Tag Archives: randomness

The Non-Science of Popularity

Roulette_wheelWhat if Star Wars never made it big? Is there a universe where Fifty Shades of Grey is just sitting on the Romance/Erotica shelves of bookstores collecting dust?   Can you picture a world where talking about a boy named Harry Potter is received with blank stares and requests for clarification about who he is?  What determines success and failure?

Marketing is a big, but not the only influence.   For example, I’m a big fan of Michael J. Fox.  I think he is an incredible actor and based on what the media reports is a great person (I never met him personally).  His most recent sitcom, The Michael J Fox Show (2013-2014), was plugged for months in advance with tons of fanfare.  By the time the first show aired many followers of the 80’s actor were excited to herald in his return.  Yet, it only lasted four months before NBC pulled it due to low ratings.

The (now) highly publicized book, Fifty Shades of Grey, is an uncontroversial best-seller both in print and film.  Yet, many people have criticized James’ writing, even her fans.  The marketing for the book when it first came out wasn’t nearly as prominent as Fox’s television series.

So why is one continuing to generate millions of followers and dollars while the other one never even got to finish airing all twenty-two completed episodes?  There’s more to popularity than marketing.

Perhaps luck isn’t the accurate term, but there is a component of randomness.  Perhaps the Chaos Theory as explained by mathematician, Ian Malcolm, from Jurassic Park, can be used to explain the behavior of the publishing industry.  The industry is made up of people, and they are, by nature unpredictable.   A query sent to an agent on Tuesday may be rejected, but if it was sent on Thursday instead, the agent may have accepted it just based on the kind of day they were having, or maybe earlier that day they had a conversation that helped them relate to the query.  Timing is as important to getting representation as location is to the real estate industry.  But even getting published doesn’t mean success.  Success, if you determine it by sales and popularity is a numbers game.

Fox’s show didn’t spark interest, despite fans wanting it to.  But E.L. James’ no holds barred…uh, you know what I mean…yet grammatically questionable, erotic story was a guilty pleasure that came out at the right time.  Despite the romance and erotica sections on Amazon and in bookstores being full, she struck a chord with readers who were willing to look past whatever mistakes may have been made in her writing.

(Disclaimer: I have not read the book outside of one single line – which was for a challenge made by someone who did read it and wanted to see if I can randomly open the book to a page that did NOT contain any sexual references…I was unsuccessful.  I am only relating reviews I have read or heard, I did not read enough to evaluate Ms. James’ abilities.)

Regardless of quality, content seems to trump all.  If the people want it, someone will provide.  If people don’t want it, it will disappear.  It’s a classic Supply and Demand concept.

There’s a reason why after Twilight came out the YA section in every bookstore became flooded with vampire books.  This was quickly followed by movies, tv series, ‘Team Edward’ vs ‘Team Jacob’ wristbands, spin-offs, spoofs and fan-fiction.  Almost overnight the world embraced vampires and werewolves.  Everything was into bloody fangs and fur.

Shortly after our love affair for the handsome undead and lycanthropes, the world moved on to the ugly undead.   Zombie hordes took over the theaters everywhere, it really did seem like a zombie apocalypse hit Hollywood.

So what have we learned?  If you can predict what people will fall for twelve months from now, you can make it big in the publishing world.  That really seems to be the main factor.  It’s not luck, but it is about capturing the interests of the masses, and that’s far from an exact science.

Is it too late to write about a young attractive vampire who falls for a zombie with an S&M fetish?