the other side of the long tail 01.07.2010, 1:41 PM
posted by dan visel
Jace Clayton quotes an article from The Economist:
A lot of the people who read a bestselling novel, for example, do not read much other fiction. By contrast, the audience for an obscure novel is largely composed of people who read a lot. That means the least popular books are judged by people who have the highest standards, while the most popular are judged by people who literally do not know any better. An American who read just one book this year was disproportionately likely to have read "The Lost Symbol", by Dan Brown. He almost certainly liked it.
It's worth paying a look at the original article, "A World of Hits", which originally came out last November. It's been borne out since: my holiday and post-holiday discussions of the media were dominated by Avatar, to the exclusion of almost anything else. A lot of people wanted to talk about Avatar, and there's a fair amount to discuss there: how pretty it is, how it works as mass spectacle, the film's deeply muddled politics, how ecology and religion are connected. What stands out to me is how rarely this happens any more. It's not that I don't have, for example, film people to talk about films with, or movie people to talk about movies with, but there's always some element of singing to the choir in this. An example: the record I liked the most in 2009 was the favorite record of plenty of other people, but didn't merit a mention in the New York Times. I don't think this is necessarily because the Times has especially bad music coverage; there's simply a lot of media happening, and it's impossible for any publication to cover everything in depth. The sheer ubiquity of Avatar changed how it could be discussed: something so big can cut across our individual interest groups, enabling broader conversations.
But the inevitable question arises: what does it mean if the only cultural object that everyone can talk about costs $300 million? Producers aren't going to give $300 million to anyone who has a story that they need to discuss. The great power of the written word – why the word "book" continues to mean so much to us – is its fundamental democracy: that anyone literate can set pen to paper and write something. Technology, the truism goes, is politically neutral; but I wonder if this can be true in a practical sense when the tools of expression are so expensive.
Posted by dan visel on January 7, 2010 1:41 PM
bowerbird on January 8, 2010 4:00 AM:
truth is stranger than fiction.
everyone wanted to talk about michael jackson,
once he died. michael was stranger than fiction.
everyone wants to talk about tiger woods today.
his story is worthy, in its way, of shakespeare.
and there is the man with exploding underpants.
(or not.) surely that is stranger than fiction too.
real life gives us more than enough "in common"
that we can talk about, thank you very much...
Bill Seitz on January 10, 2010 11:19 PM:
If, as you suggest, media objects talked about by everyone are mostly talked about by dolts, then why do you want a more democratic access to the same treatment?
t on February 16, 2010 11:33 PM:
It's the same issue in tech as whats currently happening in the art market. Look at Damien Hirst's $50 mil skull of diamonds. It means nothing except in concept; people only want to buy money. Thats what is has come down to philosphically, conceptually. I think its even more interesting in that respect. Everyone wants to talk about it for the wrong reasons. How it looks, but not what its saying.
djeak on February 23, 2010 1:32 AM:
Technology is never neutral, dude: