Niche Markets and Power Law Distribution

The two readings for this week worked hand in hand. Although I wasn’t completely sure if all the mathematics in the first reading had much to do with my communications/media degree, it was kind of nice to sink my teeth into something very rational and scientific for once. As I read the second reading, all of the mathematical jargon from the first came into physical form and started to make sense…

Chris Anderson talks about the benefits of online media in comparison to physical media (i.e. print, video, dvd, music on cd/vinyl, books etc.) and how this has enabled the expansion of niche markets. How you ask…well the internet has one up on the ‘real world’. Online, there is unlimited space and time. For instance, whereas a video rental store may only have as much shelf space to fit 3000 DVDs or Videos, Netflix (the online alternative) has an infinite amount of space. As a result, video rental stores can only really buy in the ‘hits’: the mainstream film titles that they know are going to sell. On the other hand, the online ‘simulations’ of these shops can store as many different films as they want. Even titles that are only for very specific (smaller) markets, like alternative Bollywood films for instance, are valuable to stores on the internet. Anderson notes that ‘the average Blockbuster carries fewer than 3000 DVDs. Yet a fifth of Netflix rentals are outside its top 3000 titles’, thus when you ‘combine enough nonhits on the Long Tail, you’ve got a market bigger than the hits’.

When he speaks about ‘the Long Tail’, Anderson is referring to the power law distribution and the 80/20 rule – both of which were explained in detail in the first reading for this week. Therefore, it was extremely invaluable to have read and developed an understanding of what these scientific theories and algorithms were actually about. What mainly helped me to get a grasp on this mathematical ‘law’, was the graph which compared random distribution (a bell curve) to the power distribution (a graph that to me, at least, looks like an exponential).


If we were to look at the ‘hits’ versus the ‘nonhits’ of film sales on the web, the nonhits would be those on ‘the Long Tail’ – where the graph starts to get infinitely closer to the k axis.

One small thing that the article didn’t really look into was that of infinite time on the internet. An online store is always ‘open for business’, whereas video rental shops, music stores, book stores etc. all have opening hours and in turn, closed hours, as they need people physically working at the shops to sell their products. This is one reason why I sometimes resort to buying books through Amazon or other sites on the internet. I am generally at university or work during the day, so most physical stores aren’t open when I can actually go shopping. Thus online stores provide convenience.

I do think it’s a shame in many ways that the world is turning to online mediums more and more these days and so I try to support the local stores around me as much as I can. However, sometimes it’s just not possible to get those titles that you really want. For example, I love to read books that have been adapted for screen and often these can be hard to find if they are not well known. Take Robert Bloch’s Psycho – Alfred Hitchcock himself ordered that all the original books be taken off the shelves of book stores everywhere, so that the plot twist couldn’t be ruined by anyone for anyone when the film adaption came out. No book store could find a copy for me and so it was then I turned to Amazon to get one sent to me from overseas… I guess that’s a prime example of how and why these niche markets have been thriving on the internet.

Not another essay…

‘The Age of the Essay’ challenged my ideals in regards to the educational system that I know. For the entirety of my high school life, my teachers told me that the ‘formula’ to a good essay was an acronym known as ‘TEEL’.

Every paragraph would have a…

Topic sentence



and a

Linking sentence

I remember going through numerous sheets of paper just like these ones below when structuring my essays for assessment.


The body paragraphs would be sandwiched between an introduction and a conclusion (which wouldn’t present any new information and would generally just be a rephrased version of the introduction).

However, in this reading Graham suggests that an essay is really ‘something you write to try to figure something out’. You should start with a question instead of a statement and see where the concept takes you, even if the end point isn’t a definitive answer. This concept contradicts the emphasis generally put onto essay writing; I was always taught that everything had to ‘come back to proving the point’ and had to defend your argument. The reading made me think about how I write essays – I seem to always decide on an argument to persuade the audience of before even putting pen to paper (or fingers to keypad). Here Graham discusses the benefits of writing an essay for you, more so than readers. Although it is important to have in mind that someone other than yourself will read the piece, the power of the essay lies in the simple expression of words – sometimes just writing things down helps to clarify and form ideas.

So maybe its about time, not only I, but the general educational society reassessed our ‘learning strategies’… even if it is just acknowledging that there is more than one way to write an essay.

Network Literacy

The first reading for Week Three compared and contrasted print media and online media, similar to Week One’s reading on blogging (which I discussed in an earlier blog post: Reading 01). It specifically discussed print and network ‘literacies’ – not the general type of ‘literacy’, in as reading and writing, but the kind of culture which surrounds print and the internet.

Both ‘literacies’ are essentially an ‘implicit’ knowledge that is embedded through many years of teaching and learning; both provide a basis for education and both, when used correctly by a ‘participant’, help people to translate information into knowledge.

Books are linear and complete. A significant part of print literacy is knowing that pages, lines and words are ordered sequentially, so that they create a ‘whole’ – there is a beginning and an end. Network media, although still following the general principles of reading text as with print, is slightly different because there is generally no set order to web pages. As well as this, online ‘containers’ (like blogs and other social platforms) are constantly being added to, so essentially there is no one end point… nor is there one set starting point.

In addition, there is more room for users of the internet to ‘participate’ within the medium. In fact, in this reading it is suggested that ‘to be ‘good’ at network literacies is to contribute as much as it is to consume’, or in Axel Bruns’ words it is to be a ‘produser’. Print on the other hand cannot realistically receive ‘feedback’; although you could potentially write your own comments onto a book (‘defaming’ the text and going against general protocols associated with print literacy), there is no way for the original author to see it. This idea is quite dissimilar for Network media: it is not only accepted, but encouraged to ‘comment’ on or ‘like’ another person’s contribution to the world wide web.

At this point in time I don’t think I would be considered great at network literacies, but here’s to hoping I will be a master at it by the end the semester!

02 Reading

The links for Week 2’s readings surrounded the concepts of copyright and creative commons. Having researched the laws of copyright and appropriation in Art studies, it was interesting to note that the laws were exactly the same for music, literary works and computer software, as well as standard pieces of art like paintings and drawings. Copyright is applied to all works automatically at the moment of their creation and ensures that others cannot appropriate a copyrighted work in part or in whole without the permission of the original artist’s permission. However, creative commons gives creators the option to share their work with others more freely, essentially removing the hassle of having to grant permission every time someone wants to use the work. Creative commons also gives creators the option of  applying a more ‘refined’ license on their work. These include ‘non-commercial’, ‘no derivatives’ (meaning that the person who is going to use the work cannot alter it in any way) and ‘share alike’ (meaning it must be shared with the same licenses attached). In regards to Network Media, creative commons aids the interconnectedness of the cyber community, fostering the concept of ‘protected participation’, offering people the opportunity and encouraging them to allow others to use their work. Oh…and it lets people like me (a media student) appropriate and remix other creators’ works into something new!


01 Reading

One thing that this reading focussed on is the similarities and differences between blogs and other writing mediums such as journals and diaries. I found this particularly interesting because last semester in Writing Media Texts, we were using hand-written journals and I rather enjoyed this process. Both are common in the sense that they are a place (mainly for the writing) of ideas, reflections and activities, they provide a record of learning achievements and they are space where one can express doubt about their knowledge (unlike an essay or report). However, the journals we kept were rather private aside from when they were being marked by our tutors. Blogs, on the other hand are the polar opposite, anyone and everyone can essentially view our posts. This, I feel will take some getting used to, as when I write in a journal or a diary I generally write in quite a personal tone – sometimes making up words that only I would really understand. So in this way, I think that using a blog will help me to improve my writing skills in several different forms, as well as improving my ‘cyber’ literacy due to the fact that blogs enable the use of hypertext, allowing me to link my posts to other blogs and webpages.  In saying this, there is a beautiful quality to a hardcopy journal and as a mainly visual learner I like to draw a lot of my ideas and also use mind maps and other visual ‘tools’ to organise my writing.

Typing rather than hand-writing can also be of benefit to the ‘learning experience’ encountered when creating a blog. I think typing fosters ‘better’ writing because the author is able to edit their work or parts of it much more easily, enabling for constant improvement to their posts. In addition, if my blog was hand-written it would end up being pretty private anyway on account of my disgraceful penmanship!