ReaderWriterVille

Blog in progress

Tag: technology

ReaderWriterLinks

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.


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Weeknote 5

Sorry for the delayed Weeknote and the radio silence over the last few days. I’m still recovering from the flu and we drove cross-country so I was mostly offline.

Work

I managed to do some this past week! I got out my unkillable zombie manuscript and started mapping out revisions, chapter by chapter. And they actually work. Maybe letting my brain wander around through the various options was a good idea. All that not-writing has turned into writing. Go me. I still need to finish the chapter outlines, but I will be able to keep quite a bit of what I have, which I wasn’t expecting. And the new parts are mostly things I’ve already been working on, so I don’t have as much to figure out from scratch as I originally thought.

I’m also back in meetings and admin. I am really going to pay for this semester off, I can tell already. One task is going to start this summer. Blergh. I thought I would be able to ease into old-person-colleague status and let the newly tenured, newly promoted, eager younger colleagues take over and I would just teach and do research. Ah well. Maybe next year.

Reading/Watching

I’m still reading North and South, which I’m enjoying a great deal. It’s more dramatic than I remember Cranford being, but now that I’m halfway through the romance is definitely picking up and we’ve got the impending deaths out of the way. My hold on Ali Smith’s Spring came in, so I will take a break from Gaskell and read that over the next week. It’s received some very good reviews and I’m curious to see where she goes in this seasonal installment.

In addition, spurred by an intriguing Goodreads review, I read Jarett Kobek’s latest work, Only Americans Burn in Hell. He’s the author of I Hate the Internet, which I haven’t read but now want to. OABiH is like being hit over the head with a mallet for 200+ pages, but it says a lot of things (over and over again) that I think need to be said. Kobek links consumption, surveillance, and capitalism in ways that I wish more people would pay attention to. We’re getting better with our realization that online life makes us give up a lot of privacy and control, quite apart from the cognitive effects it has on our modes of thought and interaction. But we’re still not really willing to acknowledge that the system itself is broken. We talk about the great friends we’ve made online (which is true) and the way it offers a window into the world for people who are isolated (which is also true), but we’re not really willing to confront the full individual and social costs.

I can’t decide whether to review the book on Goodreads, because (irony alert) that’s giving Amazon free content, which is part of his argument against GR and other platforms. And I’m not sure I can fully recommend it, given the mallet-to-head aspect. But I’m glad I read it.

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ReaderWriterLinks

The Pulitzer Prizes were announced yesterday. In the arts prizes. Richard Powers won the fiction award for The Overstory (I was not a fan) and the finalists were The Great Believers and There There. I was very pleased to see Carlos Lozada win the criticism award since he’s a book critic. How often does that happen? And Darrin Bell became the first African-American to win the editorial cartooning prize. I shouldn’t be surprised, and yet I am.


I really enjoy Tim Parks’s posts in the NYRB blog. He is an novelist, translator (of Italian) and essayist, and I’ve been reading him since I came across his book on Italian soccer. This is a departure from his more recent essays on global literature and translation issues. It’s an exploration of the relationship between modes of travel and the novel:

I want to go further and suggest that there is actually a deep affinity between a book and a means of transport, just as there is an evident analogy between a story and a journey. Both go somewhere. Both offer us a way out of our routine and a chance to make unexpected encounters, see new places, experience new states of mind. But without too much risk. You fly over the desert, or race across it, but you don’t actually have to experience it. It’s a circumscribed adventure. So it is with a book. A novel may well be shocking or enigmatic or dull or compulsive, but it is unlikely to do you too much damage.

He closes with an unabashed love note to the way trains and novels go together, and I couldn’t agree more. There’s something about the pace and sound of rolling stock that goes with a big, thick novel. I’ve spent a lot of time on trains and reading everything from romantic sagas to Henry James has been an integral part of the experience. Ereaders have made traveling with books a lot easier, but I kind of miss sitting in a train compartment with a big fat book, working my way through the chapters as the miles roll by.


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Weeknote 3

It felt like a busier week than it probably was, in part because I had unexpected appointments (and cancellations) that changed the way I thought it would unfold.

Work

I’m done with letters and recommendations for the season, I’m pretty sure. But I kept meeting with grad students and undergrads. They are rewarding, no question, but I have to prepare for them.

I was supposed to be in town in part to participate in the campus visit of a distinguished professor of South Asian studies who would be giving public lectures and smaller presentations as well as lunching and dining with faculty and university officers. Alas, the giant storm that blew through the center of the country made it impossible for the Distinguished Visitor to visit. It was a big disappointment, not only because these visits are organized months in advance, but also because the talks and meetings promised to be particularly interesting. I hope it can be rescheduled.

I also had impromptu meetings about department issues that needed to be addressed sooner rather than later. And yes, I’m supposed to be not meeting on this stuff, but that’s not always feasible. At least I’m out of town for this week’s slate of important stuff. Here’s hoping I won’t retrospectively wish I’d been there for them.

Writing, what is that? Oh yeah, I remember!

Reading/Listening

I finished the two books I talked about last week and they were just as good as I thought they’d be. I owe you reviews of them, and they’re coming, I promise! I paused for a bit, because when you finish two excellent reads it can be hard to pivot to something new. I burned time reading about the books on the BTBA longlist and tracking them down via Overdrive, Hoopla, and ebook vendors. I’m still not going to read them all! But there are some intriguing books on there and at least half of the longlist is available either on loan or at reasonable prices to buy.

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Weeknote 2

Another Sunday, another Weeknote. And already I’m feeling a bit stressed because I didn’t finish what I meant to. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t do anything, just other things.

Work

The paper is closer to being off my desk but not yet off my desk. I cracked something that had been eluding me for a couple of weeks, though, so that was progress. Now it’s a matter of getting it down on paper. I should have the bulk of it to my coauthor by Tuesday and then it will take another day or two to polish off the rest of what I need to do, while he’s working on the part I’ve given him.

I had multiple meetings about administrative stuff with colleagues this week. Of course I’m not supposed to but that’s the price you pay when you go to the office. And when things need to get done or they’ll be bigger and much worse when it is the proper time to work on them. But I think we solved a couple of issues that I couldn’t have addressed by myself, and I should be able to move stuff on to the next round this week. If I tie myself to a chair, since writing memos is not in the top 100 things I enjoy doing. Bullet points! Problem-solution format!

One more letter of recommendation and some emails. A doddle.

I was about to type: and then maybe I can get back to other writing I’ve been wanting to do. Which is exactly the wrong way to think about it. It has to be incorporated into all this other stuff I’m doing. One of the mistakes academics who devote a lot of time and attention to teaching make is to think you can do the other work, the non-outward-facing work, in down times like weekends, non-teaching-related days, summers. But that’s not how it works. It has to be part of your regular practice.

Reading

I’m in the midst of a couple of books this week. I took a break from the Man Booker International list and started Country by Michael Hughes, which I’ve had out via ILL for the last two months but haven’t managed to read. It goes back this weekend so it’s now or never. So far it’s really good. Hughes relocates the characters and storyline of The Iliad to 1990s Northern Ireland. We have characters named Achill, Pat, and Nellie. The writing is musical and recalls Homer while still being entirely modern and Irish. Cathy of 746Books has an excellent review here. It doesn’t come out in the US until October, but I hope it gets a good promotional push. And for you audiobook fans, look for it in that version.

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