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How many monkeys does it take to market the next big thing in books and music?

Would A Little More Variety Spice Up Sales of Books And Music?

I know it looks like I do a lot of reviews — mainly of music and books — but the truth is I could probably be doing double the amount that I do now. If I were to review every CD, book, or DVD that was sent or offered to me, I’d have to be posting twice a day just to keep up.

As an amateur who does this just for fun, I have to wonder that if I receive this many offers of review material — how many more such solicitations go out to the “professionals” who actually get paid to write reviews? Since some days I receive as many as ten such requests — either by the item showing up in the mail unsolicited, or via an email offer — the potential boggles the mind.

This really makes me wonder how the record companies and book publishers do business. What exactly is their idea of quality control? Do they work under the assumption that the more items released or published, the greater the chance that they will luck into something people will want to buy? For all of their talk about artistry and demographics, there is more than a slight hint of an infinite number of monkeys trying to produce the next Hamlet in the method to their marketing tactics.

Of course, once they think they’ve stumbled onto something that strikes a chord with the public, they immediately saturate the market with it. This sort of “product glut” is a none too obvious effort to make as much money from it, in as short a period of time as possible. When people begin to tire of the product almost as quickly as the market has been flooded, the monkeys are sent back to the typewriters. Somebody really ought to explain to them the principle of diminishing returns – that when you produce more of the same, the less profit you are likely to make.

Of course, it’s the public’s fault the pundits tell us. Everybody has such a short attention span these days, that they won’t stay interested in anything for more then a nanosecond. Have they ever stopped to think that the problem might be that it’s only by offering people real choices that they pay attention to anything? If everything sounds the same, what is there to listen to after awhile?

If variety is the spice of life, then corporate music needs someone to pass them the salt — if not some basil, and maybe even some cumin. Their idea of variety is…well to be honest, I don’t know if they even know what it means. Making sure that the flavour of the month has a different cup size this month, or that their hair is peroxided a different shade of blonde doesn’t quite make it in my book.

I mean there is only so long you can look at a pretty young thing before you realize just how damned annoying her voice is. It doesn’t matter how many topless or bottomless photos of them show up on the Internet – they all just start to blur into one bimbo who can’t sing after awhile. If people start to lose interest, or to flip channels over time, who can really blame them?

The book publishing industry is just as bad as it’s counterpart in music. Thinking that they’re onto something that the market loves, they pay millions of dollars in advances for true confession, daytime talk show style books without bothering with something as simple as fact checking. When that crashes and burns, instead of thinking about chickens and baskets, they sink even more money into the next big thing.

I could almost understand the first part of the approach — the monkeys and their search for Hamlet — if they weren’t only so singularly focused on finding the next big thing, only to be ground into oblivion in a year or two. Would it be so bad if when they found somebody or some group that resonated with people, they invested only what was needed to allow the original to continue its development — rather than spending a fortune trying to clone them?

That would leave them more money to continue to tap into the typing pool of monkeys and work with more than one band or one author ensuring the public has real choices. I know it’s a bit of a novel concept, but why not let people decide what they want to read or listen to instead of dictating their choices for them?

I bet that if people were given real choices instead of more of the same on every page, or in every CD, you would find that their attention spans would improve. They won’t all pick the same thing to rave about. But I’m sure you would see far fewer one hit wonders, and more bands and authors with longevity and good sales numbers to match.

Instead of industries having to wonder where their next “big hit” is going to come from in order to survive, they would have greater numbers of consistent sellers. These would more than recoup their initial investment in publicity and development costs. Everybody would turn a tidy profit, and more writers and musicians would make decent livings.

There doesn’t appear to be any shortage of people out there trying to produce something of quality, so lack of material to choose from shouldn’t be a problem.

You don’t need an infinite amount of humans to produce a variety of interesting music and writing. That’s a fact that has been proven many times over. You do need producers and publishers who are willing to believe that there is more than one way to write Hamlet, and that trust their audience enough to choose which version they read.

Is that asking too much?

About Richard Marcus

Richard Marcus is the author of two books commissioned by Ulysses Press, "What Will Happen In Eragon IV?" (2009) and "The Unofficial Heroes Of Olympus Companion". Aside from Blogcritics his work has appeared around the world in publications like the German edition of Rolling Stone Magazine and the multilingual web site Qantara.de. He has been writing for Blogcritics.org since 2005 and has published around 1900 articles at the site.

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