July 3-9 was the lowest recorded week in history for network TV viewership. I'm just saying....
As if today wasn't big enough, I am absolutely delighted to announce that a long-held dream of ours has been realized: we finally have our web site back. Conde Nast today announced the acquisition of Wired News.
You may be confused by this: Wired.com isn't the website of Wired Magazine? Well, for the last eight years it hasn't been. The magazine and website were separated in a complicated deal in 1998, long before my time (see this Wikipedia entry for more Wired history). The result was an agreement between the two, by which Wired News (wired.com) would host our content on their site (under wired.com/wired) next to their own content, but we, the magazine, were prohibited from doing anything in the digital realm. Aside from being somewhat ironic that Wired Magazine wasn't really wired, it was frustrating for us to be unable to walk the talk, since we didn't control the site.
Now we do. Today we have the opportunity to make Wired (the combined brands) a leader in online media innovation, exactly as our readers expect. We're bursting with ideas and can't wait to get started brainstorming with our cousins once-removed across the hall from us in San Francisco, who have done fantastic work with limited resources for all these years, sharing our name but not our keycards. Welcome to Conde Nast, Wired News! We've been waiting for this day for a long time.
After doing a full day of press when everyone asked me the same question, I realize that I must say this as clearly as possible. Hits Aren't Dead.
I never said they were. What is dead is the monopoly of the hit. For too long hits or products intended to be hits have had the stage to themselves, because only hit-centric companies had access to the retail channel and the retail channel only had room for best-sellers. But now blockbusters must share the stage with a million niche products, and this will lead to a very different marketplace. Let me explain:
As I see it, there are essentially three kinds of hits, which we can call Type 1,2, and 3:
I think Type 1 hits will continue to do well. Type 3 hits will do even better, since the web is the greatest word-of-mouth amplifier ever created. But Type 2 hits will suffer, as the consumers spread the word of their suckitude faster than ever.
Bottom line: In a Long Tail world many top-down hits get smaller, but even more bottoms-up hits get bigger. It's not the end of the hit--it's the rise of a new kind of hit.
What put the book over the top? I can only guess it was the enemy of weak servers everywhere, the one and only Instalanche. Glenn, Helen and I had a fun chat and it's well worth listening to. I was reminded how well my thesis and that of An Army of Davids dovetail. Buy them both!
In non-fiction, it's Number 5:
Reed Hastings ("Belongs on your shelf between Tipping Point and Freakonomics") was more right than he knew.
Here's what we've got for the launch:
A gob-smackingly huge and blush-makingly wonderful full-page New York Times ad running on page A13. Also, ads in the Wall Street Journal, the New Yorker, the Atlantic, Wired, Variety and email blasts from Amazon, Typepad and Wired.
A load of press, including:
A bunch of reviews, including:
Some great blog posts and reviews, including:
At some point I'll collate all the press and reviews into one list, but there's lots to do today. The book is at #24 right now on Amazon--please spread the word and help me take it into the top ten! I could live the irony of my book on niches becoming a hit, at least for a day or two.
Well, first of all I've always said that Hollywood was going to be the last bastion of the blockbuster (most of the hits-in-decline examples I've been focusing on are in music and TV), so I'm not surprised that the hit-making machine still manages to fire off a few sparks. But before we concede Hollywood as the exception that proves the rule, let's look at the big picture. So far this year, box office receipts are up 6% from last year, but still down 4% from 2004. And when you correct for inflation and population growth, the picture doesn't look quite as good as the celebratory headlines might suggest: in 2002 dollars this year's up just 3% after a scary 11% decline last year:
And don't forget that the other big blockbuster of the summer, Superman Returns, has returned to earth with a splat in its second weekend, falling 58%. Meanwhile music albums continue to plummet, falling another 4.2% so far this year. Hits aren't dead (and never will be) but they're not the panacea they once were, either.
UPDATE: A reader (requesting anonymity) writes:
I happened to be riding to work with an exec from one of the major studios this morning, and he mentioned that the studios are increasingly making deals with theaters to inflate opening numbers. In particular, they will give the theaters very high revenue share for the first X days of the movie (he mentioned 100% for the first 3 days), incentivizing the theater to maximize the number of screens the movie's shown on, inflating opening numbers.
The particular example of Superman and Pirates were actually the ones he brought up - that Superman's decline was partially due to the theathers' incentive period running out.
I have no idea how true or prevalent this is, but something you might want to look into. This would be done for movies which the studio considers potential "hits", increasing discrepancy between them and normal movies.
Can any other readers comment on this?
I am, in full disclosure, a member of the Media Elite. I'm a Conde Nast editor, run a glossy mainstream magazine, spent much of my career at The Economist and consort with known journalists. But nothing annoys me more than the oft-heard assertion within media circles that without us blogs would be nothing.
This is so commonly held a belief in the industry that it is unfair to pick just one example. But I must do so anyway, so I will use a recent one from an otherwise unimpeachable source--my favorite writer in the world, Malcolm Gladwell, a man who is right on so many things (and is also a blogger) that I can only think that his comment was intentionally made to provoke posts like this one. Speaking at a panel on "Online Media and the Future of Journalism" in NYC two weeks ago, Gladwell said:
"Without the New York Times, there is no blog community. They'd have nothing to blog about."
This is the Derivative Myth. It usually goes like this (and again, I don't mean to pick on Malcolm, who didn't say the following and no doubt meant his comment above to be at least partly tongue in cheek): Blogs, which are mostly written by amateurs, couldn't possibly do what We Do. Instead, they mostly just comment on what we do, supplying low-value-add chatter about our stories that must not be confused with Proper Journalism or other Quality Content from us Professionals.
Let's look at some numbers. Technorati shows that there are currently 555,000 posts linking to the New York Times. Nearly 800,000 posts mention the Times in one way or another. Sounds like a lot? Not if you pull back and look at the entire blogosphere. Technorati is currently tracking 2.7 billion links.
What are most people actually talking about? Mostly themselves, their friends, their family and things that are more interesting to them and their daily lives than whatever we in the media choose to focus on with our limited resources and space. To use a proper head-to-head comparison with the searches above, Technorati currently shows more than 152,000,000 posts that use the word "I". So that's roughly 300 times more people talking about themselves (and the world around them) than talking about what the New York Times has written about.
Here are the top ten most blogged-about mainstream media sites, with the percentage of total posts that incoming links to their stories comprise (I've used a very conservative estimate of 200 million total posts in the current Technorati search window, which is based on the 152 million result from the common word "I" above):
Media Site Blog links (percentage of total)
I think the only reasonable conclusion to draw from the above is that we in the mainstream media need to get over ourselves. What we do has great value, but we no longer have a monopoly on leading the public conversation (not that we ever did, of course, but it was easier to delude ourselves before). The blogosphere doesn't need us to give them something to talk about. When we do what we do well and add new ideas, information and analysis, blogs can be our best friend, amplifying our reach many-fold. But when we don't, the former audience is very happy to talk amongst itself.
Next week the US book tour starts in New York City, featuring perhaps the coolest thing I'll do all year: the official book launch party on Wednesday, July 12th.
Rather than have the usual book party where a bunch of my friends stand around in a restaurant drinking wine, telling me I'm great and getting free books (while I squirm with embarrassment) we thought we'd do something new and far more appropriate to the book. So we're going to have an evening that goes from powerpoint to punk rock--something for everyone.
For those who like data, bad Justin Timberlake jokes and the Futura typeface, the party will start with my talk on the Long Tail. For those who would rather rock, the evening will continue with a cool DJ party/concert featuring some of my favorite Long Tail bands and musicians, including James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem/DFA and the Brazilian Girls.
Books will be available and I'll sign anything put in front of me. As USA Today's Kevin Maney notes, this is not business as usual. Special thanks to our cool friends at Flavorpill and Melanie Cornwell from my team at Wired for the idea, which promises to be the highlight of the tour.
The Long Tail way to do the event, of course, would be to open it to everyone. Unfortunately, we couldn't get a permit for a public concert, so we've had to make it invitation-only. This was disappointing, since the readers of this blog have been such an important part of the book research and creation process and I wanted to meet and thank as many of you as possible. But I think we've come up with a work-around that will at least allow some of you to join in the fun: a raffle.
I've got a couple dozen tickets to give away (the exact number will depend on how many plus-ones we get). If you're in the NYC area and would like to come, just email me with your name and the subject line "Party!" We'll pick the winners at random from all the entries I've got by the end of the day on Monday, July 10th. I figure I'll get a couple hundred responses for a couple dozen spots, so your odds are a lot better than most lotteries. And it's free!
The official invitation is above, with all details. Again, you must be on the guest list to get in (sorry!), but if you're a winner you'll get email confirmation by Tuesday morning. Hope to see as many of you as possible then. (I'll be posting on other US book tour events in the next day or two.)
Larry Lessig pointed me to an interesting bit of research on filesharing and the decline of music sales in Denmark, which shows that the fall in sales has been felt far more in the hits than in the niches. The work, by Claus Pedersen, uses data from the Nordic Copyright Bureau. That means the data are not just estimates of sales declines, but actual sales. I've charted one aspect of the research, which looks at the change in sales in four sales categories, from bestsellers to the long tail:
This is the week the reviews should start coming out. I'll quote from some of the longer ones in the maintream press as well as some of my favourite blog reviews. First, the current New Yorker has a long review by economics writer John Cassidy. It's largely positive, but argues that the trend towards niches has been underway for a long time:
All this is snappily argued and thought-provoking, if not quite as original as Anderson’s publishers would have us believe. Back in 1980, another futurologist, Alvin Toffler, anticipated the “de-massifying” of society in his best-selling book “The Third Wave” (Bantam; $7.99), which is still in print. “The Second Wave Society is industrial and based on mass production, mass distribution, mass consumption, mass education, mass media, mass recreation and entertainment,” Toffler said in a 1999 interview. But no longer: “The era of mass society is over. . . . No more mass production. No more mass consumption. . . . No more mass entertainment.”
The real novelty of Anderson’s book is not his thesis but its representation in the form of a neat, readily graspable picture: the long-tail curve. For decades, economists and scientists have been using this graph, which is formally known as a power-law distribution, to describe things like the distribution of wealth or the relative size of cities. By applying the long tail to the online world, Anderson brings intellectual order to what often looks like pointless activity. The teen-ager who spends his weekends updating a blog that nobody reads and shooting silly videos to post on YouTube.com? He is, as Anderson’s chapter on “The New Producers” tells us, a valiant citizen of the long tail.
Read the whole thing here.
And to give equal weighting to the Long Tail of book reviews, here's blogger Paul McEnany:
The real power in this book is more from a cultural standpoint, rather than a purely economic one. As we see companies like Netflix, Amazon, Itunes, etc. extend the tail further and further, the hits get less impactful. As the tail gets longer, the tools of production get less expensive, and the filters that help us seach the tail get better, we can see this shift happening.
It's happening on our television sets, our computers, our supermarkets, and our theaters. As the Internet grows, it allows us to have, as Chris says "the Paradise of Choice" and the means by which to find the things that interest us most, no matter the producer. It's an increasingly decentralized version of the media power structure that's falling apart today. As Chris puts it:
"Every time a new technology enables more choice, whether it's the VCR or the Internet, consumers clamor for it. Choice is simply what we want and, apparently, what we've always wanted."
This is a must read for anyone proclaiming the successes of new media, and both technically and rhetorically brings to light how we have been and will be affected by our new digital landscape, and the explosion of the niche.
FREE was available in all digital forms--ebook, web book, and audiobook--for free shortly after the hardcover was published on July 7th. The ebook and web book were free for a limited time and limited to certain geographic regions as determined by each national publisher; the unabridged MP3 audiobook (get zip file here) will remain free forever, available in all regions.
Order the hardcover now!