Cumulative Advantage, or how the hit factory works like a monopoly

If you play the same song to lots of different people, they will like it more if they know it is popular.

That’s what that article explains, from a careful experiment of social-proof vs independent tastes in songs. (It’s by Duncan Watts from the music department of Columbia where they did the research.)

So the more you appear to be liked by the early taste-makers, the more the latecomers will like you.

I think we all know this.

But we still say “well some people must actually like that manufactured hit”.

In fact, no. Great songs totally failed and bad songs did great in their simulated music worlds.

Popularity is like a monopoly in that sense. Being the oil baron Rockefeller or being Justin Bieber are similar — you may get the monopoly through hard work and luck, but then you have a franchise that lets you print money.

Society has one cultural pyramid atop which a few superstars make all the “economic rents”. That’s the type of stuff that deserves to be regulated. If you don’t like it, go be a star in Latvia.

Cumulative Advantage + Superstar Effect in compensation = a driver of market distortion.

Seems to me it’s a myth that superstars “deserve to earn” what they earn because they work so hard: at least half of what makes the hits is the system of Cumulative Advantage, and plenty of anonymous hard workers earn a fraction as much.