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Hit Makers
Cover of Hit Makers
Hit Makers
The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction
Borrow Borrow Borrow
NATIONAL BESTSELLER
"This book picks up where The Tipping Point left off
." — Adam Grant, Wharton professor and New York Times bestselling author of ORIGINALS and GIVE AND TAKE
Nothing "goes viral." If you think a popular movie, song, or app came out of nowhere to become a word-of-mouth success in today's crowded media environment, you're missing the real story. Each blockbuster has a secret history—of power, influence, dark broadcasters, and passionate cults that turn some new products into cultural phenomena. Even the most brilliant ideas wither in obscurity if they fail to connect with the right network, and the consumers that matter most aren't the early adopters, but rather their friends, followers, and imitators — the audience of your audience.
In his groundbreaking investigation, Atlantic senior editor Derek Thompson uncovers the hidden psychology of why we like what we like and reveals the economics of cultural markets that invisibly shape our lives. Shattering the sentimental myths of hit-making that dominate pop culture and business, Thompson shows quality is insufficient for success, nobody has "good taste," and some of the most popular products in history were one bad break away from utter failure. It may be a new world, but there are some enduring truths to what audiences and consumers want. People love a familiar surprise: a product that is bold, yet sneakily recognizable.
Every business, every artist, every person looking to promote themselves and their work wants to know what makes some works so successful while others disappear. Hit Makers is a magical mystery tour through the last century of pop culture blockbusters and the most valuable currency of the twenty-first century—people's attention.
From the dawn of impressionist art to the future of Facebook, from small Etsy designers to the origin of Star Wars, Derek Thompson leaves no pet rock unturned to tell the fascinating story of how culture happens and why things become popular.

In Hit Makers, Derek Thompson investigates:
· The secret link between ESPN's sticky programming and the The Weeknd's catchy choruses
· Why Facebook is the world's most important modern newspaper
· How advertising critics predicted Donald Trump
· The 5th grader who accidentally launched "Rock Around the Clock," the biggest hit in rock and roll history
· How Barack Obama and his speechwriters think of themselves as songwriters
· How Disney conquered the world—but the future of hits belongs to savvy amateurs and individuals
· The French collector who accidentally created the Impressionist canon
· Quantitative evidence that the biggest music hits aren't always the best
· Why almost all Hollywood blockbusters are sequels, reboots, and adaptations
· Why one year—1991—is responsible for the way pop music sounds today
· Why another year —1932—created the business model of film
· How data scientists proved that "going viral" is a myth
· How 19th century immigration patterns explain the most heard song in the Western Hemisphere
NATIONAL BESTSELLER
"This book picks up where The Tipping Point left off
." — Adam Grant, Wharton professor and New York Times bestselling author of ORIGINALS and GIVE AND TAKE
Nothing "goes viral." If you think a popular movie, song, or app came out of nowhere to become a word-of-mouth success in today's crowded media environment, you're missing the real story. Each blockbuster has a secret history—of power, influence, dark broadcasters, and passionate cults that turn some new products into cultural phenomena. Even the most brilliant ideas wither in obscurity if they fail to connect with the right network, and the consumers that matter most aren't the early adopters, but rather their friends, followers, and imitators — the audience of your audience.
In his groundbreaking investigation, Atlantic senior editor Derek Thompson uncovers the hidden psychology of why we like what we like and reveals the economics of cultural markets that invisibly shape our lives. Shattering the sentimental myths of hit-making that dominate pop culture and business, Thompson shows quality is insufficient for success, nobody has "good taste," and some of the most popular products in history were one bad break away from utter failure. It may be a new world, but there are some enduring truths to what audiences and consumers want. People love a familiar surprise: a product that is bold, yet sneakily recognizable.
Every business, every artist, every person looking to promote themselves and their work wants to know what makes some works so successful while others disappear. Hit Makers is a magical mystery tour through the last century of pop culture blockbusters and the most valuable currency of the twenty-first century—people's attention.
From the dawn of impressionist art to the future of Facebook, from small Etsy designers to the origin of Star Wars, Derek Thompson leaves no pet rock unturned to tell the fascinating story of how culture happens and why things become popular.

In Hit Makers, Derek Thompson investigates:
· The secret link between ESPN's sticky programming and the The Weeknd's catchy choruses
· Why Facebook is the world's most important modern newspaper
· How advertising critics predicted Donald Trump
· The 5th grader who accidentally launched "Rock Around the Clock," the biggest hit in rock and roll history
· How Barack Obama and his speechwriters think of themselves as songwriters
· How Disney conquered the world—but the future of hits belongs to savvy amateurs and individuals
· The French collector who accidentally created the Impressionist canon
· Quantitative evidence that the biggest music hits aren't always the best
· Why almost all Hollywood blockbusters are sequels, reboots, and adaptations
· Why one year—1991—is responsible for the way pop music sounds today
· Why another year —1932—created the business model of film
· How data scientists proved that "going viral" is a myth
· How 19th century immigration patterns explain the most heard song in the Western Hemisphere
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  • From the book 1

    The Power of Exposure

    Fame and Familiarity—in Art, Music, Politics

    On a rainy morning one fall, I was walking alone through the impressionist exhibit of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. Standing before a wall of renowned paintings, I was struck by a question that I imagine many people wonder quietly in a museum, even if it's rude to say out loud in a company of strangers: Why is this thing so famous?

    It was The Japanese Footbridge by Claude Monet, with the blue bridge arching over an emerald green pond that is gilded with patches of yellow, pink, and green—the iconic water lilies. It was impossible not to recognize. One of my favorite picture books as a kid included several of Monet's water lily paintings. It was also impossible to ignore, on account of several kids scrambling through the geriatric crowd to get a closer look. "Yes!" a teenage girl said, holding up her phone in front of her face to take a picture. "Oh!" exclaimed the taller, curly-haired boy behind her. "It's that famous one!" Several more high school students heard their shouts, and within seconds a group had clustered around the Monet.

    Several rooms away, the gallery held a special exhibit for another impressionist painter, Gustave Caillebotte. This was a quieter, slower affair. There were no students and no ecstatic exclamations of recognition, just a lot of mmm-hmms and solemn nods. Caillebotte is not world famous like Monet, Manet, or Cézanne. The sign outside his exhibition at the National Gallery called him "perhaps the least known of the French impressionists."

    But Caillebotte's paintings are exquisite. His style is impressionist yet exacting, as if captured with a slightly more focused camera lens. Often from a window's view, he rendered the colorful urban geometry of nineteenth-century Paris—the yellow rhomboid blocks, the pale white sidewalks, and the iridescent grays of rain-slicked boulevards. His contemporaries considered him a phenomenon on par with Monet and Renoir. Émile Zola, the great French writer who drew attention to impressionism's "delicate patches of color," pronounced Caillebotte "one of the boldest of the group." Still, 140 years later, Monet is one of the most famous painters in history, while Caillebotte is relatively anonymous.

    A mystery: Two rebellious painters hang their art in the same impressionist exhibit in 1876. They are considered of similar talent and promise. But one painter's water lilies become a global cultural hit—enshrined in picture books, studied by art historians, gawked at by high school students, and highlighted in every tour of the National ­Gallery of Art—and the other painter is little known among casual art fans. Why?

    For many centuries, philosophers, artists, and psychologists have studied modern art to learn the truth about beauty and popularity. For understandable reasons, many focused on the paintings themselves. But studying the patches of Monet and the brushstrokes of Caillebotte won't tell you why one is famous and the other is not. You have to see the deeper story. Famous paintings, hit songs, and blockbusters that seem to float effortlessly on the cultural consciousness have a hidden genesis; even water lilies have roots.

    When a team of researchers at Cornell University studied the story of the impressionist canon, they found that something surprising set the most famous painters apart. It wasn't their social connections or their nineteenth-century renown. It was a subtler story. And it all started with Caillebotte.

    Gustave Caillebotte was born to a wealthy Parisian family in 1848. As a young...

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from January 30, 2017
    The alchemy of pop culture hits gets a little more scientific in this engrossing treatise on attention grabbing. Atlantic editor Thompson delves into a grab-bag of mysteries—who decided which Impressionist painters were the greatest? Why did Cheers catch on? How did Fifty Shades of Grey become a megaseller?—and finds a discernible (if not always replicable) formula. Part of the equation, he contends, is the brain’s balancing of neophobia with neophilia: humans like to see familiar, comforting patterns emerge from novel (but not too novel) situations that pique our interest in media as different as screenplays and melodies. (Lab mice are captivated by the verse-verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge structure of Top 40 tunes.) The other factors he fingers are sheer exposure—Seinfeld languished in the ratings cellar until it was rescheduled right after the hugely popular Cheers and finally found a viewership—and our lemming-like tendency to like whatever is already popular. Thompson gives readers a blithe, entertaining tour of the cognitive and social psychology behind our preferences, bouncing from Joseph Campbell’s doctrine of story archetypes to chaos theory, and frames it in a savvy analysis of how media technology (such as the laugh track and the like button) continually remakes tastes. This is a fun, thought-provoking take on the strange turns of cultural fortune.

  • Kirkus

    December 15, 2016
    How does a nice idea become an earworm, or a fashion trend, or--shudder--a meme? Atlantic senior editor Thompson ventures a few well-considered answers. We live in a world of expectations and conventions, though you might not know it. Take, say, a nice chick flick, a winning instance of which will have one or more of three types of women, "doe-eyed lover, harping mothers, and Meryl Streep." A romantic comedy, observes Thompson, breaks into three acts: two people thrash toward coupledom, come together, and face some challenge that they overcome to go back to coupledom once more. If the woman sleeps with someone else during the period of challenge, then all bets are off; barring that, norms observed, the story will move along to a more or less satisfactory conclusion. Sometimes a true hit arises that does more than ape convention, and here, in discerning how the outliers become mainstream, is where Thompson's book finds its greatest merit: George Lucas didn't quite have precedent for Star Wars, but he borrowed enough of the familiar that the films were "fathoms deep with allusions to the most common storytelling themes of the early twentieth century and the many millennia before." We like our novelty to be familiar but not too familiar. In a nice turn, the author writes, "we are born average and die unique," and just so, a hit will promise new turf without being wholly strange. And in every industry, the author notes, there are those who wish to become "toadish rejects metamorphosing into princely hits." There's not much thesis or hard science here, but there's plenty of anecdotally rich exploration in the odd corners of the sociology of communication, business history, and psychology, all to entertaining and instructive ends. Good reading for anyone who aspires to understand the machinery of pop culture--and perhaps even craft a hit of his or her own.

    COPYRIGHT(2016) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Library Journal

    December 1, 2016

    It's a question to which we'd all like to know the answer: Why do some things become popular while others sink out of sight? This book by Atlantic editor Thomas might not give an easy answer, but it does offer a thoroughly entertaining look at the potential whys of the hits and misses of popular culture, using illustrative examples that range from vampire myths and impressionist art to Star Wars and Adele's song "Hello." Popularity, he finds, relies on a perfect cocktail that includes the right amounts of such things as exposure, familiarity and difference, timing, and the impossible-to-predict factors of luck and coincidence--and while Thomas keeps a light tone throughout, he doesn't shy away from how the ingredients that make up cultural phenomena can lead to complacency in audiences and stagnation in industries. VERDICT While this book's mix of studied theory and anecdotal observation sometimes balances uneasily, it should provide some potential direction for those chasing that elusive next hit, as well as food for thought for anyone who has every pondered the mystery of why we like what we like.--Kathleen McCallister, Tulane Univ., New Orleans

    Copyright 2016 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

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The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction
Derek Thompson
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