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Chas Martin

Derivative work is any discussion, commentary or observation of information that has been established prior. It does not imbue the preceding work with originality, factuality or credibility. In fact, most “original” work is also derivative or compiled information repackaged under a new title. Authors of books, newspaper columns or magazine articles do not have a proprietary right to facts. Because something appears in print does not make it fact, even though hundreds of thousands of readers accept it as such. Because someone blogs does not make their perspective less valid. Facts are facts until debunked by better facts. So, facts themselves are derived from circumstances that have not yet been disproved. To assume that the information from an established, high readership source is more authoritative than information from an unknown voice is presumptuous. Conversation validates or undermines the integrity of the original work. The process may reveal new facts. That is not derivative. It's discovery.

Charlie C

I often find it helpful to remember that words written on paper specifically are the technological culmination of thousands of years of refinement. Though anyone can print a page from the internet, there's nothing yet that approaches the efficiency of the newspaper, magazine or book in delivering a wide range of information in a compact, durable and cheap form that exposes you to not just what you are looking for but also what you might reasonably be expected to know, whether you know it or not. I find The Week to be an ascendant example born in the post internet age...


I'm still not sold on the premise that society gains anything from ubiquitous content generation. I think that any decent writer (or photographer or musician) will admit that they're raw work is usually not very good, which is why editors are such a valuable commodity. To be sure, editors can also impart biases and neuter greatness, but they also ensure some level of seriousness to the content, which I enjoy as a reader.

Re: the Long Tail... blogs are actually a great example for where the theory works. That said, I think Slate's review appropriately takes the expansion of Anderson's theory to task. He nailed the article in Wired a couple years ago, but sometimes theories aren't as pervasive as one might hope. I wonder why people feel the need to stretch theories to be grandiose and poorly supported. Is it the lure of a book deal?


"We need derivative media sources to help us make sense of what we learn from primary sources."

Absolutely. Furthermore, I think that there is simply no substitute for the blogosphere in following hot, esoteric, special-interest issues (ie, current politics in the Episcopal Church USA) that mainline media may only (clumsily) address weeks past relevance.

... and print people need not worry- could blogs EVER replace the aesthetic experience of a crisp newspaper, unfolded smugly over coffee in one's own private corner of the world?


My belief is that for readers the newspaper habit is hard. It is still the best thing to read while on the subway or other means of public transportation and I really love reading it while waiting for someone or at a cafè-

Besides, it will be a long time until electronic media totally substitutes traditional outlets such as newspapers. They probably never will.


I don't know about where you are, but they're starting to have wifi on the city buses here in Seattle. I'd probably rather read a regular newspaper than reading the same content on my wireless enabled pocket pc. But I pretty much always have the PPC with me. So if the wifi is there, I've always got something new to read. And it's definitely a step up from reading the news and sports on a cell phone, which I have also done on the bus, when I forgot the newpaper.

If they ever do get this digital paper thing worked out, that will be a step up.

I've been reading Chris Anderson's Long Tail blog for the last year or so (maybe longer). So I feel like I've already kind of read the book. I think he's on to something. It may not effect every industry. But it is going to effect a lot of things. We're only really at the start of it.

Whether it will lead to a utopian or dystopic result is a little unclear to me. Probably, it will depend on how effective the filters are.

I know the New Yorker reviewer pointed to Toffler'sThird Wave as a much earlier book that also predicted the demassifying of our society.

It's taken a while, but it definitely seems like it is happening. I think that trend is going to continue.


Nice column in the July 26 WSJ by Lee Gomes. In essence, there are no facts to back up the Long Tale book. Hmm...

Matthew Yglesias

I read the book!


i'm surprised no one has commented on what i feel is the real reason traditional media forms will never be completely run off the road: manpower. a newspaper or magazine has the capacity to employ reporters who can then devote themselves full time to seeking out new information to report, whereas the majority of blogs could never secure enough revenue to have multiple writers out in the field on a daily basis. the argument could be made that as more people turn to a more convenient means of getting their news, i.e., by turning on a computer whenever they felt like it, on-line publications like slate, which are organized and run similarly to more traditional forms of journalism, might become more and more popular--unless they all start to charge for access, in which case a lot of people will still turn to bloggers who are willing to recycle stories for free. but if they don't charge competitively, they'll continue to come in second to more established media forms, and around and around. tracking down print-worthy news takes time and resources, and while i certainly tip my hat to the many very talented and dedicated people in the blogosphere, i doubt any of them has the means to cover exclusively nonderivative stories. this is a shame, because some of them are far better at what they do than a lot of print journalists (witness the boston globe, which is practically a tabloid).

and too, i mean, there would always have to be at least some newspapers out there, because crossword puzzles just aren't any fun to solve on a computer.


whoops! i meant to hold up the boston herald as an example of sensationalist un-news; the globe is doing just fine, or was, anyway, the last time i checked. my apologies.


Your post (and being Canadian:-) ) made me think of Marshall McLuhan.

If we think of the meaning of 'derivative' as: 'arising out of or dependent on the existence of something else' and not the pejoritive sense of 'unoriginal' -- then we're on good footing. McLuhan was big on the derivative concept in many ways, for example explaining that every new technology incorporated something of an old technology.

And ... while I'm on a roll here ... isn't combining existing things in new ways the meaning of creativity?!?! Rather than list all the wonderful things that ARE derivative (scholarly research, art, literature, etc etc etc) -- let's start a shorter list and tell me what ISN'T derivative. :-)

I too am tired (and I'm a Gen-Xer) of the breathless-2.0-blogger-types who don't give props to the people and ideas that their 'shiny new' ideas are founded upon. Is it ignorance or narcissism?

And finally, check out A-list bloggers who proclaim: 'Did you see that X made NYT?' or 'Check out the article on Y in the WSJ.'


Hmm, good posts. I think the best was the books = blogs analogy, and trying to pigeon-hole one or the other is an excercise in futility.

There are certainly derivative blogs, and then there are those making news. And some (DKos for example) are going even further and making waves.

The other great point is the one aboute editors and purpose. Newspapers, for the most part, are commercial enterprises and therefore have to kowtow to that purpose (TV even moreso). A great many blogs are labors of love, and many of the more best ones (billmon) come from people who have been successful enough in other careers to share their observations without the need to 'feed the beast'. With the cost of entry so low, this becomes very possible and (again) raises the competitive level another notch.

Blogs that are completely commercial in nature have not been, and because of the high degree of competition, will never be that popular. Most will never reach the quality of a local newspaper. And most will never have to bury a story because it might upset the feed cart.

"Newspapers" will be around for the foreseeable future, but most likely the majority of their readers will never be at risk of getting ink on their fingers.

BTW, I read most "newspapers" on my Treo standing in line, or on the train, or having a smoke. We already are quite close to the media environment explored quickly in "Minority Report". We'll only become more so when the foldable LCDs become price competitive.

Scott Walters

My area of expertise is theatre and the arts. With traditional media increasingly cutting back on space for the arts, and usually assigning reporters to cover it that have little or no background in the arts (this has been the case since time immemorial), the blogs are actually a place to find BETTER, more informed, and more thoughtful commentary thatn I can fine in any traditional newspaper, the NY Times included.

It isn't that the blogs are going to REPLACE traditional news media, but rather that it can provide knowledgeable viewpoints on topics that traditional media deems "niche markets" and ignores.

If you want to read real theatre criticism, I recommend Mathhew Freeman (http://matthewfreeman.blogspot.com/) and Isaac Butler (http://parabasis.typepad.com/blog/) and George Hunka (http://www.ghunka.com/index.cgi). Believe me, these guys couldn't care less about the NY Times.

Adam Jusko

It seems to me that the most successful bloggers are those who try to write at least some original material. If they're riffing off of a media story or another blog post, they are at least adding something more than "this is stupid" or "that's cool". How many times have you seen a blog post that is basically a cut and paste of a media story?

Political bloggers on both sides love to castigate the MSM (mainstream media) for their biased reporting, but few of them are offering anything original. It's fine to be a watchdog, but the world only needs so many critics--and of course the bloggers ripping the MSM are generally those at the political poles. If they did original reporting, it would be the most biased reporting you've ever read.

I agree the traditional media isn't going anywhere. It's just changing. Fewer people pick up a paper, and as traditional media makes the transition online and figures out how to make it profitable enough, it will continue to be the originator of what people are talking about.

We all like to B.S. with our friends, but we need something to B.S. about, and the topics will continue to come from media & entertainment sources.

art kyriazis

Dear Mr. Gladwell

While I liked your book the Tipping Point, I felt that your review of the Wages of Wins was excessively maldirected at Allen Iverson and the Philadelphia 76ers. There is nothing in the statistifical or mathematical arguments of the book to justify your conclusion that "The 76ers would be better off without him."

Some of the other players in the 1996 draft, while superior, suffer from severe psychiatric or character flaws. Kobe Bryant stood accused of raping a woman in Colorado. While you may feel he was innocent, I for one feel his accuser was credible regardless of the disposition of the case. Moreover, his father, Joe "Jellybean" Bryant played with the Sixers here in Philly, and he had a terrible cocaine problem for years, and was caught stealing from lockers when employed as a coach in later years. There were reasons why the Sixers did not draft Bryant. They were concerned that his father's criminal traits would surface in the son, as they eventually did. The dog and pony show put forth in the LA media spotlight is just that--the truth is that Kobe is a criminal thug of dubious morality.

Beyond that, the Sixers have had many other #1 picks on their team. Derrick Coleman hardly ever showed up the play. He was the #1 pick in the 1992 draft. He basically was the laziest player I ever saw. He would walk up the floor every time he was supposed to run. His man he was covering was ALWAYS open.

Keith Van Horn, the #2 pick in his draft, was a nice player, but afraid of inside contact, and stayed outside to shoot the jump shot, which decreased his offensive efficiency. He also was not a good defensive player.

Joe Smith was a #1 draft pick who played here. He was awful.

Chris Webber is here now. He plays right alongside Iverson. Webber was a First Round pick and Webber cannot match Iverson in points at all. He is a decent rebounder but watching them together, Iverson is clearly the better player.

Having written a book like "the tipping point", you then fail to apply it rigorously to the case of Iverson. Iverson is the catalyst and the fire and the fuel that makes a team burn.

He is also the most popular NBA player in the USA, has the highest sneaker and jersey and marketing of apparel sales of any NBA player (or has been near the top for ten years), is the biggest draw in the world by far (his name is household known in Europe, China, Japan, everywhere in the world) and he has been an inspiration to an entire generation of NBA players who have entered the league in recent years, including LeBron James, who does not mention anyone except Allen Iverson as his role model for NBA player he looked up to as a kid.

Also, if you build it, they will come. Allen Iverson has scored almost 20,000 points in just ten years, and has a 33 points per game average in a league where teams score only 90 points a game on average. He generally supplies not 20, not 30, but about 35-40% of his teams offense each night in a league where a 15 ppg average is considered pretty good. The entire league has only about 25 guys who average 20 points or better, and this guy has averaged 30 ppg for his career. Make that 35 ppg for the playoffs.

He has dropped 40 points or more in a game at least 20 times; 50 points at least 10 or 15 times; 60 points once; 50 points twice in the playoffs; 40 points twice in the playoffs; and only Elgin Baylor and Wilt Chamberlain and Michael Jordan have ever done that.

If you had bothered to order and read the Sixers Media Guide, you would have seen that there are five pages long of accomplishments by Allen Iverson.

He will probably end up with 35,000-40,0000 points in his career. He will score more than Barkley, more than Dr. J, more than Earl Monroe, more than Bill Bradley, more than anyone who every played for any New York Knick or Boston Celtic, the only players he may not catch will be Karl Malone, Kareem Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain and Michael Jordan. He will be in the top 10 and likely the top 5 career scorers of all time NBA.

Also, he averages career about 8-10 assists a game.

Even under the analysis of the book, the last two years, Iverson has substantially improved his game playing with Andre Iguodala, producing 10.0 wins in 2004-05 and 8.2 wins in 2005-06, averaging @33 ppg and winning a scoring title in 2004-05, while averaging 8 assists per game and 3 steals per game. The sixers made the playoffs that year, by the way.

This past year, the Sixers made a furious run at the playoffs during which Iverson led the charge, and they only missed the playoffs by a game or two, finishing 9th out in the east by a game, one game out of the playoffs.

I firmly believe, BASED ON THE STATISTICS PROVIDED BY BERRI ET AL., that Iverson is just entering into the best years of his career, and that the Sixers should take advantage of what is clearly an excellent combination of two superstars, in Iverson and Iguodala, who annually combine for 23 wins produced a year. If Dalembert and Webber provide another 10-15 wins at center, then all the Sixers need is for role players to supply another 10-15 wins produced and they will have a 45-53 win season and they will be in the playoffs.

If you had actually read the book, you would see that the Sixers situation, far from being dire, is actually quite good.

Here are some players who could help them with rebounding and defense; Kenny Thomas could add about 6 win shares; I'd try and bring back Eric Snow or Aaron McKie for another 4 win shares; and a rebounding forward center like a Marcus Camby who is mobile.

--Art Kyriazis, Philly

PS You are a fine author, admire your work. Sorry but I must defend Iverson & the Sixers, who I've followed since 1967. By the way, the Knicks and Celtics suck.

Sprague Dawley


I was at the Slate discussion and blogged about it -- you attempted to throw some cold water on the over-heated rhetoric about blogging and that was valuable. Your comment about blogs being derivative was hardly objectionable. *People* are derivative. You must understand where Anderson is coming from: his move from The Economist to Wired suggests he's sipped the Kool-Aid and is aglow with the promise of user-generated media. We rely on critics like yourself who don't have a taste for the sweet stuff.

Susan Jones

I'm going to read the book.


Well I've blogged my response to Anderson:



Oh and I forgot to mention, Mr. Gladwell should blog more often. I enjoy the read, wether its books or blogs.

M. Miranda

Given the freedom of posting on a blog whatever you want, without having to be a staff writer or a "contributor" to a publication, I guess the only limit to be heard is, perhaps, the blogger's own popularity. But ordinary bloggers lack two characteristics of "established" journalists, which, in my view, puts them at an unsalvageable disadvantage: effort and quality.
--Effort. Jane posts her views on Irak on her blog. She expresses her feelings about it, and comments on what she gathers from CNN and Time magazine. But she did no legwork (she couldn't if she wanted to, with work and kids and school to take care of). She didn't go and obtain information from marines in Baghdad; she didn't even go out and sit with other jouirnalists at the White House briefing. Thus, her information is inequivocally and hopelessly derivative. But hey, she got to voice her opinion, and that may be the real value of her blog.
--Quality. Given her time constraints, and her lack of first-hand research, Jane's blog will never equal in quality to a post by a professional writer, unless she is already one. She may be persuasive, funny, even sound good, but her work will not equal that of someone gathering and analyzing information all day, every day. Add the unavoidable stylistic errors and misspellings, and you may see why some of us would rather stick to print media.--0--


I don't see these links anywhere above, so:

Chris Anderson's original post that this responds to: http://www.longtail.com/the_long_tail/2006/07/on_media_elitis.html

And Anderson's response to the response: http://www.longtail.com/the_long_tail/2006/07/gladwell_respon.html


Malcolm, is there really going to be a movie based on your book "Blink." How will that work and who is the talent involved?


Blogging and the internet will shape the MSM and newspapers, it won't destroy them or make them irrelevant.

6 years ago, I read the NYTimes or Washington Post if I happened to be in NY or Wash. Now I read them both online regulary AND I buy the Asahi Shimbun (living in Tokyo) because it carries the NYTimes "International Herald Tribune" where I can read the NYTimes columnists. 6 years ago, the Times got ZERO money from me (maybe ancillary revenue from wire reports). Now they get my page views and my 150yen a couple times a week. And they have quite a long tail of their own.

I imagine there will be more and more "less" derivative independent media and blogs, but I agree with Malcolm that newspapers are not in danger of becoming irrelevant anytime soon. If anything, in an information age, they have become more relevant.

Plus you have to be realistic that the conglomerates which control big newspapers are going to find a way to keep their outlets relevant.


I think it's ridiculous to say that primary source media--be it newspapers, tv news, or electronic news outlets--will somehow be supplanted someday by secondary source media. Because blogs are in cyberspace, so called forward thinkers see them as the next can't-miss hot item. But in paper terms, blogs replacing primary-source media would be like people switching from their current fact-based newspaper subscription to a free newspaper containing only opinion articles. Everybody loves reading opinion articles and it's nice that the paper is free, but it doesn't erase the need for the original newspaper. Instead, in some ways it increases the need because facts and figures are nice to have when assessing an opinion's validity.

I think one telling point that can be seen in people's willingness to write off the usefulness of newspapers is the general distrust of news media that currently exists. The American political climate is so tense and the left and right are seemingly so far apart on most issues that almost every news outlet is accused by one group or another of being slanted and unbalanced. While in some cases this seems warranted (the New York Times and Fox News Network both seem to wear their political affiliations on their shirtsleeves) the overall effect of the attempt to make the news objective has been to turn people off of the news. News seems to be largely based in trust. The news provides utility if it makes us feel informed and if we trust that what we are hearing is the truth. However, when the news makes us feel more confused, and when we feel like news providers may be trying to manipulate our thoughts and opinions through their outlets, then the news loses all of its utility and we start thinking semi-crazy things like, "hmm... this blog is pretty entertaining / funny / informative. I'm not going to read the newspapers with all their trickery. Blogs it is!"

Chris Wilson

When you place the blogosphere in the context of the long tail concept, its derivative nature and its future relationship with the MSM becomes fairly clear.

In terms of information consumption, the head - where the hits reside - is occupied mostly by the stories put forth by the MSM. This is largely a function of committed resources. As you proceed down the tail, you get to popular bloggers who are feeding off the head - the derivative bloggers. You proceed further down the tail and find more of the same. But now, you have a smattering of sites that are not derivative.

By virtue of random combinations of circumstances, some original stories are produced by bloggers. That is, the primary observer role that is normally played by the MSM is being played by some blogger who happens to be somewhere that warrants his or her documentation of events. This mixture of derivative blogs and original story creators continues on down the tail presumably ad infinitum.

Now given the notion that any long-tail phenomenon is a snapshot - a moment in time - the interesting thing is that the blogosphere functions as both an editor and obmudsman of the information distribution system. Those blogs - be they derivative or primary sources - that garner enough attention to move up the tail over time (eventually becoming hits) draw attention to the fact that the MSM has been found wanting in some way.

They (the MSM) have either neglected to report on something (Eason Jordan's gaffe, for example) or they've slanted their coverage (Rathergate). In both cases, the blogosphere, which is predominantly a long-tail phenomenon provides a *feedback mechanism* from information consumers.

I would argue that the most the MSM can expect in terms of displacement by the blogosphere is the never-ending occasional prominence of a non-MSM story in the head of the curve. They'll be getting more egg on their faces, but they'll still be doing their thing 100 years from now.

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  • I'm a writer for the New Yorker magazine, and the author of four books, "The Tipping Point: How Little Things Make a Big Difference", "Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking" and "Outliers: The Story of Success." My latest book, "What the Dog Saw" is a compilation of stories published in The New Yorker. I was born in England, and raised in southwestern Ontario in Canada. Now I live in New York City.

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