Posted by Rob Walker on October 23, 2009
Posted Under: "Social" studies

One thing that’s changed in the decade or so that I’ve been freelancing is the amount of time I devote to a story after it’s been published. Partly this is a matter of “doing media,” which isn’t all that new. (I have my last Pandora-related interview in about ten minutes.) But I definitely spend more aftermath time on chasing down, monitoring, obsessing about, online reactions (or even lack-of-reactions). In part this is just trying to be responsible and learn from what people have to say, etc. — just part of the process that has actually improved, in some ways, because it’s easier to encounter far-flung reactions in ways that would have been impossible in the past. (Although it can be annoying, too, but that’s just part of the game.)

Number Two

Second Place

But partly it’s about trying to figure out, for lack of a better word, the “buzz” payoff. The must absurd example is keeping a nervous eye on the Times‘s “most emailed” list. Why does this matter to me? It’s not like I get extra money if the story gets emailed (or blogged or Tweeted about) a lot. Even so, I think for better or for worse, things like “most emailed” have become a kind of proxy for value in the media business. So if my story gets emailed a lot, and that’s reflected on a list, well, that’s good for me as a writer, in a professional sense. It’s good, in other words, for My Brand. This doesn’t really matter so much to really big-name successful writers (Pulitzer winners, best-sellers, etc.), but to someone in my position, maybe it means my next story pitch gets taken more seriously, since my last piece was “buzz worthy,” at least according to the emailed ranking.

It’s not so cut-and-dried as that in real life of course. But it’s absurd to pretend these things don’t matter now in a way that would have been unthinkable in the past. It’s bothersome because the “metrics” that are available strike me as pretty crude. For all I know, the story rose the email charts because thousands of people were sending it to friends with notes like, “This sucks,” or “Can you believe someone published this?” But in the logic of buzz-measurement, really, that wouldn’t even matter. If it’s Number One, it’s Number One. And on that score haters who email a story “count” more than someone who quietly read it on the couch and enjoyed it.

All this is particularly ironic in the context of this specific article, since it was about a company trying to evaluate a cultural product (music) on intrinsic terms, in a way that marginalizes the opinion of “the crowd.” That’s the idea that I wanted to explore. And once it was published … I turned my attention to what “the crowd” thought!

Further diversion may be found at MKTG Tumblr, and the Consumed Facebook page.

Reader Comments

Face it, Walker. Bono just rebranded your ass for you. Welcome to the not-so-United States.

Written By cousin lymon on October 23rd, 2009 @ 8:40 pm

The same anxiety drives those who’ve commented on an article to check and re-check (and re-check and re-check) the number of “recommendations” one’s comment has received. And then there’s the dreaded “Editor’s Pick.” Two distinct and sequential anxieties: the first, a thirst for approval from peers; the second, a hunger for approval from one’s “betters.” What’s crazy-making about the second anxiety is the inevitable analytical push to divine the selection criteria, so one can continue on our now ever more public journeys towards the self-actualization of fame… Thanks, Rob. (Toronto: 24 Oct 09)

Written By Christopher Jones on October 24th, 2009 @ 8:50 am

Christopher: If I had a way of making an editor’s pick, I’d do it for this comment! Very interesting. And I had never thought about how those “recommendations” elements become a kind of marketplace, too. I wonder if that actually ends up discouraging certain kinds of comment-ers? It probably would NOT discourage the most annoying kind, the drive-by sort who just say something ill-informed and nasty and move on, never to check back.

Cousin Lymon: Yes, yes. But at least it wasn’t Sting.

Written By Rob Walker on October 28th, 2009 @ 6:44 am

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