by Sunita

Here’s an interesting article which focuses on the rise of marketing to niche audiences in music, but is applicable to books and other cultural products. Since Game of Thrones just ended we all have to invoke it in our writing, so here’s mine: GoT stands out as a widely appealing product in a time of niche hits, and I’ve seen a number of articles pointing out that its Sunday audience exceeded Big Bang Theory’s finale numbers. But if you compare live audiences, then BBT beat GoT handily, 13.5 million to 18 million. Live broadcast TV is not quite dead. And where do they compare to series finales of the past? Neither would break the Top 10, which would require an audience of at least 35 million viewers.

But back to the point about niche markets:

Fandom is fragmenting. Streaming personalization and falling radio audiences are combining to rewrite the music marketing rulebook, ushering in a whole new marketing paradigm. Hits used to be cultural moments; artist brands built by traditional mass media. However, this fire-hydrant approach to marketing lacked both accountability and effective targeting. Now, hyper targeting, both in marketing campaigns and streaming recommendations, is creating a new type of hit and a new type of artist. Global fanbases are being built via the accumulation of local niches, while a few big hits for everyone are being replaced by many, smaller hits for individuals. Niche is the new mainstream.

We can see this in commercial fiction. Romance Twitter, as is frequently observed, doesn’t reflect the overall reading trends of the universe of romance readers (compare the waitlists for Mary Balogh at US libraries with the amount of discussion of her works on Romance Twitter, for example). But that doesn’t mean that Romance Twitter darlings don’t sell, and sell well. They just sell across different markets. They may not be Balogh level sales, but they’re healthy and can sustain careers while they’re popular.

The upside is that a lot more authors can break through. The downside is that the cultural space is fragmented and so is the discourse. Being a romance reader doesn’t mean you have the same books and authors in common anymore, at least not with as many people.

Cash is less and less likely to be used by many people in the developed world, and some stores have gone completely cashless. The rise of Apple, Google, Samsung, and other systems of cashless and sometimes touchless payment have combined with the rise of debit cards to make cash seem unnecessary. And not having cash on hand can be safer for store employees. But it just as obviously excludes people who can’t or don’t want to use trackable payment systems. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors has taken note:

San Francisco’s [pending] legislation requires brick-and-mortar businesses to accept cash for goods and some services. Temporary pop-up stores and internet-only businesses such as ride-hailing companies would be exempt, as would food trucks, which say they lack the resources to handle cash.

Philadelphia and New Jersey passed similar laws this year. Legislation requiring merchants to accept cash also has been introduced in New York City.

As the story points out, 17 percent of African-Americans and 15 percent of Latinos in the US don’t have bank accounts. That means they are less likely to have cards to link to Apple/Google Pay, even if they have smartphones.

I don’t use any of the new tech paying systems. I do use debit and credit cards. We were in a small coffee shop in Amsterdam last year that didn’t take cash. We could use our cards, but not everyone can.

Oh boy. I know I’m a Cassandra on privacy issues, but this is eye-opening by any standards, even though the reasons for it are completely understandable and not intentionally evil. Geoffrey Fowler, the tech reporter for the Washington Post, obtained the full archive of his Alexa recordings, and there was a lot there.

I listened to four years of my Alexa archive and found thousands of fragments of my life: spaghetti-timer requests, joking houseguests and random snippets of “Downton Abbey.” There were even sensitive conversations that somehow triggered Alexa’s “wake word” to start recording, including my family discussing medication and a friend conducting a business deal.

Every company with a “smart” home device keeps recordings because it’s how they train their systems. Artificial Intelligence development is the new holy grail and AI needs lots and lots of human-origin data to improve. So when you talk to Siri, Alexa, Google Home, or Facebook Portal, you’re acting as a beta tester and data generator for billion-dollar companies who want to be sure they are in a position to capitalize on the Next Big Thing.

And while companies tell you it’s in your control, that’s only partially true:

You can manually delete past recordings if you know exactly where to look and remember to keep going back. You cannot stop Amazon from making these recordings, aside from muting the Echo’s microphone (defeating its main purpose) or unplugging the darned thing.

Your random thoughts are just too valuable for our latest industrial revolution.

And no, I don’t have a voice-activated device, “smart” home systems like Nest, or sentient refrigerators. I just push the buttons and turn the dials myself.