On Appealing to the Lowest Common Denominator

I know this is not a new phenomenon, I know it is actually one of the core pillars of democracy and capitalism but I think it’s a real problem that we all need to be aware of.  It’s a problem because sometimes the lowest common denominator is not the best option.

Let me get something out there before I get accused of being elitist, the lowest common denominator is not always a bad thing.  Just because something is popular does not make it bad, I don’t believe that.  The problem comes when people actively try to target the lowest common denominator, when media, art and politics try to exploit the masses.  The problem is when it works.

Now I’m going to approach this from the standpoint of an “artist”.  That’s because that is where I have the most experience (if you can call it that) and that’s where I’m trying to break out.  When I started self-publishing my books that portion of the industry was dominated by ‘romance’ and erotica novels and novellas.  It might still be, I haven’t paid much attention to that market in a while.  The way to make money self-publishing was to write erotica, everything else was a waste of time.

I remember reading countless forum posts from people who had quit their jobs to write full time.  They were writing niche erotica ‘novels’ of about 30,000 words or less, dropping a new book every month or so.  This was not what I wanted to do as a writer, I didn’t want to appeal to the lowest common denominator just to make a buck.

That’s what it comes down to a lot of the time, that is why people appeal to that market.  In order to make it big and to make the most money possible you have to appeal to the broadest audience which is the lowest common denominator.  This is what is called “selling out” and you see it in music, film and the games industry.  In gaming it is called appealing to ‘casuals’ or gamers who don’t have enough time to develop the skills to be good at a particular game.

This change is often hailed as the end of the game (or bands or artists) golden years and a move to becoming just another corporate money making machine.  I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with this though, people need to make money off what they do and if they can make more money by attracting a broader audience then all the power to them.  The problem for me is one more of integrity.

I’ve never wanted the rich and fancy life.  All I want is to be able to spend my days doing something I enjoy while living a life that is comfortable.  I don’t want the fast car or huge house, I just want that contentment that comes from perfecting a craft.  I want to be able to pay for my shelter and food by pursuing this craft.  I’m not after crazy titles or a corner office, I just want a simple good life.

That is why I don’t see the need to appeal to the lowest common denominator with my art.  That is why I’m planning projects that I enjoy doing.  If I make money from them then that’s a bonus.  The point is that I am doing something I love while being true to myself.  I am following a vision while not worrying about how it will sell to the ‘everyman’.  Sure it’s bad business, but if I look at art like a business I lose the point.

While there is nothing wrong with people appealing to the lowest common denominator, and I don’t disparage that group, it’s not something I want to do.  The goal for every artist I guess is to keep their integrity while also making loads of money.  There are rare cases where this happens, either with movies or books.  The odd case of a literary novel reaching the top of the best seller list.  I don’t hold out hope for this, but if my work (either my books or games) can reach a few people and make their lives more enjoyable while providing me with a living than that’s all I need.

Sorry for the long gap in posting, I’ve been busy lately with life and projects and sadly this blog is easy enough to leave on the side until I have time.  I want to be better though, here’s hoping I can keep up some more regular posting.

As always thanks for reading my random ramblings.

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