It’s All About Platform (Bonus: Every Song of the Summer since 1962)

What so interests me about media and its connection to consumers is its ever-changing nature. To be part of something that is constantly in flux is exciting. And it’s important for those involved in the production or consumption of media to realize that it isn’t a static thing.

Yesterday, I read an article on the Huffington Post written by self-publishing author, Jane Devin, in response to this quote from Sue Grafton:

To me, it seems disrespectful… that a ‘wannabe’ assumes it’s all so easy s/he can put out a ‘published novel’ without bothering to read, study, or do the research… Self-publishing is a short cut and I don’t believe in short cuts when it comes to the arts. I compare self-publishing to a student managing to conquer Five Easy Pieces on the piano and then wondering if s/he’s ready to be booked into Carnegie Hall.

Devin’s, and my own, point is that Grafton is out of touch. She doesn’t realize that publishing has evolved and continues to evolve. Grafton argues that published authors are in an entirely different sphere, but does she realize that the publishing market today is so heavily influenced by celebrity, pop culture, and social media?

The market today is not driven by talent, but by platform – and self-publishing authors lack the built in platform that comes along with hundreds of thousands of twitter followers or a TV show. Merit does not always lead to publishing: Devin points out, The Help was rejected over 60 times; her eventual deal only coming together with the assistance of a Hollywood director and a screenplay.

If Grafton is using ‘publishing’ as the defining factor of what makes a ‘good’ writer, does she consider Snooki’s or Lauren Conrad’s books ‘quality’? Is 50 Shades of Grey ‘high literature’? It clearly isn’t; it’s glorified porn.

There is a great deal of bad writing – both published and unpublished. Indie writers, who lack the cult of personality of celebrities and other well-known authors, are hard-pressed to find a publisher willing to take a chance. Yes, it happens for some, but it can’t happen for all. They need to self-publish, often investing great sums of their own money, in order to build a platform for themselves. To make a blanket statement regarding the quality of their writing, and deem them ‘less than writers,’ simply isn’t practical in today’s media landscape.

Today, the New York Times wrote about a changing of the guard in music. What it boils down to, again, is platform. For years and years, pop radio has ushered in “songs of the summer” that have more often than not come from established stars, parts of the “old machine of radio and major-label promotion.” Think Katy Perry, Adele, Rihanna – or farther back, Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson.

This year, the songs of the summer came out of left field – tracing their popularity to YouTube and Twitter rather than iTunes or the record store. Gotye and Fun. have put out records before, but they haven’t garnered the sort of attention that “Somebody That I Used To Know” or “We Are Young” have. These songs were helped along by social media buzz. With today’s teenagers (2/3 according to Nielsen) preferring to listen to their music on YouTube, “buzz” is more important than ever before. And it isn’t generated by label promoters, its generated by consumers themselves.

There is no better example than the perpetual earworm “Call Me Maybe.” Carly Rae Jepsen’s hit took off when Justin Bieber and friends posted a video of themselves lip syncing the song. Since then, countless renditions have gone viral – two of my favorites being Harvard Baseball and POTUS – launching the 26-year-old Canadian from obscurity to worldwide fame and allowing her to sign a major-label recording contract with Bieber’s help.

The likelihood that “Call Me Maybe” is featured on a VH1 countdown of One-Hit Wonders (if trashy reality tv shows haven’t completely overtaken by then)  in 10 years is extremely high. But that won’t change the fact that it was a megahit – propelled entirely by buzz and platform.

Songs of the Summer – Past and Present (a comprehensive mix)
A few of my favorites:


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