An interesting concept from John Thompson’s Merchants of Culture which I think has important implications for scholarly publishing. From pg 276-277:
Oprah and Richard and Judy are prime examples of what I shall call ‘recognition triggers’. I use the term ‘recognition trigger’ to refer to those drivers of sales that have three characteristics. First, they are triggers based on a form of recognition that endows the work with an accredited visibility . Thanks to this recognition, the work is now both visible , picked out from an ocean of competing titles and brought into the consciousness of consumers, and deemed to be worthy of being read , that is, worth not only the money that the consumer would have to pay to buy it but, just as importantly, the time they would have to spend to read it. Visible and worthy: a form of recognition that kills two birds with one stone.
The second characteristic is that the recognition is bestowed by individuals or organizations other than the agents and organizations that are directly involved in creating, producing and selling the work. Literary agents, publishers and booksellers cannot produce the kind of recognition upon which recognition triggers depend. They can produce other things, like the buzz and excitement that surround an author or a book, and these forms of laudatory talk can have real consequences, as we have seen. But recognition triggers presuppose that those individuals or organizations who bestow the recognition are, and are seen to be, independent in some way and to some extent from the parties that have a direct economic interest in the book’s success. It is this independence and perception of independence that enables recognition triggers to grant worthiness and explains in part why they can have such dramatic effects.
The third characteristic is that, precisely because recognition is bestowed by individuals and organizations that are independent and seen to be so, it follows that publishers themselves have only a limited ability to influence the decisions that result in the bestowal of recognition, and hence a limited ability to control their effects. They certainly try to influence these decisions where they can, or to second-guess the decision-makers where they can’t directly or indirectly influence them, but at the end of the day the decisions are not theirs. So recognition triggers introduce yet another element of unpredictability into a field that is already heavily laden with serendipity.
Do these recognition triggers exist in scholarly publishing? The obvious example is the journal system itself. The anonymity of peer review is understood to ensure independence and negotiating the peer review process is understand as a marker of quality signifying the paper is worthy of being read.
But the over abundance that characterises scholarly publishing has complicated this, as has the growing functional imperative to self-promote one’s own papers. People will be searching for more ‘recognition triggers’, despite not using the concept, leading to all sorts of competitive dynamics which I think we’ll begin to see over the coming years. I suspect many of them will involve social media.