Buying products as solutions
When you buy a toaster/car/laptop, you aren’t really buying the metal, engine, oil, seats, glass windows etc. What you’re actually buying is a solution to whatever problem it is you have at the time you’re buying the product.
I’ll use a car to illustrate, since I’m a car geek. When you buy a car you’re not really buying four wheels, the engine, its oil, the seats, the metal bodywork, the glass windows. What you’re actually buying is a solution to you getting around quicker than walking or public transport. OK, so part of the solution may also be ‘an ego boost’ or ‘something to go with my hairstyle’ but they’re all still solutions for different problems. And once you’ve bought the car, you’ll probably not give a second thought to what physically makes up the car, you’ll just use it until it’s time to replace it with another one. And then you’ll go through the same ‘what solution do I need to this problem’ again, only this time you may have a child, a dog as another thing to take into consideration when buying the next car.
What about with entertainment?
I think it’s the same with any popular culture/art: film, TV, music, stories.
I’ll focus on stories as I write stories, I don’t make films, or TV series, or sing (I do sing, but it’s not pretty)
When you buy a story you’re buying a solution to the act of sitting down, with nothing to read. Yes, I know there are plenty of people who do just sit down and don’t read, but for them they’d watch TV or go to the cinema. That would be their solution to the problem. In this example I’m all about the books/stories OK?
The story gives you a solution to that problem in the form of escapism, entertainment, a way of experiencing new emotions or reliving old emotions, you feel from reading the story. I still think there’s something magical about how reading words on a page/screen can make another human being cry. It’s that bit of magic, as well as the entertainment aspect, you’re buying when you buy a story.
So, although in the purest sense, you’re not buying the paper and ink the story is printed on – or the electronic file – you’re buying what those things can do to you when you read them, when you use the product.
The commodification of stories
In effect this means that unlike hundreds of years ago, when books were so precious few people could afford to buy them, and stories were serialised in newspapers, now anyone who can afford a coffee from a well known chain, can afford a book. For the price of a coffee the story will entertain you for anything from a few hours for a novella to a couple of days for a long novel.
This means stories are now treated like other commodities, not like high, inaccessible art of a few hundred years ago. The phenomenon of serialised books being sold in quick succession has increased this, with for example the Fifty Shades of Grey series and The Hunger Games series. Just like a DVD box set, word gets round about the latest must read book series, and readers buy all of them at the same time, and gobble them up like a box of chocolates.
So what does this mean? Is it a bad thing?
Well, fortunately lots of books don’t cause traffic jams, so that’s a bonus.
I think that more people having access to more books to read can only be a good thing, even if *cough* not all of the actual material is to all of our taste. I've already blogged about why I didn't read the 50SOG series, so it's not a secret.
Mu mum left school with no O levels at 15 and did her GCSE English & maths in her late forties. This was a massive undertaking for her. Until quite recently she hadn’t read a whole book, but she would watch with interest while on family holidays I consumed book after book. A few years ago, I lent her one of my pastel coloured chick lit books. Two days later she called to say how much she was enjoying it, ‘The story really pulls you along,’ and ‘It’s so easy to read I couldn't wait to get to the next bit,’ was how she described it. She finished that book lying in a hammock in her back garden and called to tell me all about the story: its twists and turns, the surprise reveal, and how much she’d enjoyed the time in the hammock, immersed in the book’s world. Even now, years later, she still talks about that afternoon in the garden with the book.
So if this is commodification of stories, as they’re now another product we use as a solution to a problem, just like a toaster/car/laptop, I think I’m fine with that.
What do you think? Do you think a story isn’t just another product, like a toaster? Do you think because it’s art, it’s a different thing entirely?
I’d love to hear from you.
Until next time,
Liam Livings xx