This is going to be a great post. Truly great. I’m telling you, this is the post you have been waiting for. This post will pop your socks. It will rock your world. Tell your friends. Tell them to tell their friends. Make peace with your enemies and tell them too. Tweet about it. Post about it. Text about it. Go out in the street and shout from the rooftops: “Listen! You have got to check out this post. Your lives will be incomplete until you’ve read it. Everyone else is reading it. You don’t want to feel left out. So what are you waiting for? Do it now. Now!”
Hype is not interested in foreplay. Hype doesn’t want to cuddle afterwards. Hype won’t call you in the morning. Hype is selfish. Hype promises much and delivers little if anything, but the worst thing about hype is that it invariably damages the very things it is out to promote because nothing can ever live up to its hype.
Hype is a form of marketing but where’s the difference? In his article, What’s the difference between hype and marketing? Tom Jarvis asks just that:
Is hype talking about something that doesn’t exist yet? That’s maybe the only distinction I can discern. If not, I’m wondering what ratchets marketing up to hype. Is there good hype? Bad hype?
The comments make interesting reading. Most associate hype with hyperbole; excessive, over-the-top claims that cannot be independently verified. I like what Tomas Jogin had to say about it:
Why are people so put off by “hype”? Probably because we know how to deal with marketing since a long time ago, our brains know how to differentiate marketing from “real” recommendations.
All Brian does, further down the page, is leave this quote:
[Partly from hype, a swindle (perhaps from hyper-), and partly from hype(rbole).]
The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 4th edition
There is a thing called the hype cycle. There’s some question about whether it is actually a cycle but it graphically demonstrates the sequence of events:
Or, as Mickey Rooney put it, “You always pass failure on the way to success.”
We see this time and time again when it comes to computers and computer gaming – every new product is the ‘solution’ we’ve been waiting for but the simple fact is when they start marketing one product you can be damn well sure they’re already developing its replacement – but you also see it when it comes to books and films. I followed the production of Tim Burton’s first Batman film for years. I read every scrap of information I could about it and the simple truth is that I had built up my expectations so high that there was not a snowball’s chance in hell that I wouldn’t be disappointed, which I was. Later I started to see the positive things about the film but it will always feel like a bit of a letdown. Nowadays I’m careful not to read too much or get too excited especially when it comes to sequels. About the only film recently that I feel lived up to its hype was J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek.
Books don’t tend to get hyped. Or even marketed that much if we’re being honest. There are the exceptions. Should J. K. Rowling decide to write another Harry Potter book you can be sure that it will not be long before everyone on the planet will know about it. When, in 2000, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (the fourth novel in the series) came out with an initial print run of five million, Mark Lawson reviewed the book for The Guardian. He gives it quite a favourable review actually. Why I mention this particular review is because of its title: Rowling Survives the Hype. It certainly suggests that hype can be a bad thing. He ends his review like this:
The difficulty is that inflated expectation almost inevitably encourages disappointment and backlash. But the view so far from this household is that, though no writer could justify this hype, Rowling survives it.
Perhaps the oddest aspect of Rowling's success is that while the posters and media hype may impress adults, children who adore the books tend to despise the hype and merchandising surrounding them.
By the time the last book (so far, so we’re told) was released, the print run in the USA alone was twelve million copies. With online retailers and major bookstore chains discounting heavily to guarantee big sales independent bookshops were unable to compete and some shops did not even bother to order copies at all which I think is rather sad.
Rowling is the most obvious example of an author who has been affected by hype but she is not alone. As Malcolm Bradbury noted:
The climate of over-promotion, hype and celebrity interview easily obscured all that was serious about the novel. Marketing and advertising shaped the market, the nature of literary reputation; literary prizes became the high-profile face of fictional competition. As D. J. Taylor complained in his After the War: The Novel and England Since 1945, the novel became far less literary: too engaged with the marketplace, the style-scene, generational culture, nepotism, author profiling and hype.
The nineties were the age of the busy high-street bookstore, the literary festival, the promotion of author and book as commodity. – Malcolm Bradbury, The Modern British Novel, p.517
That last word is the key. A book is not simply a product. At least it shouldn’t be. Let’s consider another author, Arundhati Roy:
[Her] novel The God of Small Things (1997) is most remarkable for the publicity it generated, both as the arrestingly good first novel of a young, little-known and unusually attractive writer and as an example of the star-making industry, the media-driven process by which a writer can be catapulted to a quasi-mythical celebrity status. … For some the marketing of the novel was an object lesson in commodity fetishism, with a carefully managed excitement at the latest ‘discovery’, and some salacious details about the private life of the writer – described by one reviewer, in [an] example of the touchstone effect, as an ‘unsuitable girl’ (Maya Jaggi, Guardian Weekend, 24 May 1997) – thrown into the mix. – Graham Huggan, The Postcolonial Exotic: Marketing the Margins, p.76
What, of course, happened is that, after the hype, and the novel becoming a bestseller, reviewers started coming out of the woodwork suggesting that the book was perhaps too reader-friendly (the big dip in the graph). Only now, in the cold light of day, can the actual pedigree of the book be assessed – Huggan says the book “is an accomplished novel, and more sophisticated than it has been given credit” – but what it was not was some kind of talisman, a gift from the “goddess of small things” as Roy has been called (e.g. in The Village Voice.)
I have no opinion about the book. A bit like Rowling, Roy has her fans and her detractors. (Not sure if ‘detractor’ is the opposite of ‘fan’ because people can be fanatical both ways but you know what I mean.) Every book will have those who love it and those who struggle with it. As it should be. Where many people struggle with Roy’s book is when it comes to the way it was promoted; they see that it’s not a bad book but their objection is that is doesn’t live up to the hype. Type "doesn’t live up to the hype" into Google and you’ll get about 3,820,000 hits. I rest my case.
There is a reason the English language has the two words ‘quantity’ and ‘popularity’ . . . because they’re two different things. The problem these days is that too many people assume that quantity = popularity:
Paranormal Activity is the number one film in the country. I know! That means it's great. That means it's great! If it's the number one movie—this is the logic. For example, more people saw Paul Blart Mall Cop than saw The Shawshank Redemption. Therefore, Paul Blart Mall Cop is a better movie than The Shawshank Redemption. Do you see? That's right! More people like it, it means it's better! Don't you understand capitalism? – Craig Ferguson – Quality By Popular Vote
If we can transfer this to literature:
Facts and figures about sales of books and incomes of authors are interesting but not interesting enough, unless they specifically reveal something about the way in which writers and their writings function in a culture. Publishing is relevant to literary history only in so far as it can be seen to be, ultimately, a shaping influence on literature. – K. V. Surendran, Indian English Fiction: New Perspectives, p.137
The bottom line is, has and will always be, the test of time. Fashions come and go.
What hype is is a tease. And reality loses hands down every time to imagination. Just a few minutes ago the January 2011 issue of SFX popped through my letterbox and, of course, I stopped everything to get my monthly fix. The very last article was entitled ‘Pre-Release Hype’ in which Richard Edwards talks about the expectation that was generated for The Phantom Menance or simply [air quotes] Episode I as it was known for ages. But he also comments on the whole industry’s approach to hype:
A well-constructed trailer is a work of art, something that can push all the right buttons with a few carefully placed edits or a cunningly planned reveal. Throw in a few posters, web campaigns and carefully distributed photographs and I’ll be hooked all the way to release – it’s almost a shame to buy the ticket.
In this respect he’s very critical of the influence of the Web these days and the amount of information that is available pre-release. Thankfull that doesn’t seem to happen with books so much. Unless the author’s someone like Sarah Palin or George W. Bush. Hype will rope in the core demographic but these are the people who were going to buy the game, watch the film or wear the T-shirt anyway. Real success follows when these people start texting their friends and blogging about their experience.
A good example of this is how people came to view the book The Road. I think most people would agree that’s it’s a decent book, a bit short but perfectly readable. But will you read it? I found a series of comments following a review of the book on Fyrefly’s Book Blog of interest. In part they say:
Karen: [I]f you compare the novel to the hype that it’s received, then I would agree it is a tad overrated.
Fyrefly: I read this novel a few years ago, when it was a recent Oprah book pick, and the hype seemed much more out of control than it is now. I wonder whether I’d feel differently about it if I’d read it after the hype had died down a little.
Karen: Yes sometimes our opinions are swayed, for or against a book, by how much hype it receives. So it would be interesting, seeing as there is a considerable amount of time between the time that you first read it, to read it again, to see if your opinions on the novel have changed or not.
Christina: I haven’t read this book and don’t know if I plan too. I think that I might be underwhelmed do to all of the hype.
Ladytink_534: I honestly don’t think it will live up to the hype that I’ve heard about it so I haven’t given it a shot.
It’s just as bad as judging a book by its cover, isn’t it?
The bottom line for me is not to be in a rush to see, read or experience anything in a hurry. I’ve read The Road. Without people writing about it I would never have heard of it but once I’d read enough to pique my interest – and I assure you that was very little – I didn’t read any more. I put the book on my Amazon wish list, my wife’s son bought it for me and I eventually got around to it long after all the fuss had died down. I really only learned about that when I started writing my review and began reading what others had said.
So why don’t we learn? As Samuel Johnson said, “We love to expect, and when expectation is either disappointed or gratified, we want to be again expecting.” It’s all about the chase, the unknown. What do you do when you’ve caught up with what you’ve been chasing? Have sex with it? Kill it and eat it? Toss it back in the river? I guess that all depends on whether you’ve been chasing a woman, a deer or a fish. Let me leave you with this profound thought: There is nothing more exciting than an unknocked door and a woman with her clothes still on on the other side of it.