Monday, November 30, 2009

Tipping Point

The Economist explains why blockbusters get better ratings than niche products:

Although you might expect people who seek out obscure products to derive more pleasure from their discoveries than those who simply trudge off to see the occasional blockbuster, the opposite is true. ... blockbusters get better ratings from the people who have watched them than more obscure ones do. ...

A disproportionate share of the audience for a hit was made up of people who consumed few products of that type.  A lot of the people who read a bestselling novel, for example, do not read much other fiction. By contrast, the audience for an obscure novel is largely composed of people who read a lot. That means the least popular books are judged by people who have the highest standards, while the most popular are judged by people who literally do not know any better. An American who read just one book this year was disproportionately likely to have read "The Lost Symbol", by Dan Brown. He almost certainly liked it.

... As a media product moves from the pool of frequent consumers into the ocean of occasional consumers, the prevailing attitude to it—what Hollywood folk call word of mouth—can become less critical. The hit is carried along by a wave of ill-informed goodwill.

I've seen connoisseurs of all kinds of things complain about how the masses uncritically accept whatever is popular, but I'd never seen a systematic explanation of why that would usually be the case. 

It is clear that, in order to make a big hit, you have to make something that everyone will like a little, rather than something that some people like a lot.  Hollywood, with its business model of pandering to the masses and then driving things with marketing, has known this for years.

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