Tag Archives: hype

I which I hype some hype that wasn’t actually about hype (even though it thought it was)

Evidence arises, if such were needed, to suggest that a review should be about the book, and nothing more.

To make myself perfectly clear, I think both Pat and Simon Spanton have some good points to make in that exchange (though I side more with Spanton’s definition of hype, because it is the one that most closely matches my experience).

However, the echo-chamber chorus in the comments who seem unable to actually detect the nuances of the argument beyond “hey, that editor guy just disagreed with a blogger we like, booo” is enough to make me want to headbutt a desk. So, for clarification:

Sending out advance review copies of a book and then reporting on the positive ones is not hype. It is marketing of the old school, merely done at a more rapid rate.

Hype is hard for people to spot because it’s a part of their daily diet; anyone who buys a tabloid newspaper or magazine, or who watches commercial television, invites hype into their lives on a four-times-hourly basis. This is a wood-for-the-trees issue.

As someone who sees it from both sides, at least as far as the music industry is concerned (and no one does hype like the music industry), let me tell you what hype is: hype is tabloid stories about the artist falling out of a nightclub drunk with white dust under their nose; hype is endless puff pieces in the mainstream media where the artist is portrayed as godlike yet still accessible; hype is, in other words, promotional material for an item THAT HAS NO CONNECTION TO THE ITEM ITSELF AND EXISTS ONLY TO REPEAT THE ARTISTS NAME AD NAUSEUM.

The irony of people piping up with comments along the lines of “yeah, well, by getting this email exchange posted, Spanton’s just extending the book’s time in the spotlight” is palpable. Right on, guys – if he was doing that, the last thing you’d want to do was, oh, I don’t know, chime in on the debate yourself? Wouldn’t want to fuel that corporate hype machine any, would you? Now, what time does Big Brother start?


[ Full disclosure – Richard Morgan is a client, and I haven’t yet read The Steel Remains. My opinions expressed here are my own, and do not represent the opinions of any of my clients, past present or future. ]

Is Harry Potter hype bad for the book industry?

I’m allergic to hype of all kinds, but experience seems to show that it’s a fairly rare condition. Most people seem to enjoy the crescendo of excitement as a much-anticipated event approaches (Christmas, the HP7 launch, &c), and lap up the associated press coverage. Personally, the more I hear about something the more put off the entire idea I become.

But my curmudgeonly attitude is not the focus here. I instead want to argue that intense hyping of any book to this degree is quite possibly damaging to the long term health of the industry as a whole. But first …

An example of peripherary Potter bandwagonning

There’s just no escape, you see. Because of the way the media works, a hot topic gets leaped upon by all and sundry, no matter how tenuous the connection. Witness, for example, a social work researcher using the opportunity to plug the idea of discussing death with young kids. OK, it’s a laudable aim, I guess, but talk about blatant opportunism.

Of course, this is exacerbated by the way internet search engine optimisation works – everyone with a website wants a slice of the inevitable barrage of Harry Potter search traffic. Of course, there is no such cynical motivation behind this post. *cough* 😉

Signal and noise – items of genuine interest amongst the cruft

Along with the bandwagonners, there’s some pretty interesting articles riding on the coat-tails (or should that be cloak-tails?) of the Harry Potter hype-wave:

The spoilers issue

A great deal of the concern about the leaked copies and early reviews comes from readers concerned about ‘spoilers’. As I think I’ve said before, I agree with a number of other reviewers of my acquaintance in that, if a book can be ‘spoiled’ by a plot denouement ahead of reading it, it’s probably not much worth reading anyway.

That said, people do seem to have worked themselves up into paroxysms of angst over the possibility of finding out which character (or characters) die within the course of the story, regardless of how ambivalent and vague the alleged spoilers are.

But even this is baffling – if your enjoyment of a book is going to be spoiled by reading a review of it, then why the hell did you read a review of it? Maybe its just me, but that’s just bloody daft.

The perils of consistant overhyping

But I promised you a proclamation, and here it is – this degree of global frenzy over the release of a single book is really not a good sign for the health of the publishing industry.

“Oh, come on,” I hear you cry. “It’s getting kids into books!”

Well, it’s getting kids into Harry Potter books, certainly; but there’s little evidence to suggest that items outside the franchise (which probably come with a lot less hype and merchandising attached) have the same ability to capture the interest of kids who weren’t interested in reading beforehand.

“Well, it’s selling a lot of volumes, so Bloomsbury and Rowling are getting some good dollar. Surely you don’t begrudge them that?”

I begrudge them nothing. I think it’s great, in fact – I’d say that Rowling herself, a single mum who worked damn hard while on a benefits-level income to fulfill her dreams and write her books, is a far better role model than Harry himself, to be honest.

As for Bloomsbury – well, good for them, too. But they’ve gone and raised investor expectations. They’d better be able to keep on bringing out books that shift as well as the Potter saga, though – business is all about momentum, after all, and last year’s balance sheet only means anything when held up to this year’s.

Which brings us finally to …

“Well, what does the hype matter? If the books weren’t good, they wouldn’t sell, surely?”

Well, that’s a hard one to defy with facts and figures (though I suspect that’s more because I don’t have tham rather than that they don’t exist), so I’ll draw a comparison to another industry that fell into the hype cycle and bargained its future on relentless promotion of sequels of declining quality – hello, Hollywood.

The Hollywood Syndrome

Hollywood cinema is (literally) a text-book example of Chris Anderson’s ‘Long Tail’ economic hypothesis, and he’s got plenty of facts and figures to show that Hollywood movie viewing is in a steady decline. I think all but the least critical movie-goer might agree that the increasing desperation and shoddy quality of Hollywood product may have soimething to do with it.

[Personal anecdotal aside – walked past Blockbusters last night, and saw the cardboard promo-plinth thingy for some movie whose title now escapes me. Which isn’t surprising – the best blurb they could find to put on the thing was “dazzling special effects”. Wow.]

Of course, technological factors are at play with the Hollywood model – but as I’ve discussed here at length before, the publishing industry is approaching its very own technological singularity. It would be hoped that the industry will look at what’s happening to Hollywood, and realise that relentless hype is self-defeating, unless you can guarantee that the product will meet the expectations you generate for it.

Furthermore, publishing is already deep into the “play it safe with known successes” business model, which has been a Hollywood watchword for far too long.

Big hype is bad news

And therein lies my hypothesis – nothing flags up concern about product quality worse than relentless hype. If the book’s really that good, it’s going to sell just fine anyway, though maybe not at such a rapid rate on the week of release.

The content of the new Harry Potter bothers me not in the slightest – I have no interest in reading it (the first three were not my slice of pavlova, darling), and don’t really care whether it’s any good or not. But I do worry that the industry is far too desperate to make hay while the sun shines to think about tilling the land for future harvests.

More on Iran’s “nuclear ambitions”…

We’ve talked on VCTB a few times before about Iran’s supposed nuclear capabilities and her ‘ambitions to enhance them’. Recently there has been a lot of ‘leaked info’, that supposedly blows the whistle on these dastardly people trying to usher in the end of the world within the space of a month or two. A ‘smoking gun’, to coin a phrase. Continue reading More on Iran’s “nuclear ambitions”…