November 29, 2013

The persistence of hits and blockbusters in the era of the internet and "the long tail."

Nicely analyzed in The New Yorker. Excerpt:
Although “The Long Tail” proclaimed a coming revolution, [Chris] Anderson was careful never to predict the demise of blockbusters. “Hits, like it or not, are here to stay,” he wrote. But he believed that the cultural power of hits was fading, and he presented his economic analysis as a moral crusade. “For too long,” he wrote, “we’ve been suffering the tyranny of lowest-common-denominator fare, subjected to brain-dead summer blockbusters and manufactured pop.”
The language reflected his own tastes, which were self-consciously hip. (He was vexed by the popularity of boy bands and excited about a retro-futurist electronic genre known as “chip music,” which achieved micro-success in the aughts.) He hoped that more of us would discover “smaller artists who speak more authentically to their audience,” and that all of us might, at last, perceive “the true shape of demand in our culture.” He was flattering his readers by inviting them to be part of his community of connoisseurs. Long-tail economics would make good on the promise of the Internet, turning more people into experts on topics fewer people had heard of. Elberse flatters her readers, too. In her book ["Blockbusters: Hit-making, Risk-taking, and the Big Business of Entertainment"], the old ethos of the Internet has given way to the new ethos of social media; while Anderson predicted the end of the “watercooler era,” Elberse sees the water cooler reborn, as fans track the progress of the latest cultural juggernaut across their Twitter timelines. “Because people are inherently social, they generally find value in reading the same books and watching the same television shows and movies that others do,” she writes, recasting our taste for hits as proof of our common humanity. Lurking behind her blockbuster thesis is the suggestion that being sociable matters more than being hip.
ADDED: The article says "Elberse's book is is written in the upbeat, anecdotal, gently exhortative style of an airport best-seller...." That's a way to say "Malcolm Gladwell" without saying it, right? But Gladwell's writing originated in The New Yorker, so it's a tad incoherent to tweak it as "airport best-seller" in The New Yorker.


Anonymous said...

We Are All Part of Althouse's Long Tail.

tim maguire said...

I would love to see a collapse of major league sports (replaced by minor league sports), major music acts (replaced by local music acts), blockbuster authors.

Death to all big budget entertainment! With one exception, every form of entertainment would be improved if the top tier were simply lopped off. That one exception is the blockbuster movie. Movies will be just as well written, probably better acted, but some films need to be expensively shot.

Carol said...

I liked Janis with Big Brother a lot more than with her slick studio band. All the best production values, but but not an authentic local band sound.

Nowadays it's all slick, all the time.

Wince said...

Consumers were travelling down the demand curve, away from the head, where the most popular products lived, and out onto the tail, home of the miscellany, which was growing longer (as variety increased) and fatter (as sales of non-hits increased).

Correct me if I'm wrong, but this seems like tortured economic analysis. Where the market equilibrium price and quantity ends up along a given demand curve is determined by supply.

Changing consumer tastes can shift and change the slope of a demand curve, or more specifically all the individual demand curves for a set of partially differentiated product offerings like recorded entertainment. But changes in preferences don't move you along a given demand curve; those preferences are endogenous to the demand curve.

The long tail really seems to be histogram of the distribution of market share among partially differentiated goods -- according to price, margin or quantity -- not the point along the demand curve where price and quantity are simultaneously determined.

Brian O'Connell said...

EDH: Yes. They're re-purposing the term demand curve. There's no torture required once that's understood.

I think the author makes a good point, and a needed counter to the Long Tail argument. When I think about it, most of my media consumption is socially determined. Not the super-popular stuff the hoi polloi is into- I'm way to sophisticated for that, of course. But I follow cues & tips by people I trust, or who I perceive as similar to me, whether actual people I know or people in media. People striking out on their own media-wise is going to be rare, no matter the network or storage capacity. Who has the time?

And I don't really trust Amazon's & Netflix's algorithms. They say things a stupid robot would say. :)

eddie willers said...

I'm too old to enter The Long Tail. I let my TV filter viewing to drive me to 'new' music.

Thanks to Citi Bank Card's rock climbing woman, I discovered LP and her Into The Wild.

A cell phone company gave me Rogue Wave their haunting Eyes.

A car company used One Week and that took me to Barenaked Ladies.

And I would be remiss not to mention the TV shows themselves.

Heroes brought me Gary Jules' Mad World and both House MD and Rescue Me used Elbow's magnificent Ground For Divorce.

Gotta love good old Capitalism.

William said...

I didn't read the article, but don't blockbusters foster a communal spirit? We live in a society of various tastes and interests, but every so often we can agree on something. Back when, everybody could agree that Irving Berlin was a hell of a songwriter, and we would all listen to his music. I don't think that observation is true of Kanye West or Bob Dylan. Music is utterly fragmented. Ditto literature. There are no Dickens....Spielberg movies are the last art form with a communal following.......I say this without snark: Jennifer Lawrence is really terrific. She's truly the last movie star.