Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Talent and the Short Rump

Nice demolition job by Ethan Stock of Zvents of a Jeff Jarvis post lauding Robin Good's post which itself is based on three Wall Street Journal articles. Phew, this Memeorandum-gaming linkrolling is time-consuming.

Anyway, the gist of it is that Ethan criticises the Jeff/Robin cheerleading for amateur media by pointing out that talent will still rise to the top.
Whenever anyone starts talking about new democracy in media, just remember that for the past 100 years, any normal person with about $50 to their name has been able to buy a typewriter and a sheaf of paper, sit down, and create a novel. For the past 100 years, being a successful novelist has been a well-paying, respected position. The fact that so few have managed to do this, despite the legions who have tried out of the near-totality of all who could have tried, indicates that there's something slightly more fundamental going on than big mean corporations holding back the little guy.

That something is the rarity of talent, the social network clustering effects of production values, and the reality that all of our time is limited, and brands are a great way to short-circuit searching costs.

This discussion, and the recent one on podcasting, highlights a flaw in the Cluetrain Cabal: that they are so absorbed in the worth of their own theories that they refuse to acknowledge that any other mode of thought is valid. No one is questioning that the Long Tail and associated memes are not worthwhile, but don't forget that for a Long Tail to exist, you have to have a Short Rump too. The Long Tail does not assume a completely flat graph.

Saying "the demand side supplies itself", as Doc Searls does, is ridiculous. What he's saying is that there is no money involved in the activity, thus it is not a market in any meaningful sense, thus the term "demand side" has no meaning. It's like saying a schoolyard game of soccer is a market. No, it's a recreational activity, which is just what podcasting is.

What I don't understand is the vehemence of the opposition to anyone doing something different. Even if Audible is successful with its .aa format, no one is going to bust in through Dave Winer's roof, confiscate his computers and delete all MP3 files and codecs. Dave will be able to keep on singing along with MIDIs to his heart's content. Many blogs have advertisements on them (Steve Gillmor's has twenty) but Dave is not forced at gunpoint to include them on his multitudinous sites. That schoolyard soccer game can coexist with the billion-pound English Premier League, even though they're playing the same game. It's just that Thierry Henry wears sponsored clothing and kicks a better-quality ball on a better-manicured pitch.

As Mr Long Tail himself Chris Anderson says:
Small sites make up the bulk of the internet's content; narrow niches make up the bulk of internet's the possible applications. Therefore: Leverage customer-self service and algorithmic data management to reach out to the entire web, to the edges and not just the center, to the long tail and not just the head.

Note he said "not just" the centre or the head. He did not say to ignore them, or that they did not exist, or that they should be prevented from growing in the first place. If Doc and the rest of the Cluetrain Cabal concentrated their arguments on the question of whether these new media options were available to small publishers (i.e. the Long Tail of suppliers) to enable them to survive against the corporate machine - in other words, that if there were going to be "hits" making up the Short Rump then they would be produced from below, rather than forced from above - then I would support them wholeheartedly. Instead, they seem fixated on no one ever producing hits at all.


Blogger Ethan said...

Hey. Cool blog. Thanks for the hat tip. -- Ethan

6:46 pm, November 17, 2005  

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