Posts Tagged ‘Buddy Rich’

Following The EMS Curve

Tuesday, July 16th, 2013

Back when I was teaching college for a few years, one of the things that came up in most of the mass communication classes I taught was the EMS Curve. That’s the idea that all forms of media go through a series of historical transitions that see them move from Elite to Mass to Specialized.

As an example, newspapers were, prior to the 1830s, a form of media aimed generally at the educated and business elite. Covering politics and business and generally ignoring the seamier aspects of life, they were time-consuming to produce and expensive for their subscribers.

Then came the Industrial Revolution. Steam was used to power printing presses that could produce newspapers (and other printed material) much faster and at a far cheaper cost than could the earlier Gutenberg press. The rise of factories led to more and more people living in cities and towns who were eager to know what was happening all around them (and not particularly concerned with theoretical politics or business). And beginning with James Gordon Bennett, who founded the New York Herald in 1835, there were newspaper editors and advertisers who were eager to make money giving pertinent information (and entertainment) to the newly created mass audience.

Wikipedia says: “In May 1835, Bennett began the Herald after years of failing to start a paper. In April 1836, it shocked readers with front-page coverage of the murder of prostitute Helen Jewett; Bennett conducted the first-ever newspaper interview for it. The Herald initiated a cash-in-advance policy for advertisers, which became the industry standard. Bennett was also at the forefront of using the latest technology to gather and report the news, and added illustrations produced from woodcuts. In 1839, Bennett was granted the first ever exclusive interview to a United States President, Martin Van Buren.”

The other huge thing that Bennett did was to charge a minimal amount for his newspaper. I think I recall Bennett’s paper priced at a penny per copy; if not a penny, it was near that, and in any case, his newspaper was the first of what became known as the “penny press.” And while earlier newspapers required year-long subscriptions, the Herald and the flood of imitators that followed sold papers by the single edition. After years of being a product for the elite, newspapers had found their mass audience.

The third stage of the process I’m highlighting here is specialization, in which – in the case of this example – newspapers arise that, instead of aiming at the largest possible audience, look for a smaller audience that has specific interests and needs focused information, both in news copy and in advertising. Think of the Wall Street Journal, providing mostly business and investment information. Think of Variety, offering the folks in show business the specialized information they need. And think of Rolling Stone, which in its earliest incarnation was more of a bi-weekly newspaper than a magazine as it covered music and the counter-culture.

In terms of analyzing roughly the historical trends for any mass medium, the EMS curve is a handy tool. Radio? Because of the cost of a radio set, it was at first available only to those well-off in the 1920s. As prices dropped, radio became the mass medium of choice for both the audience and for advertisers in the 1930s and 1940s. Then, after television took away its mass audience in the 1950s, radio splintered and became a medium mostly for music and then news-talk, and in the years since then, it’s continued to splinter, with stations aiming themselves at narrower and narrower audiences in their markets. (Narrow those audiences might be, but they still, of course, have to be large enough for the station to be desirable to advertisers; a station devoted to, say, the songs of Bob Dylan – both originals and covers – would be fun for the right programmers and the right audience but unlikely to get much of the advertising dollar.)

Magazines? In the pre-steam press days, magazines were, like early newspapers, aimed at the elite. In general, they were journals of philosophy and science and politics. Popular magazines arose in the mid-1800s, and titles such as McCall’s and Ladies Home Journal date to the latter portion of that century; the 1900s brought Time, Newsweek, Life and Look and other magazines with massive audiences. And now? Go look at the magazine rack in your nearest grocery store, and you’ll see hundreds of titles aimed at the narrowest of audiences. Whether your deal is quilting, gourmet cooking, rock-climbing, antique collecting or something else, there’s a magazine or two (or more) out there for you.

The computer and the Internet? Just think about it. We’ve seen them evolve from bulky monsters that took up rooms and were owned by the government, the military or major corporations to household tools that brought everyone together on AOL, and beyond that to a medium that offers – among other delights – millions of wordy writers of musical memoirs like me places to hang their digital hats. EMS!

And I noticed another in the past week or so. Mom was looking for a sympathy card for a family in her church, and we wandered through the Hallmark store at the mall. And darned if there wasn’t three sympathy cards tagged “Loss of daughter.” I imagine that if you examine the history of greeting cards, you’d find the same rough development through the years: elite, then mass, then specialized.

Well, that’s enough of that. We’ll close today, as we almost always do, with some appropriately titled music. Here’s the Buddy Rich Big Band with a track from a live album recorded between March 30 and April 1, 1970, at the Tropicana in Las Vegas. It’s the album’s title track, a brassy cover of Paul Simon’s “Keep The Customer Satisfied.”