The Playgoer: "The Long Tail"

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Thursday, July 20, 2006

"The Long Tail"

From the Times coverage of the recent Pew Blogosphere study:

Chris Anderson, the editor in chief of Wired, a magazine about technology and culture, said the Pew report was accurate. “The finding that jumped out at me was the recognition that people are talking about the subjects that matter in their personal lives,” he said.

Mr. Anderson, the author of the book “The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More” (Hyperion), said that the Pew report shows how the blogosphere is unlike traditional media. “It’s narrow, niche subjects,” he said. “It’s a granularity of media that we in the commercial media could not scale down to. Niche media is ‘me’ media, and the blogosphere is the ultimate manifestation of that.”

If Anderson is right, maybe there's hope. What's more "niche" than theatre?

It's clear that as mainstream media has turned away from the arts outside of an "entertainment" context--and theatre outside of a Broadway context--those who care have increasingly looked for information and exchange online. The internet may well save classical music and has given a boon to indie film (Ifilm and the like), not just as a delivery system, but as a gathering place and vortex. The serious arts audience may be small in some cities and regions, but when they band together online, they create a viable "niche." Hence... theatre blogs!

Anderson's book seems mostly business-oriented. But I wonder what are the cultural implications.

I was intrigued by this blurb on the book from Publishers Weekly (quoted at BN.com)
Wired editor Anderson declares the death of "common culture" and insists that it's for the best. Why don't we all watch the same TV shows, like we used to? Because not long ago, "we had fewer alternatives to compete for our screen attention," he writes. Smash hits have existed largely because of scarcity: with a finite number of bookstore shelves and theaters and Wal-Mart CD racks, "it's only sensible to fill them with the titles that will sell best." Today, Web sites and online retailers offer seemingly infinite inventory, and the result is the "shattering of the mainstream into a zillion different cultural shards." These "countless niches" are market opportunities for those who cast a wide net and de-emphasize the search for blockbusters.

When you look at the current "blockbusters", the "death of common culture" sure doesn't sound like a bad thing.

While I haven't read the book, I do recommend Anderson's own blog, which gives a taste of his take, a welcome wet blanket on the continuing "hit mentality." Again, purely business. But this man knows the new media business as well as anyone.

1 comment:

John Branch said...

I think Chris Anderson's ideas in The Long Tail are smart as far as they go. But a few grains of salt may be appropriate here.

In a New Yorker review of the book, John Cassidy points out that Alvin Toffler described the "de-massifying" of society in The Third Wave, published in 1980. For my part, I remember a film theory book arguing in the 70s that film was no longer exclusively a mass medium. So these are ideas that have been around for a while, because some of the underlying phenomena have been around for a while. (In fact, given that Toffler's Second Wave was the industrial phase, with mass production, consumption, etc., I'd guess that the First Wave was pre-industrial, local, handcrafted, and also a non-mass situation.)

Cassidy also points out that Anderson bases much of his argument on the music industry, which may not be representative. And he has one or two other disagreements.