March 3, 2006

Between us

Let's talk a little more about intimate or nobitic weblogs -- web writing that's intended for specific audiences though perhaps not for everyone.

Not everyone reads the latest hypertext fiction. Not everyone who reads it will have much to say about it. Some will be busy, some will be puzzled, some might be unsure of their reaction or inclined to mistrust their judgment. The same is true of the latest tax policy proposals and the most recent developments in ornithological research and the Boston Red Sox.

The long tail is measuring the wrong thing entirely. Mass market writing is often uninteresting -- even economically. Helen Hunt Jackson's Ramona sold millions of copies in the 1880's, It was a sensation; people named their baby girls, they remodeled their houses, they built new towns that looked like Helen Hunt's descriptions of an imagined past. When you look at those lovely red-roofed Victorian enclaves of Old Southern California today, you're seeing Ramona.

But nobody reads Ramona, or G. M. W. Reynolds' Mysteries of London, or the works of Marie Corell, or Mrs. Humphrey Ward's Robert Elsmere. People bought lots of copies of Elsmere, they named their towns for it. George Landow described it the other day as

A story -- a very long story -- of a Victorian quest for faith. Written by a niece of Matthew Arnold. Hugely popular.

Down in the marketplace of ideas, you always find a few commodities that everyone seems to be buying today, and of course there's of stuff that nobody buys. The activity that matters is in the middle.