February 23, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Breaking the Hypnotism of the Now | Consider the Source


Hello everyone, glad to be back and posting after the winter break. An article that I read while away,  “Revisiting the Long Tail Theory as Applied to Ebooks,” seemed appropriate to share with you. The author, an Italian media consultant named Marcello Vena, argues that the initial view of digital book publishing was wrong.

At first, people assumed that since books would remain available (“in print” no longer being a meaningful designation) and easy to locate with the search tools digital booksellers and publishers provide, the shape of bookselling would change. Readers could and would seek out niche interests, old favorites, and obscure titles. Books would have a longer life and the just-published bestseller would diminish in importance. But the study Vena describes in his article, which mirrors the conclusions of Anita Elberse in her book Blockbusters: Hit-making, Risk-taking, and the Big Business of Entertainment (Holt, 2013), claims just the opposite.

Purchases of the very top books (which make the difference between success or failure for publishers) are looking more and more like movie sales. That is, a huge initial boom, comparable to the opening weekend of a movie, for example, is followed by an inevitable decline in sales. The article does not discuss books for children or teenagers separately from books for adults. However, with some variation for prizewinners, the pattern holds.

I believe that what we are seeing is a triumph of logistics. Once a book becomes a bestseller—because a famous and talented author such as John Green has worked so hard to build interest, or the unexpected success of a debut such as the first “Harry Potter” book crashes categories and becomes a must-read title across ages—we are in a new sales landscape. You don’t have to look for the book; the book will find you. Go to a bookstore, a website, or a convenience or megastore, and it will be sitting there ready for you to grab and go. A blockbuster becomes part of our mental and physical furniture and all of those lingering niche books and old favorites are, well, obscured.

How does this relate to the role and function of a school librarian? Librarians have the skill, knowledge, training, and connection with students to see past the immediate moment. Vena makes the astute point that we now live in an “attention economy.” Our problem is not to get or locate media, but to find the time to read, watch, listen to, or play it. When you bring attention to materials young people do not know about, but might love, or might be helpful to them, you break the hypnotism of the now. You are the curator of deep thought. Of course, you must be alert to the book of the moment, the blockbuster need—you can’t be out of touch. But as retailers compete to give readers what they want, you have the chance to help them discover what they need.

Jordan Ellenberg, whose  How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking (Penguin, 2014) is a new favorite of mine, spends a good part of the book demonstrating how a mathematician sees through misleading or simplistic statistics that are thrown around in politics and public debate. In effect, his book helps train us how to slow down and cut through the hype of the present. That is exactly what you do, as curators of ripened knowledge. Let’s see how that goes in this unfolding year.

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Marc Aronson About Marc Aronson

Marc Aronson is a Rutgers University lecturer in the School of Communication and Information and the author of many notable nonfiction titles for children and young adults including, The Skull in the Rock, winner of the 2013 Subaru Prize from the American Association for the Advancement of Science. His book The Griffin and the Scientist (with Adrienne Mayor) will be published in April 2014. He was the first recipient of the Robert F. Sibert medal from the American Library Association for excellence in nonfiction writing for youth.

Facts Matter: Information Literacy for the Real World
Libraries and news organizations are joining forces in a variety of ways to promote news literacy, create innovative community programming, and help patrons/students identify misinformation. This online course will teach you how to partner with local news organizations to promote news literacy through a range of programs—including a citizen journalism hub at your library.


  1. What a great job description for us – “curators of deep thought”.
    Thanks,Marc.Will read the book.