- It makes increasingly less sense even to talk about a publishing industry, because the core problem publishing solves—the incredible difficulty, complexity, and expense of making something available to the public—has stopped being a problem.’ Are digital and networked media dismantling the “publishing industry”? Is it being replaced? If so, what is replacing it? If not, what is the publishing industry becoming, and how is it doing so? Are there new difficulties and complexities or expenses involved?
Digital and networked media are both an answer to the demise and the continuation of the publishing industry. The publishing industry is being dismantled as we know it but it is evolving. Publishing has always been a product of the technologies available – it’s efficiency solving the difficulty, expense and complexity is reliant upon the technology that makes that available. The Publishing industry thus evolves due to the changes in technology and as a response to the public demand. Through looking at the history of cinema and film distribution from the 20th century until now, this essay will explore the complexities that arise from an ever-changing publishing platform that is driven by technology and social needs and how that affects the hierarchies of publishing.
Television was to cinema as networked media is to content distribution. The history of cinema is short in terms of all the publishing methods humanity has to offer, but with the continual advancement of cinematic technology and distribution, history has already begun repeating itself.
From the creation of motion pictures from Edison’s short films with the creation of the Kinetoscope in America in 1893, to cinematograph patented by Lumiere brothers in France 1894, Hollywood had created an oligopoly in the motion picture industry by 1930. The whole world had a film industry but none were so successful as Hollywood was and still is today (to varying degrees), which can be accredited to their publishing techniques.
In the beginning of the new film technologies, inventors and early filmmakers sought to share their experimentations with film through already existing entertainment businesses. Film was the newcomer to the entertainment business and so had to adhere to the already existing hierarchy of the industry which meant having films exhibited in vaudeville shows and fairs. The popularity of these inventions led then to the nickelodeons, “that from 1905 to 1910 presenent hour-long all-movie shows; and it was the nickelodeon that formed the basis of the film industry that within a decade became Hollywood” (Gomery, 1998, p. 246).
It was clear that the public wanted cinema, and so it continued to evolve. Hollywood created the Studio System, a financially viable way of producing and distributing the complex technology of film for a profit.
Hollywood’s Big Five, the five most powerful and influential corporations, Paramount, Loew’s (MGM), Fox Film (later 20th Century Fox) Warner Bros., and RKO all used the process of vertical integration to secure their market. Between 1929 and 1948 the weekly motion picture attendance averaged at 85 million (Belton, 2013, p.322). The Big Five took up three quarters of the average box office receipts (Gomery, 1998, p.247) by block booking theatres so that only their films were shown for a number of weeks, before letting smaller theatre companies have the rights to show their films.
After World War II, the industry began to struggle. Hollywood had already lost its monopoly on distribution due to the Antitrust Paramount movement which decreed they could no longer use block booking but more importantly there was a change in technology and a change in social structures.
Hollywood was suddenly up against the demands of Television, which became the preferred American recreation. Due to the baby boom after 1949, Americans began to stay at home a lot more, move out of the inner cities and create family lives in suburban areas, away from the theatres.
The new technology of Television meant that families could stay at home with free entertainment, albeit funded by advertising. By 1960 90% of American home had televisions and this meant a change in the hierarchy of the entertainment industry.
Whilst the American masses were changing the way in which they spent their leisure time – post world war 30 million americans took up gardening, the sale of power tools went up 700%, $21 million was spent on fishing licenses and $800 for sporting goods (Belton, 2013, p. 324) – Hollywood had to change the way it did its business.
Drive in movie theatres, 3D movies, Cinerama were all created to combat the television, to create a viewing experience that could only be had at the movies. Technology has thus been continually reinvented and improved so that previous publishing oligarchies could regain power but also, to suit the social needs of a nation, and also the world.
The Film Industry’s new challenge is the networked age. With the new technology of the Internet, the world has become increasingly more connected, a networked age that has lead to the ability for people to find and distribute their own information. What this globalization means for the industry can be summarized by Michel Bauwen’s analogy of the Roman Empire:
“For example, faced with an increasing crisis of extensive globalization, the Roman Empire could not longer afford the same kind of extensive militarization and coercive power which could maintain a slave-based system. Faced with structural crisis, and probably combined with a pressure from below in the form of slave revolts, some slave owners started their slaves into coloni, the earliest form of serfdom (a different process is also mentioned by historians, that of freeholders converting to serfdom). For slaves, this was undoubtedly an advance, as they could now have families, construct local communities, and only had to give part, instead of the totality, of their produce to the new domain lords. This new system, which created enhanced motivation, more autonomy and interest for innovation, was more productive than slavery.”
How does Social Change Occur: P2P Theory vs. Socialist Theory, 2009
We can use this analogy to describe the relationship with the Film Industry and Pirating communities. Due to the globalisation of the world, people are connected instantaneously over social networks, there is a new precedent for the speed in which we create and share content with eachother. Which means for the traditional forms of publishing and distribution, they have a new structural crisis in which their slaves, or consumers, are able to create their own content and share or they are able to circumnavigate the hierarchies and acquire the content they want. This would not be an issue if our modern day Romans evolved with the times and changed their distribution methods.
The new methods of peer-to-peer torrenting has created an interest for innovation, enhanced motivation and is more effective than the traditional methods of distribution. By using slow release methods of making content available only on certain platforms in certain mediums, such as a rental DVD that can only be leased in America and the UK, all those who are excluded from that opportunity can now find faster means to access that content.
Through the refusual to innovate earlier, torrenting and piracy has been pegged as an a corruption of an industry rather than the industry’s failure to evolve. The Film Industry is still operating of a free market basis, in which the values of capitalism are prescribed to, however the social and economic tide is shifting and it seems as though we are moving towards a more commons based society.
“A commons-based society holds considerable appeal for progressives after a long period in which the bulk of their political work has been in reaction to initiatives from the right. Activists across many social movements, now aware that an expansive political agenda will succeed better than narrow identity politics and single-issue crusades, are starting to experiment with the language and ideas of the commons. This line of thinking also makes sense to some traditional conservatives who regret the wanton destruction of our social and environmental assets carried out in the name of a free-market revolution. In the truest sense of the word, the commons is a conservative as well as progressive virtue because it aims to conserve and nurture all those things necessary for sustaining a healthy society.”
Jay Walljasper, The Commons Moment is Now, 2011
Through this rejection of an industry that is consumer based in old models of free market we are moving towards a commons ideal market where access to information, and entertainment, is shared freely. Though the old hierarchies will still resist.
Because of the inability to adapt to social demand and new technologies, we have seen many law suits taken up against BitTorrent, Mega Video Upload, The PirateBay, etc, due to Copyright Law infringement. Lawsuits have also been taken up against idividual torrentors, with the Film Industry often winning out, costing torrenting companies and individuals their money and their freedom. Yet these legal actions have not abated the trend of torrenting. In a recent case Lions Gate has filed for a restraining order on BitTorrent websites due to the torrenting of their film Expendables 3, requesting that “the Court enter a temporary restraining order, a preliminary injunction and a permanent injunction … prohibiting Defendants [and others] from … hosting, linking to, distributing, reproducing, performing, selling, offering for sale, making available for download, streaming or making any other use of any copy or copies of the Stolen Film or any portion thereof in any form.” (IBT, 2014).
Yet this is in contention to the Pirate manifesto which states that:
- “ The right to property arises from within individuals, but the machinery which creates property is a social construction. Throughout time new forms of property have been developed, starting with nomads settling on land and continuing through shares in limited liability corporations, copyright and patents. Not one of these forms of property was an inherent right before the form of property was created: rather they are socially constructed expressions of a fundamental right to property, in the same way that a newspaper is a socially constructed expression of the right to free speech.
- In the long run, no form of property or rights is beyond our ambition. Copyright and patent are relatively young laws, in a state of flux because of new technology, and therefore are our first targets for radical sanity. However, it is not beyond imagination that Pirate policy may extend to all fundamental human rights and the environment given time. A learning approach to politics gives us time to work on what we are sure of now and develop a wider mandate in time.”
Bruce Sterling, And Yet Another Pirate Manifesto, 2009
As Bauwen’s has stated before, “fundamental change is only achieved by a congruence of change, both from the bottom and from the top, a double reconfiguration of classes to the new system” (2009), the fundamentals of both concepts of market and commons must be met, and perhaps has.
We are beginning to see a change in the way that the film industry is operating with the creation of sites such as Netflix and soon to be Australian answer Stan. By embracing the technology of P2P and streaming the industries are able to create a product that can be sold for money and can be distributed fairly and evenly. By opening up the market but still requesting a cost through these systems we could be seeing a creation of a new method of publishing filmic content. It is essential that there are reforms to copyright policy and distribution laws but what could be created is the prolonging of existing publishing industries under a new business model.
It is not the new networked era that is destroying the traditional publishing industries of old as they have never existed solely in one form. Along with social demand and the creation of new technologies, publishing industries are continuously reinventing themselves. The industry replaces itself with new versions of itself in response to societal and cultural changes.
Gomery, D., “Hollywood as an Industry” in the Oxford Guide to Film Studies, eds. John Hills and Pamela Church Gibson, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998, pp. 246-245
Belton, J., “Hollywood in the Age of Television”, American Cinema/American Culture, New York: McGraw Hill, 2013, pp. 3-40
Baweuns, M., How does Social Change Occur: P2P Theory vs. Socialist Theory, 2009
Walljasper, J., The Commons Moment is Now, 2011
http://www.commondreams.org/views/2011/01/24/commons-moment-now (last accessed 7/11/14)
Sterling, B., And, Yet Another Pirate Manifesto, 2009
http://www.wired.com/2009/10/and-yet-another-pirate-manifesto (last accessed 7/11/14)
Varandani, S., ‘The Expendables 3’ Leak: LionsGate Takes Legal Action Against Torrent Sites, International Business Times, 2014