How do you judge a ‘good’ book? Or a ‘really good’ piece of music? Is there some objective quality these can be measured against? Or is it purely subjective?
Volume of sales doesn't really imply quality for me, either. I understand that very many (young) people enjoy the music of One Direction, but does that mean it’s ‘good’. Likewise the books of E L James. On the other hand, I do think high sales can be an indicator of something – J K Rowling and Nora Roberts didn’t achieve the massive following they have without producing a really good product. But then, not everyone likes either of these, so we’re back to subjective judgements again – just the subjective views of a whole lot of people rather than the individual ones of the experts.
Having a lasting appeal over time actually makes more sense to me as an indicator of quality. I’m not a fan of classical music but I can wonder at and appreciate Mozart, as I can many ‘classical’ books such as Austen or George Elliot or Shakespeare. Being popular over a long period of time does show that the work isn't just suiting a current fashion. The problem with this measure is we have to wait a very long time before we can decide if something is good!
Although I can find reasons not to agree with many judgements on what is good and what isn’t, I do at heart believe there is something to the idea of ‘quality’. I might not be able to define it, but I can recognise it when I see it. Bob Dylan has it, as does Beethoven. Jennifer Crusie has it, as does Margaret Elphinstone, and Graeme Swinson (I strongly recommend his The Rosie Project if you haven’t come across him).
You might say it doesn’t matter, and we should leave everyone to like or dislike what they wish. Which of course is their prerogative. But there’s still this little bit of me that wants to be able to define and classify this…