Publishers take two risks to bring new ideas to the world.
(And I’m talking about any middleman – a gallery owner, a TV network, a movie studio, a label – they’re all publishers).
One of the risks is the time and money spent to attract and support the creator / artist.
And the other risk is curatorial. They risk the trust and attention of the public by choosing THIS over THAT. If they develop a reputation for good taste (regardless of how the public defines it), they gain more attention and trust and the benefit of the doubt.
The big publishers may not have been famous (Motown was, and The New Yorker is) but they change the culture.
TED is taking a risk when it puts someone on the main stage or presents a video online. And a podcaster takes a risk when choosing a guest.
The artist obtains two advantages. They have the advantage of being chosen: money, editing, the emotional comfort of being selected and supported.
And they benefit from curation. They reach a small audience with the help of an organization that is good at it and willing to risk authorization asset to support the work of the artist.
The internet has pockets where all of this is intentionally undermined, often by organizations embracing the publisher role when it suits them.
The long tail is Chris Anderson’s term for a library with infinite storage space, where the rules for scarcity don’t apply in the same way. The internet platform doesn’t care how many different titles it offers and, in fact, takes advantage of all of them. Spotify, YouTube, and Amazon don’t really care what you listen to or watch, as long as you come back tomorrow.
Because they don’t have much at stake when it comes to content, and because they are scale-driven, they defer to an algorithm. It’s the mysterious program, now so complex that no one knows exactly how it works, that decides what works and attracts attention. Even the people who work there guess what the algorithm wants.
And that has consequences.
Search for a recipe online. It’s a very different experience than finding a recipe in your favorite cookbook. Online recipes offer almost endless variety, but much of it is untested, and it’s formatted in such a way that it wastes time backwards because someone has decoded that this is what the algorithm does. from Google would like.
View most junk files in the App Store, or most social media content. The algorithm sorts everything, and when something can make money, everything will.
Of course, the long tail has huge advantages. This gives creators who don’t fit an existing editorial paradigm a chance to be heard. It gives readers / listeners / observers a chance to discover things that would have been unheard of in the old model. And it creates room for discussion and access where it wouldn’t have existed.
Publishing to an algorithm is not the same as publishing to an audience. If the creator doesn’t have a publisher or permission item, it’s much harder to be heard. As it is paid.
And living in a culture driven by profit-seeking algorithm owners is also different. Because without curation, who is responsible? Who guides culture? Who pushes the boundaries or raises the standards?
Wikipedia has 5,000 curators working overtime to prevent the site from becoming another example of Godwin’s Law. Sites that obey only the long tail and algorithm primacy have fewer standards. They regard curation as a last resort, and if mass is the norm, then mass is all that will be rewarded.
It’s tempting to hope that there is a hybrid out there. But for that to exist, algorithms have to work for creators and publishers, not the other way around. Publishers must bear the cost of conservation, focus on what they want to promote and pay the price for it, bearing the pros and cons of that intervention.
Culture is almost always improved not by what the masses want tomorrow, but by what a small group of dedicated people are willing to commit to in the long run. “People like us do things like that” is the recipe for culture.
Creators: It is possible (perhaps mandatory) not to wait to be selected by a traditional editor. At the same time, we take advantage of it when we realize that the algorithm is not taking root for us and is probably working against us. The only winning approach is to get permission and a direct connection with our fans, and then act as curators of ideas (and our own editors).
Platforms: It helps to recognize that you are not actually an editor, that ceding the decisions to the crowd and the algorithm and stepping away from curation may make you an owner, but you don’t improve not gradually culture. Yes, it is possible to find common ground, as Netflix did, but it takes awareness, persistence, and discipline.
You probably won’t find this article by searching for it on Google, as they moved my blog in the results a very long time ago. It’s okay, I’m not writing it for them, I’m writing it for you.