“Everyone has a book inside them” goes the quote (for the life of me I can’t find who first said it). I suppose this could mean either a) everyone has their own life story, b) everyone has their own view of the World to contribute or, more likely c) a combination of both. And there does seem to be a need to not going silently through life but to get our personal stories out there.
It seems this need has always been with us, so in times gone by off we would go to a suitable public venue, like the village pub, and expound our views and stories to whomsoever was inclined to listen.
Then came scalability; our works having much greater effect for no greater effort. No matter how gifted an orator we might be, without the help of technology we can only directly reach those within earshot. If we can write, we can reach those who can buy every document we hand copy. If that can be printed (now we are getting really scalable), we can reach everyone who can buy the now much cheaper and easier to produce document. (You can’t overlook the extraordinary effect of the moveable type printing press; Martin Luther’s The Ninety Five Theses may be the first example of something going viral.) Now, if we can publish on the the internet…. 2 billion users and counting, no costs to your readers and no barriers to entry for you. Remember that; no barriers to entry.
We now live in a World obsessed with scalability. And that should be no surprise; one moment someone is playing his guitar and singing in his local pub, the next he is winning the Xfactor and is destined for a life of wealth and fame, a woman thinks of some nice children’s stories whilst on a train then a few years later she’s signed a seven picture movie deal. Not only do we know the financial rewards can be immense, but we know that our artistic production and even our very thoughts can have mass validation. Record downloads, book sales and web hits; the modern ways of saying “you’re doing all right”.
And it’s all right there at our finger tips. WordPress, Blogger, even Twitter and Facebook. We can put something up and know that the same day it could go viral. But surely many bloggers just post stuff for the consumption of close friends and family? Maybe some do, but there is evidence that ever so many are secretly hoping for a bit of fame, and even a sniff of fortune. I happened upon an on-line interview of someone who had one of the fastest growing blogs out there. And the subject matter of this blog? How to make your blog grow faster. Google “Ten ways to make your blog grow” or “secrets of a successful blog” or any similar term and it returns plenty of sites that offer advice. And none of them seem to answer a fundamental question; where are all the readers for these super successful blogs?
Now, let’s recall barriers to entry. TV talents shows like the Xfactor have at the core a filter for the seething masses; only a few of thousands are going to even get public exposure. Likewise publishing houses only put to print a tiny fraction of the manuscripts submitted. So disdainful are they of the bulk of what they receive most don’t even bother counted them in. Figures from one company show that they only publish 10 of 4,000 annual submissions. Most end up on the unedifyingly titled ‘slush pile’ to be barely skimmed by a junior member of staff before being binned. Even if every book submitted was a potential Harry Potter, they still would only publish a fraction off them, because there are only so many readers out there. It makes more economic sense to have a few blockbusters, not a huge number of small and expensive print runs. The traditional media has to place barriers to entry, because each production must exceed a critical number of sales for it to make money.
Now, new media and blogging. No barriers to entry. Nothing to stop the latent genius’. Nothing to stop the unreadable rubbish. Nothing to stop the self deluded. Nothing to stop the dreamer, hooked by the notion of scalability. So… hundreds of thousands, maybe soon millions upload in hope, waiting for the day when what they’ve pictured, sung or written is taken up by… well by whom exactly? It’s economics 1.01; a market can bear only so much supply. The cost of consuming in this market is time, not money. But for consumers time is still worth something, and look what’s been created here. What we have is basically the slush pile left out in the street. Image if you will going to the book store and for every book there were a thousand of no interest, and there was no means of finding the gems. Imagine a TV talent show where every one of a hundred thousand singers were performing twenty hours a day, seven days a week? You wouldn’t do it, you wouldn’t watch it.
Now we have a vast on-line community. Many members of this community have dreams, secret or otherwise, of what they do ‘making it’ so they are intent on production rather than consumption, apparently not noticing that all the ‘consumers’ are actually just like them, and not really looking for much content (at least not from unknown personal blogs). The fast growing sites that tell you how to make fast growing sites tell you that you grow by networking, ‘making friends’ , sharing links etc., which, if everyone is doing the same, is terminally illogical. Imagine this; a sealed sports hall full of mice. Hanging from the ceiling, out of reach, are bags of cheese, enough for only a few mice. The only way a mouse has a chance of getting the cheese is to form a pyramid of mice. With, naturally, him on the top. And he does this by being nice to the other mice so he can climb on them. It doesn’t work, does it?
Internet fame seekers are faced with a stark mathematical reality; just as we occasionally dip into a few select blogs, so others do the same with ours. Therefore we are unlikely to be able to share our personal book with more than a handful, so we may now have gone full circle. Maybe we are back to the village pub scenario. Except that close circle with whom we share a bond enough to be interested in each others stories is on-line rather than down the pub. So, should we forget internet interaction, and just pop down to the local? Well, the common bond I have with those down the pub is merely geographic; the only thing we have in common is we live within walking distance. So I may not be so interested in their woes with their van breaking down, the sport they like or what they think of the Xfactor winner. On the other hand there maybe someone in Houston or Singapore with whom I share a more alike take on the World, enough for me to take a interest in their stories, and they mine. So I shall continue to pump my personal book into the void and hope it is discovered by kindred souls. Besides, it’s cold and wet outside, and the beer from the fridge is cheaper than the beer down the pub.