Sunday, August 19, 2007

Knowing your market

Usually, when someone says something about knowing the market they're directing either their site to or their writings to it's the kiss of death. It means that actual content is on the way out and that something like the "Videos of Dogs close up through a widescreen lens" are on their way. Witness Alternet, which started out as a pretty decent site only to put up a survey that it wanted its readers to take..The purpose of the survey was to ascertain what were the backgrounds of readers, what they liked about the site, what they liked in general, in order to attract advertisers. Result: a reduction in real progressive voices and content and a rise in non-political and semi-political content intended to sell the site to advertisers. Well that's not what I'm talking about here.

Instead, I should realize that people are more likely to read a post about a band they like than they are to read a post about modern art. Common sense things like that. Doesn't mean changing anything just that their should be an awareness of different sorts of likely responses to different sorts of articles.

The opposite of Alternet is bad too. An example of this is Verso press, which is associated with the New Left Review, which in turn has grown much less radical since 1992. Verso started out publishing books from authors that were part of the New Left whose work didn't fit into traditional left classifications. It had a high standard for intellectual content. Eventually what happened is that the press started more and more to specialize in topics that academics liked but that had less and less to do with what people on the ground were concerned with, until you have the situation today where most of Verso's output is academic philosophy of dubious worth both philosophically and certainly in relation to its radical content, which is almost non-existent at this point. The rest of its publishing is taken up by a small number of radical books that it does in fact keep putting out each year. But the disconnect between anything concrete whatsoever, and I don't mean just things belonging to academic disciplines but hyper, hyper theoretical works...that go beyond anything that I've written or published.

A key example of this is a remaindered book called "Mapping political ideologies", edited by Slavoj Zizek. I think it's remaindered since I found it at "Half Price Books". When I first saw it I thought "Great! Verso is putting out a field guide to the different sort of left strands of thought out there, with maybe some other types of thought included too." But when I looked inside I saw that none of the essays, none of them, was a description of a political ideology. Instead they were essays dealing with some sort of meta-post structuralist concept that redefined "Mapping" in some way that it meant something else than purely organizing data about something into classifications. It wasn't about political ideologies but about the theoretical concepts behind the word "Mapping". This might be interesting if they meant conventional classification but they didn't. Instead "Mapping" was given a Critical Theory, Post-Structuralist, spin that related mapping to god knows what.

It is sad. They publish Zizek, whose work actually is interesting, but they publish people who are totally disconnected from things like a guy named Laclau whose big contribution is that he wrote a theory laden book on populism. Wow, if he had actually used the historical method it might have been valuable, but he decided, after using intensive theoretical constructs that show more his familiarity with hip philosophers than anything else that Populism was the new thing, that it was present in South America as the new thing. Well, you know there have been actual objective books written on it that haven't been oriented towards proving that "populism" fits some sort of post-structuralist mode as being acceptable but instead have been oriented to actually going to these countries, researching the movements and writing books making use of that research. Then, of course, there are books like Jim Hightowers' "There's nothing in the middle of the road but dead armadillos", a book about populism that actually has a chance of being read by the populous itself.

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