Num­ber crunch­ing means noth­ing in this cul­ture club

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Opinion -

The re­sults of the first ever “Cul­ture Chart”, which brings to­gether sales of CDs, DVDs, books and com­puter games and shoves them all into the same list, are now be­ing pored over by the pro­fes­sion­als with the sales charts and pro­mo­tional bud­gets.

Ba­si­cally, the chart, com­piled by the En­ter­tain­ment Re­tail­ers As­so­ci­a­tion, de­ter­mines which piece of pop­u­lar cul­ture was the most-bought item in the UK in the first six months of the year. The re­sults are both sur­pris­ing and highly mis­lead­ing.

At No 1 is the that Bond heap of crap Casino Royale, the DVD of which sold 2.3 mil­lion copies. In fact, the first six chart po­si­tions were taken by DVDs. The only two al­bums in the top 10 were Amy Wine­house’s Back to Black and that chal­leng­ing arte­fact of avant-garde rock, Now That’s What I Call Mu­sic. The only book to fea­ture creeps in at No 10: Jed Ruben­feld’s The In­ter­pre­ta­tion of Mur­der.

At first glance, the re­sults seem counter-in­tu­itive. DVDs have a pre-em­i­nent sta­tus; mu­sic CDs and books don’t seem to mat­ter that much; and com­puter games (which we’re al­ways be­ing told the young peo­ple just can’t get enough of) don’t even fea­ture.

As su­per­fi­cially in­ter­est­ing as the Cul­ture Chart may seem, it ac­tu­ally means noth­ing at all. It’s deeply flawed and dis­plays a re­mark­able lack of in­sight into the machi­na­tions of the cul­ture in­dus­try.

The main prob­lem here is that the chart merely re­flects vol­ume sales. The rea­son DVDs take up the first six places is be­cause the film in­dus­try is hit-driven. Far more CDs are re­leased each week than films. Quite ob­vi­ously, CD sales are spread over more ti­tles, which means that no one album has amassed enough sales to break into the top six.

The far fewer DVDs that are re­leased are (gen­er­ally) of the main­stream variety. In fact, if you take a cal­cu­la­tor out and re­ally dig into th­ese re­sults, you will find some­thing strange: more books are sold than ei­ther films or CDs.

Books make up 39.3 per cent of the en­ter­tain­ment re­tail mar­ket, but be­cause peo­ple buy a wide se­lec­tion of ti­tles and not just the ob­vi­ous choices, books sim­ply don’t have the vol­ume of in­di­vid­ual ti­tle sales to dent the higher reaches.

Com­puter games are un­fairly treated by the Cul­ture Chart be­cause they are a much more ex­pen­sive than a DVD or CD. If this chart was com­piled on the ba­sis of sales value – as in the amount of money taken in by any given prod­uct – then com­puter game ti­tles such as Spi­der-Man 3 might have sailed into the top 10. For ex­am­ple, 10 sales of the Spi­der-Man 3

game take in more dosh than 25 sales of Casino Royale.

Our is­land neigh­bours have taken the chart to be a fur­ther ex­am­ple of the strength of Bri­tish cul­ture. Most of the top 10 are Bri­tish-made or pro­duced, but that means noth­ing: lo­cal sales for lo­cal acts al­ways skew the fig­ures. If this chart had taken in US or even Ir­ish sales, a lot of that top 10 would drop down the list.

There’s also the piracy fac­tor. We all know how easy it is to down­load mu­sic for free and more and more hit films are now avail­able for free. This, then, only boosts the sta­tus of books. They sim­ply aren’t pi­rated in any ap­pre­cia­ble num­bers.

So thank you, Cul­ture Chart, but you mean noth­ing. It was a good try, though. bboyd@ir­ish-times.ie. See also: Mi­crosoft gears up for Halo 3 launch, Busi­ness This Week The top 10: 1 Casino Royale (DVD), 2.3 mil­lion copies sold 2 The Queen (DVD), 940,000 3 Happy Feet (DVD), 932,000 4 Hot Fuzz (DVD), 921,000 5 Night at the Mu­seum (DVD), 882,000 6 Bo­rat (DVD), 867,000 7 Back to Black (CD), 764,000 8 The Devil Wears Prada (DVD), 680,000 9 Now That’s What I Call Mu­sic 66 (CD), 633,000 10 The In­ter­pre­ta­tion of Mur­der (book), 620,000

Chart top­per: Casino Royale

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