Reichsmarks in the Attention Economy

The story of Germany’s currency inflation in the 1920s is well known. The currency was so devalued it became worthless, forcing the country to create an interim currency between the papiermark and the reichsmark to ease transition to a more stable system. I bring this up because I’ve been wondering if we’re seeing the same thing again.

The Atlantic‘s announcement they’ll be selling short fiction exclusively on the Amazon Kindle gave me pause. My first reaction: great! A print magazine trying something new! Using their value as curators in a transitioning industry! Tailoring content to the new container!

My second reaction wasn’t as sunny. The Kindle store is about as chockablock as well, the rest of the internet. The only way you could find these Atlantic pieces (by Christopher Buckley and Edna O’Brien) is to already know about them. And how do you find out about them? Get the New York Times to write about it. And how do you get them to write about it? Do something newsworthy, like… you get it.

The real gain for The Atlantic and all involved in the venture is the PR around the venture. Because six months from now, the Kindle will be flooded with $3.99 short stories (more likely $1.99 0r $0.99, as the market expands). You’ll only read those that have effectively broken through the noise, the same noise they’re adding to the platform. This isn’t a problem.  It’s very much how the internet functions. (Speaking of, check out Digg’s great 365 visualization.)

I doubt I’m the first to write about this, but the real shift I wish to address is this cycle of newsworthy development. Your book won’t get coverage for merely existing, even if it’s exceptionally good at existing. With respect to getting media coverage, the how of publishing is becoming more important than the what. Which is… exciting? Depressing? And where does this end, if at all? Cory Doctorow’s Makers touches upon this idea in its first half, before it veers more into litigation and corporate intrigue.

I tend to swing between pessimistic and optimistic on this issue. I’d be very curious to hear your thoughts.

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