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Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction Hardcover – February 7, 2017
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"Enthralling-- full of 'aha' moments about why some ideas soar and others never get off the ground. 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
“While giving Lady Luck her due, Thompson studiously examines the myriad factors that make the things we buy, like and follow so irresistible: whether Facebook, TV shows such as Seinfeld, Bumble (the app, not the insect), even favorite lullabies. In Hit Makers, his first book, Thompson tackles this mystery with solid research, ready wit and catchy aphorisms…a wonderful book.”
“Superb.”--Fareed Zakaria, Book of the Week selection
“Hit Makers is thoughtful and thorough, a compelling book …. a terrific look at what makes a hit, from the Mona Lisa to Donald Trump.” — Vox
“This entertaining look at the creation of blockbusters… takes on many creators' and marketers' assumptions… Hit Makers coats science in compelling story” — Inc
"Fascinating ... Thompson has huge enthusiasm for his topic and has amassed an amazing amount of material, including many offbeat and engaging stories. ... [Should] be read for insight and provocation." — John Gapper Financial Times
"[Thompson] has assembled a book in the Malcolm Gladwell tradition: telling great stories to illustrate some fascinating and often far-from-obvious theses." — Daily Mail
"Thompson's diligent research and lively prose ensure that Hit Makers is always informative and entertaining." — Prospect
"Thompson does a really fascinating job of explaining how things become popular, drawing on a wide range of cultural phenomena, from Star Wars to the iPhone, Taylor Swift to Game of Thrones." — Ben East Observer
"[An] engaging cultural study." — Steven Poole Guardian
"Spirited ... An entertaining and informative guide." — The Times
"A useful survey ... Thompson makes lots of snappy remarks and unexpected comparisons." — David Sexton Evening Standard
"Derek Thompson has long been one of the brightest new voices in American journalism. With HIT MAKERS, he becomes one of the brightest new voices in the world of non-fiction books. Ranging from Impressionist art to German lullabies to Game of Thrones, HIT MAKERS offers a fresh and compelling take on how the media function and how ideas spread. As deftly written as it is keenly argued, this book — true to its title — is a hit.” — Daniel H. Pink, New York Times bestselling author of DRIVE and TO SELL IS HUMAN
“Derek Thompson’s HIT MAKERS is a sharply observed history of the megahit, from the 13th-centuy tunic craze to the iPhone, tracing the strange ever-changing mixture of genius, dumb luck, business savvy, and network math that turns an obscurity into a worldwide smash.”
-Jordan Ellenberg, New York Times bestselling author of HOW NOT TO BE WRONG
"What makes one song hit, and another, flop, one book a success and the other, fodder for the discount bins? That's the mystery Derek Thompson probes with his characteristic verve, wit, and insight in "Hit Makers." It's an engrossing read that doesn't settle for easy answers, and one that seems destined to become one of the hits that Thompson so deftly analyzes."
-Maria Konnikova, New York Times bestselling author of THE CONFIDENCE GAME
“Hit Makers blends historical lessons with technological & social insights to explain what makes culture tick, and hits happen.”
—Steve Case, Chairman and CEO of Revolution and Co-Founder of America Online
“Derek Thompson’s Hit Makers is a terrific read—a sparkling combination of fascinating stories, cutting-edge science, and superb business advice. Just as he does when he writes for The Atlantic, Thompson shares more interesting ideas per paragraph than practically any other writer today. Hit Makers is a bible for anyone who’s ever tried to promote practically anything, from products, people, and ideas, to books, songs, films, and TV shows.”
—Adam Alter, New York Times Bestselling author of Drunk Tank Pink and Irresistible
"I always read everything by Derek Thompson I see, and this book was no exception. Why things become popular is one of the most important questions in an ever-more networked world, and Derek Thompson's *Hit Makers* is the best and most serious attempt to take a look at it."
—Tyler Cowen, author of The Great Stagnation and Marginal Revolution
“This book is brilliant, a fascinating exploration of the relationship between artistry and industry, the ways that everything from immigration to distribution helps create the popular imagination. You may never look at your favorite film or song the same way again. It should be required reading for anyone working in the popular arts.”
—Simon Kinberg, producer of The Martian, screenwriter and producer for the X-Men film franchises
“Thompson tackles the daunting subject of how products come to dominate the culture in this interdisciplinary romp that delves into many facets of the entertainment industry as well as industrial design, art history, publishing, and politics…presenting his case with verve and a lightning chain of compact anecdotes ….This book will appeal to readers of Malcolm Gladwell as well as pop-culture enthusiasts and anyone interested in the changing media landscape.”
“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….Good reading for anyone who aspires to understand the machinery of pop culture—and perhaps even craft a hit of his or her own.”
– Kirkus Reviews
About the Author
Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic magazine, where he writes about economics and the media. He is a regular contributor to NPR's "Here and Now" and appears frequently on television, including CBS and MSNBC. He lives in New York City.
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The question of what drives hitdom can be esoteric to the point of incomprehension when the psycho-sociologists wrestle with it, or dry as burnt toast when the statisticians do. Thompson, however, addresses the question anecdotally, using facts and figures to fill in the blanks. The result makes for very relatable reading.
As a sexagenarian who lived in China for much of the last decade I have to admit that some of his cultural references were totally lost on me, but that’s certainly not the author’s fault. We learn at many levels concurrently and this book taught me a lot.
I particularly liked the section devoted to the debunking of the myth that anything really goes viral on the Internet. It makes sense. Far better to be friends with Kim Kardashian, if you want to be famous, than it is to think you’re going to come up with the world’s cleverest meme.
And someone finally gave us the full story on the historic success of Fifty Shades of Grey, although he kept to the marketing issues and wisely didn’t try to explore the deeper issue of why that content was so enthusiastically received. And, yes, I did read it. As a devout reader I felt I had to, given its incredible success. That, too, was predicted by Thompson.
If you are trying to market yourself as an artist or author Hit Makers is a must read plus. It’s filled with money quotes. Here’s one: “Publicly, people often talk about issues. Privately, they talk about schedules. Publicly, they deploy strategic emotions. Privately, they tend to share small troubles. Publicly, they want to be interesting. Privately, they want to be understood.”
Following the laws of Pareto, authors typically spend most of their time on the first and last paragraphs of a book. Between those bookends, some books start strong and lose steam. Others pick up momentum as they go. This one follows the latter trajectory and is well worth the reader’s investment and patience.
Mr. Thompson’s book is well-written and engaging from beginning to end. His versatility with his subject in both breadth and depth is astonishing, as he discusses topics from lullabies of Brahms to the songs of Adele and Taylor Swift and from the art of Monet to the movies of George Lucas. There is even a section on the rise and fall of the “laugh track” in television comedy. He also considers the economics of art and how it is undergoing massive disintermediation and restructuring. Former gatekeepers such as TV networks, newspapers, bookstores, museums, and record publishers have been circumvented as new means of reaching audiences evolve. He examines how Fifty Shades of Grey and Pokémon became cultural phenomenon. It is clear that luck plays a role, but there is also far more to finding an audience than to getting a lucky break. There are patterns to some forms of art that attract an audience. One is abbreviated MAYA – Most Advanced Yet Acceptable. He also dispels the myth of “going viral”, as few successes can attribute their popularity strictly to word of mouth contagion.
The book has scores of interesting stories about popular culture. I particularly enjoyed the story of how Rock Around the Clock became a hit song after failing in its initial release, and the rhetorical flourishes that speechwriters use to capture an audience's interest.
This is truly an important book for our times. Each day we attempt to sip from a firehose of information and entertainment arriving on our TVs, computers and smart phones. Trying to discern what is worth our time and what to ignore is a challenge we all face. I felt more enlightened after reading Hit Makers. I do suggest you read the book on a Kindle, as I was frequently checking the definition of words.
My one minor quibble is I would have liked a final chapter to summarize the various ideas covered in the earlier chapters. The book is so rich in content, it would have benefited from an encapsulation of the different reasons for popularity.
Well written with memorable stories and anecdotes to anchor the concepts conveyed and to remember those by.
A few deep insights on nature of different types of content, for example sports, and how different business models have to be built for both different content and different “conduits”. Conclusions about Facebook he makes validate my choice of FB as the primary place where I choose to “waste my time”.