another one-hit inventor, Dave Kapell, and his product, Magnetic Poetry.

Back in 1993, the Minneapolis native was an aspiring musician who liked to cut up his diaries and rearrange the words to create song lyrics. But he was prone to allergies and, with the pollen count soaring one day, he sneezed and scattered an almost-finished song. An idea was born: Why not stick magnets on the bits of paper and affix them to a cookie sheet to keep them in place?

The contraption stayed in Mr. Kapell’s room for a few months until he threw a house party and needed the cookie sheet for baking. The word magnets went up on the refrigerator—and throughout the night, Mr. Kapell’s friends kept stealing back to the kitchen to scramble the lyrics. The next day, he got a half-dozen orders for the magnet kits.

“Within a month of the party, it was like I was selling drugs out of my house,” says Mr. Kapell, who is 48. “It went viral before viral was a term.”

These days, the recession has hurt sales, as have the tenuous fortunes of his two biggest customers, Borders and Barnes & Noble. Mr. Kapell says he is looking to broaden distribution and is considering a Magnetic Poetry app for the iPhone and iPad. He’s also making changes in his company’s online store to make direct sales easier.

In general, though, he says he’s content to issue a half-dozen or more variations on the original kit each year. A zombie-themed kit is popular, he says, and erotic-word versions are perennial favorites. A recent golf-lovers’ kit, on the other hand, was a dud.

Photo by Steve Johnson

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