Sunday, February 17, 2013

Review: Contagious

Word-of-mouth often leads to popularity, or notoriety. It is much more effective than any form of traditional advertising and it seriously impacts the products people buy, the way they behave, and what they discuss.

So, how do you get it? What makes people talk about certain subjects rather than others? What makes some online content go viral? According to marketing professor Jonah Berger, the answer came be found in the psychology of social transmission.

Berger and his colleagues in the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania studied hundreds of products, analyzed thousands of news articles, and tracked millions of purchases in an effort to understand why people talk about and share certain things more than others with the objective of helping marketers By applying this knowledge to their own products and ideas, marketers craft "contagious" content that is more likely to spread.

"We noticed that the same six 'ingredients' or principles were often at work," Berger explains. "Six key STEPPS, as I call them, that cause things to be talked about, shared, and imitated."

Berger's six STEPPS to contagiousness are delineated as Social Currency, Triggers, Emotion, Public, Practical Value, and Stories. Each chapter of his book, Contagious, focuses on one of these principles with research and examples showing how individuals, companies and organizations have applied them to help popularize their products and ideas.

Berger's book has some clear and important implications for anyone selling something, whether it is broccoli at a farmers market or an e-book online. By understanding why people talk about and share things, you can make your own product more contagious.

Why Things Catch On
by Jonah Berger
Simon & Schuster, 2013

Selling Points

Buy Direct Directory
Open Market
Guidebooks and How-to Titles

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Review: Making Peg Dolls

"When we watch children immersed in imaginative play, and one child presents us with a bit of wood saying, 'This is my baby,' these imaginings of children at play cross the expanses of history and culture to connect us in a universal way," writes author Margaret Bloom in her introduction to this book of peg doll inspirations.

Originally created from wooden laundry pegs, the dolls in this book are designed in the Waldorf education tradition that encourages imaginative play and emotional development through neutral faces and minimal features.

The 60 designs and patterns for peg dolls included in this book are arranged by season, Spring through Winter, with three fairy tale sets in the back of the book for making dolls for The Three Bears, Red Riding Hood, and Hansel and Gretel. Introductory chapters review materials and techniques and offer a glossary of stitches.

by Margaret Bloom
Hawthorn Press, 2013

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Review: Fruit Fields in My Blood

by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 1992. All rights reserved.

The fruit orchards of the Northwest are a seasonal home to a little-known subculture of migratory workers known as the "Okies" -- a mixture of people whose parents and grandparents left Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri and Texas during the 1930s to follow the crops.

The Dust Bowl days of the Great Depression that prompted their first migration are a distant memory, but many Okies remained in the fruit fields 50 years later, pursuing a peripatetic lifestyle by choice that their grandparents followed out of necessity.

Author Toby Sonneman and her husband, photographer Rick Steigmeyer, discovered the Okies 20 years ago when they abandoned their unsatisfying city lives and took jobs as itinerant fruit pickers in central Washington. They spent a half dozen years on the "fruit run," traveling back and forth across the country from orchard to orchard, all the while keeping a record of their experiences in words and pictures.

"For all the hardships -- low pay, low status, back-breaking work, and often poor conditions in the field and inadequate housing -- most of the people who work in the fields and the orchards are not downtrodden, beaten individuals," Sonneman writes.

Her text emphasizes the self-esteem of individuals and the cohesiveness of a community that mainstream society failed to recognize.

Steigmeyer's black-and-white photos -- mostly from the 1970s -- aptly illustrate this viewpoint. His intimate portraits and slice-of-life pictures of migrant camps, bosses, children and orchards portray an earthy, hard-working and close-knit people.

"Since the Great Depression little has been heard of the Okie migrants. They are considered extinct, as if all the poor white southern migrants had been absorbed into America's melting pot," writes Sonneman, who grew up as a Jewish high school student on Chicago's South Side.

"Cultural assumptions of an educated, middle-class society have often prevented Okie migrants from being understood or visible beyond the images from the Great Depression. Yet many Okies have remained in agricultural work by choice rather than by economic bondage, carving a unique niche in the history of agricultural labor.

Fruit Fields in My Blood, which won the 1992 Western States Book Awards for creative nonfiction, follows the annual summer migration of pickers from the cherry orcards of central California to the Tri Cities, Wenatchee and Flathead Lake in Montana. Come fall, they harvest plums, pears and apples in Wenatchee and Cashmere. And in winter many go south to Florida to pick citrus.

Sonneman describes the work of fruit picking in these places and gives voice to the Okies' beliefs and concerns. Their judgments can be brutally honest or hardened with bitterness. A picker who made the long trek from Wenatchee to Montana only to find the cherries at Flathead Lake ruined by rain told Sonneman, 
"Well, it usta be we'd come up here and they'd just guarantee us a place to stay and two, three hundred dollars even is the cherries was all busted, just so a guy didn't lose nothin'. But now you know they got these Meskins workin' out there and they stopped doin' that."

Another picker agreed: "People can go out there and work for years and years for the same farmers and be just as loyal as they can about picking his good and his bad, workin' for whatever price he wants to pay and everything, thinking that he'll treat them right, and then all of a sudden you got out there one year and he's got all wetbacks out there, tellin' you he don't need you anymore."

This over-supply of labor that leads to lower piece-rates has driven most of the modern-day Okies from the fruit fields, according to Sonneman. She also blames child labor laws that prohibit families from working together and higher gas prices that make the migratory life less profitable.

The Okie lifestyle may be nearing its final harvest. If so, Sonneman and Steigmeyer may have come along just in time to collect the ripe fruits of a poorly appreciated people.

"Although they are regarded with disdain and encouraged by schools, communities, and government organizations to leave agricultural work rather than to improve it, these people have miraculously clung to their self-respect, believing in the dignity and value of their work. A sense of pride sustains them."

Okie Migrants in the West
by Toby F. Sonneman, with photographs by Rick Steigmeyer
University of Idaho Press, 1992.