More Reasons Not To Use Contextomy

I recently saw an article in The Guardian about a controversy that arose from misrepresenting reviews of a book by Jordan Peterson through the use of selective editing.

The Times columnist James Marriott tweeted an image of the cover featuring a quote from his review that appears to endorse the work. In the now deleted tweet, he wrote: “Incredible work from Jordan Peterson’s publisher. My review of this mad book was probably the most negative thing I have ever written.”

The quote attributed to Marriott read: “A philosophy of the meaning of life … the most lucid and touching prose Peterson has ever written.” The actual phrase from Marriott’s review is: “one of the most sensitive and lucid passages of prose he has written”, a description specifically about one chapter in an otherwise almost entirely negative review.

Other reviewers were likewise quoted out of context. The issue is causing one publisher to create a best practices document for their staff.

Nicola Solomon, chief executive of the SoA (Society of Authors), said that “quoting lines out of context isn’t clever marketing”, calling the practice “morally questionable”. Readers and authors “deserve honest, fair marketing from publishers. We can’t get that by undermining and misrepresenting one writer to boost the sales of another. It puts off reviewers from reviewing and readers from buying,” she told the Bookseller.

Solomon is later quoted as noting that this sort of editing of quotes likely qualifies as a criminal act under an English consumer protection regulation from 2008.

It may still be the case, but at one time this sort of creative omission was widespread in relation to movie reviews. I wrote a post about the practice, which is called contextomy, back in 2007. I basically wrote along the same lines as Nicola Solomon that the practice undermines confidence.

It also occurred to me that the growing push to use marketing language focused on the audience experience and needs is another reason to avoid using out of context reviewer quotes…or reviewer quotes at all. Quoting reviews that focus on the excellence of the artist and their achievements is often less helpful in making a decision to participate than customer focused language.

In the process of searching for my post on contextomy, I came across a 2006 post I made about how an obsessive focus on perfection can create an environment where anything less is viewed as a failure.

In there I quote a Juilliard professor:

“…an average graduate of law school or medical school can still have a decent career. But it is not possible, he said, for a successful artist to be only average.”

Shortly after, I quote Artful Manager author Andrew Taylor about the language used in arts marketing materials and grant reports:

Perfection, triumph, success, and positive spin. Their performances are always exceptional. Their audiences are always ecstatic. Their reviews are always resounding (or mysteriously missing from the packet). Their communities are always connected and enthralled. In short, they are superhuman, disconnected, and insincere.

In 2006 arts professionals were saying this sort of language comes across as disconnected and insincere, but it took another 10-15 years before this concept was embraced and repeated often enough for it to gain traction. Hindsight being what it is, that is nearly a decade of what could have been constructive marketing messaging that has been lost.

Though to be fair, social media platforms which are so useful in disseminating these conversations only became publicly available around 2006 (Twitter & Facebook) Linkedin was 2004 but wasn’t really hosting these conversations then.

Strength Of Intent To Return May Be Stronger Predictor Of Return Than Even Enjoyment Of Experience

I recently received an email which directed me to a 2021 study funded by the Wallace Foundation called, What They Say And What They Do which essentially looked at whether people who say they will return to a venue actually do.

Bottom line is yes, the more strongly people express a desire to return, the more likely they are to return. However, as with everything, there are some interesting nuances.

A couple disclaimers, most of which appear right at the start of the presentation. First, this research was conducted pre-Covid. Second, the three organizations that participated were “large, well-established in their discipline and predominantly white.” (Goodman Theatre, Lyric Opera, both in Chicago and Pacific Northwest Ballet in Seattle.) So your mileage may vary.

The study was conducted across the 2014-2019 seasons. Single ticket buyers were surveyed about their interest in returning and then the organizations cross referenced that data with whether the people actually purchased again. The presentation also notes that people who fill out surveys are already engaged with the organization and therefore more inclined to return. Certainly there were many who didn’t fill out the survey that may have returned. I also wondered how many may have returned where a different family member purchased the tickets and used a different email or mailing address that might have been missed.

The finding was that the stronger people expressed their interest in returning on a Likert scale, the more likely they were to return – 49% of single ticket buyers responding as “definitely” and 31% responding “probably” returned within two years. Interestingly, while enjoyment and overall experience were also associated with an actual return, these factors weren’t as strong a predictor of return as stated intent to return.

Based on these responses, the Goodman Theater focused more expensive marketing efforts on those responding they would definitely return and experienced a higher return with that group.

While those 65 and older had slightly higher rates of return, the relation between strength of stated intent to return with an actual return held true across all age groups.

What I really found interesting was that what people said they did or didn’t like was the same whether they returned or not.  The presentation has charts which show responses to enjoyment of the performance and quality of  experience don’t vary a lot between those who do and don’t return. But the word clouds generated from the comments really illustrate how little difference positive and negative elements factored in to whether people returned or not.

I have seen a number of studies saying if you can only ask one question on a survey, it should be whether you would recommend an experience to a friend. Whether you will return yourself seems closely related to that question. While this data is definitely limited, there are hints that stated willingness to return may be a strong indicator that someone will.

Give A Kid A Culture Voucher And They Buy Books As Well As Experiences

I have been keeping an eye on the cultural voucher programs various European countries employ to encourage young people to get out and engage in different experiences. The program differ in detail. There are some that provide rail passes to allow people to explore different geographic areas, including outside their own countries. Others are focused on arts and cultural experiences within the country.  I have written about Germany’s KulturPass before, but I recently caught a story about the most recent round of the program.

According to a recent article, as of August 9, in terms of units purchased since this year’s KulturPass program began on June 14, books and other printed materials have lead the way by far.  Then cinema tickets, concerts and theater, museums and parks, musical instruments, audio media and then sheet music.  In all, about 200,000 units have been purchased in the last two months. About 136,000 German 18 year olds have activated the passes worth €200 (US$219)

In terms of amount spent, concerts and theater lead the way given the greater cost. “….at something around or above €12 million (US$13.2); books follow with so €11 million (US$12.7 million); and cinema tickets follow in third place with €461,000 or more (US$505,900).”

Lest you think Germans are particularly bookish with 49% of voucher funds being used to purchase tomes, Italy has seen similar results with their pass.

“…Italy’s corresponding “18App”—the original “culture voucher” for young citizens in Europe. There, in 2021 specifically, the publishers association reported that 18-year-old Italians were spending 80 percent of their €500 vouchers on books during January and February of that year.”

Obviously, there may be differences in the design and implementation of the pass in Italy that encouraged larger purchases of books. The fact these numbers come from a period 10 months into the Covid pandemic when there were reduced opportunities for other activities likely influences the numbers as well. However, these programs are good examples of a tool to provide bottom up funding to provide a little stimulation to arts and culture organizations.

When Trying To Break Boundaries Threatens To Break Your Spirit

Last week on the Association of Performing Arts Professional’s (APAP) podcast, Emily Isaacson of Classical Uprising talked about some of the frustrating experiences she has had trying to advance her goal of changing the context through which classical music is viewed and experienced.

One of the biggest impediments she has experienced was the view that she isn’t a serious artists because she is a woman and a mother. She shared, apparently for the first time publicly, that a family friend whom she had known since she was a child asked her to partner on creating a music festival, but when they got together to plan their second season, he dismissed her efforts and professionalism.

“He started to call me randomly to tell me that I would never be taken seriously as a musician that because I was a mom, I was distracted that if I thought that my degrees were worth anything, I was kidding myself because real musicians don’t care about degrees,. That I made, I was making a fool of myself on the podium.”

She said the conversation got a lot worse from there. She said she has run up against similar sentiments regarding other programming she has done:

So people wanna label me as a woman conductor, and that’s my whole soapbox. The other thing is they say, “Oh, well, the fact that she wants to do, you know, Hayden’s creation in a park must mean that she’s really not that sophisticated a musician. She’s doing it differently because she can’t hang with the big boys and the old club and you know, this, that, and the other thing.”

Or like, “Oh, isn’t it cute that she wants to do things that are not just four kids, but intergenerational because she’s a mom and so focused on being a mommy and mommy music”, …

I’m advocating for a different way of presenting and producing classical music, so that it is more social and more interactive and more casual, in the way that actually it was originally conceived.

The other thing she says she runs into is the echo chamber type thinking among different organizations. She talks about how when she attended the 2023 APAP conference, she struck up a conversation with the representative of an organization promoting a Breaking Boundaries series. She was somewhat disappointed to learn that their concept of breaking boundaries was presenting works by female composers one year and works by minority composers the next year. This essentially mirrored what so many other orchestra organizations were doing.

I’m good quick on my feet, so I pivoted and I was like, “Another way that you could think about like pushing boundaries, is by thinking about like who we’re performing for, how we’re performing and what, what are the things that we include in the performance that make people feel either included to be there or more connected to the music than they did before?” And I start giving examples from my programs about, doing Flight of the Bumble Beer where you do music flights alongside five-ounce pours of beer or doing Bach Bends Yoga.

Like really, here’s some like con this is not lofty ideas. Here’s some concrete ideas and this person could just not understand what I was talking about. That was so frustrating for me because it made me realize that the national conversation and the conversation that I’m trying to have is just ships passing in the night…

You can listen to the podcast or read the transcript to learn more. Isaacson starts the episode so her story is easy to find.