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Saturday, February 11, 2006

Popularity outranks quality...

...which is not a good thing for music or for books. In another of those "we-don't-have-anything-better-to-do" experiments, researchers tried to determine what makes a song a hit and why its success may be unpredictable even by industry heavyweights. Well, it seems the answer is whittled down to plain popularity. Or make that "perceived" popularity. People tend to like what they think other folks like.

In this case, an artificial music download site was set up and more than 14,000 people were allowed to download at least one song. On the site, members of one group were allowed to see what others were downloading while another group downloaded without any influence. These testers instead were given a 1-5 star-rating system. Overall, the people in the first batch tended to favor the most-downloaded songs, bypassing less popular songs. The test samplers in the second group tended to be more reserved in their downloading, not knowing which songs were more popular.

So what about quality? Quality wasn't a determinating factor (unfortunately). Even highly-rated songs weren't guaranteed multiple downloads. So why the choice of low-quality over high-quality? Researcher Matthew Salganik, a sociologist at Columbia University, explains that at times people are faced with too many choices. Since you can't listen to all of (the songs), a natural shortcut is to listen to what other people are listening to," Salganik said. "I think that's what happens in the real world where there's a tremendous overload of songs." Also, compatability with others can be a factor as people's enjoyment stems from the ability to be able to discuss the songs with other people.

Salganik notes that this outcome is true for books, as well. "If everybody is talking about 'Harry Potter,' you want to read it too."

This may be a comfort to industry folk, but it sure is a strike against originality, which is so missing in most of the songs you hear well as the books on the store shelves.

The results will be published in detail in the February 10 issue of the journal Science. Take a look at the Columbia Music Lab where the data was collected.


Sharon Cullars Coffee Talk at 2/11/2006 11:42:00 AM Permanent Link     | | Home


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