From Christie to Bolaño: Adam Roberts' Five Favourite Puzzle Whodunits
If/Then: The 2017 Pornokitsch Gifting Guide

Fandom, Metalheads, Goodreads and Tactility

Roadside service sign (1955) (via Space Age Museum)
Roadside service sign (1955) (via Space Age Museum)

A touching story

Professor Fiona Candlin has been trying to figure out why we keep putting our grubby little fingers on things in museums:

Touching, Candlin says, is "part of a much bigger, more imaginative encounter with things—trying to somehow make contact with the past." And there are countless ways of facilitating this type of contact, it seems. Recently, she says, a former head of conservation at the British Museum told her about a visitor who came into the Egyptian sculpture gallery and left tins of cat food as an offering for the lion-headed goddess Sekhmet. (Atlas Obscura)

As always, it all comes back to books. Physical books are less convenient, less accessible, less easily purchased, and more expensive. So why do they exist at all? The inertia of tradition can only carry the presence of physical books so far.

Studies Candlin's show that tactility has a deeply, perhaps neurologically, rooted appeal. Can publishers of physical books rely on this mysterious force? Or is there something they can do to build on it?

Iron Gatekeepers is the name of my metal band

According to Spotify, Metalheads are the most loyal fans - by far:


Spotify do note that:

It’s worth remembering our methodology here: We looked for repeated listens to the core artists from each genre — the ones sitting right at the “center” of the genres, as it were. So one could also reasonably conclude that Jazz, EDM, Classical, and Blues listeners play more fringe artists from those genres. This doesn’t necessarily mean Metal is "better" than Jazz (metalheads would disagree), but it does tell us that Metal fans are in fact the most hardcore, according to this new measure of genre loyalty.

I suppose this means that Metalheads could have a smaller, more dominant 'core' of artists. You'd have a higher percentage of 'core' listeners if the size of the core is larger, relative to the size of the genre. Or perhaps metal is less experimental? Or fringe 'metal' doesn't count as metal? Or there's less fringe metal at all? Or simply that there's less metal on Spotify, and it is more limited to the well-known, 'core' bands, meaning that a higher percentage of people are listening to the small amount that they have. Which is to say, this is about as useful as the Goodreads Choice Awards: a metric that is more useful for raising questions than providing answers.

Revolution in Electricity : The Story of the Wonder Crystals: Transistors, Solar Cells, Supermagnets, and Electronic Lights (1962)
Revolution in Electricity:
The Story of the Wonder Crystals: Transistors, Solar Cells, Supermagnets, and Electronic Lights (1962)

Goodreads Choice Awards

Speaking of which, this year's Fantasy category has achieved peak Goodreads, with the three front-runners being a Potter screenplay, a Gaiman vanity project and a Brandon Sanderson that hadn't even been published before the final round.

I have a soft spot for the GCA (hardened somewhat by their inappropriate use of the word 'Best'), because it really is a massive trend identification tool. I freely shop the Romance and YA categories every year, because it allows me to read the books that 'everyone is talking about'. In Fantasy, however, home of long series and author brands, it boils to fandom ThunderDome in a particularly unhelpful (if entertaining) way. That may be a nature of the genre, or a result of my familiarity with those genres. Either way, meh.

Credit where it is due though, first for the spectacular American War making it through to the SF final, and also for, yet again, having a rather spectacular list in the Graphic Novels category. 

Scaling your brand is hard

An article from Business of Fashion documents the challenges that new brands are facing in the marketplace:

While the barriers to entry for launching a brand has decreased significantly in the digital age — allowing entrepreneurs to set up shop and supply chains quickly, and avoid wholesale markups, gaining unbound access to audiences — the competition to acquire and retain customers is higher than ever before.

Nothing totally shocking in here, but interesting points - and good case studies:

  • The PR/influencer landscape has gotten more competitive - and more jaded. "When we started, there were a lot of blogs and outlets that were really hungry for content..." but now it is "noisier", and there's less opportunity for word of mouth.
  • Paid advertising has gotten more competitive (the number of advertisers on Facebook, for example, has quintupled since 2013)
  • Even if you do achieve awareness, maintain a place in "cultural conversation" is very hard. There's competition within the sector and outside of it. 
  • AND even if you create the community of engaged followers... that doesn't mean they'll translate to sales. 

Again, it all comes back to books. Small publishers especially can sympathise with this - it is hard(er) to get organic coverage, harder (and expensive) for paid, and even if you do achieve awareness (or even critical success with reviews and awards) - it may not translate to sales. The article has examples of how people have gotten through/around this barrier, including investing in physical retail, influencer partnerships, or honing in on their strategic focus.

Teen-Age Super Science Stories!
Teen-Age Super Science Stories!

The last word on fandom (this week)

Henry Jenkins, one of the scholars leading on the study of fandom (read Textual Poachers, it is fantastic), in a recent interview with the Organisation for Transformative Works:

Today’s media consumers have expectations of meaningful participation, and the media industries also recognize that they have to create space and place value on the audience’s active participation in the media landscape. But there are widespread disagreements about what we might call the terms of our participation, and those disputes are going to be some of the key battles over the first few decades of the 21st century.


Other bits

How to be lucky (Nautilus)

Violence is contagious (MIT Technology Review)

Heinlein would approve? Space as the ultimate tax haven. (Guardian)

How the internet changed the market for sex (Quartz)

And how audiobooks now let you skip to the saucy bits (Quartz)

The 'cold culture war' and how the CIA funded literary magazines in the battle against the USSR (Open Culture)

A really handy article, from Richard Thaler, that explains what the Behavioural Economics fuss is all about. Readable and enlightening! (New York Times)

One last one on music - How the North stayed underground (Guardian)