Wednesday, September 16

Spooking Stephen King: Convergence

If someone asked Stephen King "what scares you" a few years ago, he might say never being able to write again (or perhaps lament that he might be asked that same cliche question in every interview). Nowadays, there seems to be something else weighing on King's mind.

"When crap drives out class, our tastes grow coarser and the life of the imagination grows smaller. ... It ain't coming back, son. That's what I'm really afraid of." — Stephen King

Writing for Entertainment Weekly, King questioned convergence, noting that the changes taking place in the entertainment industry are accelerating. The very media the article appears in is facing rapid change. Although faring better than most publications, the graph tells the story.

Entertainment Weekly's print circulation is flattening, enough so that that an arrow had to be added to create the illusion of consistent growth. With a circulation of approximately 1.8 million and a hopeful pass-on readership of 6.7, Entertainment Weekly doesn't pull as much as it once did (its online site tracks well, especially with younger audiences).

So what are King's concerns?

• If great publishers fail to e-books, what will happen to the quality? Who will pay advances?
• If radio stations succumb to all talk and air, what happens to the music industry?
• What is happening to the movie industry and why are quality movies being squashed?
• Will network television drop entertainment for talk shows and reality television?

"Why should we care? Simple: Because right now there are no replacements for the quality that looks to be on the way out — for entertainment that really moves us." — Stephen King

Answering questions for Stephen King.

While predicting the future is always fraught with disappointment, King's concerns represent a possibility in that there probably is already a parallel universe where Mike Judge's Idiocracy isn't fiction. The other possibility, of course, seems a bit brighter in that as crap becomes overwhelming, new vetting processes emerge to help guide the public toward quality.

However, it's a two-way street. It requires innovators and consumers working toward a middle as opposed to against each other.

• Publishers need to return to the business of finding and marketing quality talents as opposed to searching for talents that may market them because over the long term, e-book price points will increase and printed books will eventually be considered a delicacy. What have publishers done to engage, educate, and entertain readers online?

Penguin is working it, but has a lot more to learn about the online space.

• Radio stations need to remember that music formats don't make them great. It's the portability of the experience they produce that makes them great. More than 86 percent of listeners want stations to guide them toward new music in addition to playing their favorites and 36 percent listen while they are online. Why not employ social media to reinstate passionate people who know about the music?

We have a PowerPoint specific to radio stations, which we augment with specific station and area research upon request.

• Movie producers want to make great films for a public that has always seemed to wax and wane between escapism and timelessness. While that might not explain the industry's pass on Creation reportedly over content, limiting theatrical distribution will be the likely trend until the people calling those shots are proven wrong by consumer post purchases.

The film industry is still learning social media; it will represent a dramatic positive change, especially among independents.

• As long as networks chase ratings without appreciating their online prospects, quality programming will continue to slip under the mainstream radar. There are enough choices out there right now that dominating viewership just isn't the right model. It hasn't been for some time. Jericho, Veronica Mars, Black Donnellys, Journeyman, and more recently, Kings (for the exact opposite reason Creation cannot find a distributor), all could have had longer runs if it wasn't for mishandled marketing and being slaves to a ratings system they know is broken.

Nothing will save them unless they can save themselves. The big three will continue to slip and slide along until they realize that Hulu and iTunes only work if you have assets to put on them.

So no, Mr. King, the crap won't drive out the class. It will only make it harder to find in the short term. Or not.

"Boring damned people. All over the earth. Propagating more boring damned people. What a horror show. The earth swarmed with them.” —  Charles Bukowski


Dean at Pro Copy Tips on 9/16/09, 6:02 PM said...

I dunno. I think King is just getting old and cranky. I'm not so sure quality is going downhill. It may just be that there is so MUCH content now that you have to search a little more to find it.

And given some of the movies King has made, I'm not sure he has any standing to criticize what's coming out of Hollywood. :)

Rich on 9/17/09, 7:40 AM said...


I agree with you that quality exists, but it takes some searching to find it. But I think part of what troubles King is that most people do not take the time to search for it, and thus, the best often goes unnoticed.

Not everyone can be a Bukowski, living as an outcast until being embraced during the last decade of his life.

Sometimes I think the best description of the current state of affairs can be likened to the standing in front of an ravine without a bridge. We know we want to get to the other side, but most people don't know enough about bridge building to do it. And for those who don't do it right, they'll take the fall.



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