Cultural Hypocrisy: Do As I Say, Not As I Do

People are funny. They often say one thing and do another. This isn’t more true than in the world of culture. My years as a cultural worker have shown me that people are not honest about how they would like to truly spend their free time. Ask most people what they would like to see and they may say concerts, art shows, performances, but then try to get them to attend and there’s always something they have to do instead of those noble cultural pursuits. We need to realize that the audience for culture, particularly specialized things like experimental video art, is rather small and that’s not a bad thing, it actually makes it more fun sometimes.

During my recent professional venture, Hyperallergic, I’m encountering the same problem. Ask people what they want to know about and they’ll tell you reviews, global issues, … but the stats don’t prove that online readers care. From what I’ve been able to discern, most people want to know about things that impact them directly and/or are an extension of themselves (their cultural group, their neighborhood, etc.).

There’s a great quote about the phenomenon from Newsweek editor Jon Meacham who recently spoke at an event organized by the Texas Monthly on how to get the news media to return to “intelligent” news, whatever that means:

He used PBS’s NewsHour an example, and said if the number of people who claim to watch the program actually did watch it, the show would have much higher ratings. “It’s fundamentally a supply-and-demand problem. There’s an infinite demand for something and a limited supply for intelligent something.”

But not everything is negative on the horizon for online content, according to the New York Times‘ Science article, “Will You Be E-Mailing This Columns? It’s Awesome,” which was reporting on the University of Pennsylvania’s study of online behavior by Times readers, there are signs of hope … awe, to be exact:

People preferred e-mailing articles with positive rather than negative themes, and they liked to send long articles on intellectually challenging topics … Perhaps most of all, readers wanted to share articles that inspired awe, an emotion that the researchers investigated after noticing how many science articles made the list.

So, do we all have to go the Gawker route of reporting on Lady Gaga’s vagina for major web traffic? Probably not. But have I seen the pictures — particularly the one super enlarged by AnimalNY – ummm, how could I miss it.

7 responses to “Cultural Hypocrisy: Do As I Say, Not As I Do”

  1. Come on- you can’t be surprised that a site on an extremely narrow topic like fine art has an extremely small audience. How many subscribers do Art in America or Juxtapoz have? 50,000? Even the most successful arts sites, like Artfagcity have uniques of less than 50K per month: http://siteanalytics.compete.com/fecalface.com+woostercollective.com+artfagcity.com/?metric=uv&months=12 – and those sites do a lot more traffic than the art magazines online: http://siteanalytics.compete.com/artforum.com+artnet.com+artinamericamagazine.com/

    Small is not necessarily bad: if you’re selling to the right advertisers, they should understand the value of this audience. The problem is that the drift downward in CPMs will affect you too- it’s increasingly hard to sell a banner for a $50CPM- which is what you need to do to fund a niche site with small traffic. A better choice might be an art emailer, which can see CPMs above $100, and is a more compelling sell to advertisers who want a very targeted audience (since they tend to want to see performance stats.) If you had a mailing list of 50K people who actually bought fine art, that’d be something.

    Otherwise, you need to go Bucky’s route at Animal: sprinkle in fine arts with more mainstream coverage- fund your passion with more salable content.

    • I agree Jake, but even in the narrow world of art there’s a hypocrisy about what people actually say they want to read and what they read. At the end of the day art is a luxury brand and it has to be sold that way … though there are signs that it is going more pop culture (i.e. Shepard Fairey, Lady Gaga’s recent interest, Shaq’s forays into curation…).

  2. Great post. I struggle between seeing those clear strands of intelligent life (like this blog) and the onslaught of lowest common denominator effluvia. It’s a life of both/and, but I just keep hoping for a heavier dose of the former. Thanks for this.

  3. I think your stats for salacious posts reflect lurkers and one time visitors. I think your commenters are much more likely to be regular visitors, and they may well be a minority since aggregators like Google Blog Search drive so much blog traffic.

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