Sunday, 20 January 2008


You'll remember in an earlier posting on "When Buzz in the Social Graph Goes Wrong" I asked whether Britney Spears' recent transformation from being famous to being notorious, would impact on her earnings. Her search figures are still high - number five top search globally on Yahoo - she's in the press and on TV pretty much everyday, and is frequently water cooler conversation across three continents. But is she still getting paid?

A recent report from Conde Nast's suggests that her notoriety has had no impact on her earnings. In fact its the opposite. There is now a Britney Economy no less. said that "To the casual tabloid reader, Britney Spears' life looks like a train wreck. To the Britney Industrial Complex, comprising everyone from paparazzi to perfume vendors, she is a gold mine. Whether she's shaving her head or battling for custody of her children, Britney seems to grow more fascinating (and to some people, more lucrative) every time she stumbles. Recent court documents suggest she's amassed a $125 million fortune and continues to rake in about $737,000 a month, or nearly $9 million a year. But that's chicken feed compared with the overall Britney economy."

You don't need to be a fan to add to the Britney Economy. Just by reading an article about her adds to her notoriety, and moves you from the Britney-aware network, to the Britney-interested network, where the dollars come flying into. My conclusion from all of this is that celebrities, including Britney - whether you hate them or love them - are the social glue that hold many social networks, and consequently cultures together - the invisible connectors we all have in common. No small statement I know! But we use these people as conversational capital, and cultural avatars. We use them to make bonds with strangers, bridge divides with the unfamiliar, and also to put up walls against people we wish to exclude. Britney and her like (frequently unwittingly) help us work out where we stand in the culture, and connect conversationally with others, and that is profitable business.