(continued from previous page)
"For us it's a lot of guesswork at this point, but it seems to be having a positive effect," said Andrew Sullivan, whose Sup Pop Records, a prominent independent label, has worked closely with many of the new blogs and social networks over the last year. "Our record sales are doing well."
Even the largest companies say they are reaching out as a matter of survival. "It seems to me that if you're not looking and working in that space, then you will miss a fair amount of the 14-year-old to 25-year-old generation," said Adam Klein, EMI Music's vice president of strategy. "That's where a huge amount of information and sharing is taking place."
To understand how this tectonic change came about, one should consider the phenomenon of the geeky "Star Trek" convention. Film marketers in particular say the influential new Internet communities are an evolution of earlier offline subcultures created by science-fiction fans, comic collectors or other movie buffs. The difference is that the legions of deeply opinionated geeks are now online, and their cranky or ecstatic reviews are now accessible to millions of others.
Longtime genre film publicist Jeff Walker says he has been bringing directors and stars of movies to science-fiction and comic book conventions for decades, and he says these appearances are as important as ever today. He helped market the recent "Batman Begins" film in much the same convention-hopping way as he did the original 1989 "Batman" film, but with an added online component.
"A lot of people from these Internet sites are at the conventions, and that's the source of what they're writing about," Walker said. "Niche genre marketing has been bubbling under the mainstream, and has certainly been part of marketing any film for a long time."
But if the kingmaking power is slipping off the broad shoulders of Rolling Stone, Spin Magazine or the big-city movie critics, who exactly is taking this responsibility?
At one extreme are widely read publications that have emerged wholly online and have simply grown to the point where their readership rivals any old-media giant. Independent record labels say a top review in the indie-music Web site Pitchfork Media, for example, has the ability to move records off shelves instantly.
Despite their popularity, Pitchfork and its ilk are little more than younger, hipper online versions of print music magazines. Somewhere in the middle of the new taste-making chain are bloggers, who publish their own reviews much as a magazine publisher would but often take a more active role as part of a like-minded community.
In the music world, a recent wave of MP3 bloggers have begun to serve as reliable and popular guides for sometimes hundreds of thousands of people at a time. These sites post full versions of songs, modifying the old review model a step further for the digital age.
True to the Internet's anonymous roots, many of the most influential bloggers had no intention of seeking a public voice at all--which is precisely why they have maintained credibility among their followers. One of the oldest and most prominent of these sites is the 18-month-old Music For Robots, which three friends started as an easy way to share music after moving away from each other.
Today, the site reaches more than 300,000 unique visitors a month, says co-founder Mark Willett. He and his friends are constantly barraged by record labels seeking to promote their bands, and they have brought on several other writers to help fill out the site. One of the bands they have championed, El Ten Eleven, has even credited the blog for helping it secure a record contract.
Even the publishing world, often the last to adopt any high-tech innovations, is beginning to respond to the blogging subcultures.
John Lawton, director of online sales and marketing for Penguin, cited the campaign for the recently released "My War," a book by an Iraq veteran turned blogger. The publishing house sent advance copies of the book to a handful of other prominent writers in "milblogging" circles (those with a military focus) and advertised on several of the blogs.