Internet’s Impact on Print Media Only Part of the Story

Playwright Alena Smith, describing the faded fortunes of American playwrights, notices that the impact of the Internet extends far beyond the print media:

This is what happens to “old media,” after all — new media rise up and displace them. We are clearly in the midst of such a conflict right now, as the internet has seized control of the global cultural economy, upending established industries and eroding formerly paramount institutions from book publishers to the music industry to print newspapers and magazines to now, finally, even the mighty television networks. Rough times lie ahead for the television industry, and these challenges will inevitably impact its writers.;

Side note: We’ve joined this revolution by dropping our cable service several years ago (saving ourselves over $100/mo). Now we do all of our “television” viewing online, Internet only.

Smith continues:

As internet pioneer turned techo-skeptic Jaron Lanier starkly puts it in his 2010 screed You Are Not a Gadget, “Once file sharing shrinks Hollywood as it is now shrinking the music companies, the option of selling a script for enough money to make a living will be gone.” Lanier’s warning may seem hyperbolic, but unrestricted file sharing is surely what undermined the music industry, and it’s what’s hurting the world of journalism, too. In a sense, the internet caused the unbundling of both the music album and the print newspaper — and in doing so, severely damaged both industries. The trouble comes down to simple economics of supply and demand in the digital age. When infinite copies of a work of art can be made and distributed globally in an instant, supply is limitless, and the value of an individual copy gets pushed down to zero. But of course, the original cost of creating a work of art in the first place, for the creator, does not change a bit. Writers still need to eat, pay rent, and feed their families. They just can’t necessarily rely on profits from their actual work to compensate them for that endeavor. This is how a profession gets demonetized. This is how a job — a living — gets reduced to a hobby.

Notice too Smith’s perspective on net neutrality:

The platform where nearly all of culture now takes place is, in fact, owned and controlled by a handful of incredibly powerful, borderline-monopolistic corporations. And these are the companies, like Amazon, now getting into “the scripted game.” We’ve already seen the types of problems that can arise under this new arrangement — for example, in the recent conflict between Amazon and the publishing company Hachette. In an era where Amazon is responsible for 65 percent of all online book sales, and 41 percent of book sales, period, their thuggish negotiation tactics can be potentially calamitous for a publishing company, and devastating for individual writers. If this is how Amazon treats the writers of books, how well can we expect them, as producers or distributors, to treat the writers of TV shows? Similar questions can be asked about any of the powerful new platform owners — in particular, the telecom companies that actually control the physical cables and routers through which all our media now travels. The fight for net neutrality is the fight to stop the internet from becoming a place where giant telecom companies are able to dictate terms to every creator who wishes to distribute content through their pipes. And screenwriters’ livelihoods depend on it.

Read the full article here: “You Can’t Make a Living: Digital Media, the End of TV’s Golden Age, and the Death Scene of the American Playwright

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Comments

3 Responses to “Internet’s Impact on Print Media Only Part of the Story”
  1. RL Crabb says:

    All true. The great unraveling has destroyed the ability to make a living under the rules we grew up with. I spent many years in the publishing business and never had a problem selling my work. After the turn of the century it had mostly dried up, and the last publisher I freelanced for dissolved his assets in 2006 because he knew it would be impossible to sell the business. This was also true of local book distributor Bud Plant. In the 80’s, Bud was the largest distributor of sci-fi, fantasy and comics in the US, but he sold off his stock a few years ago after the business had been for sale for over a year.
    When I attempted to find a publisher for my graphic novel last year, the friends I still have in the biz offered sympathy, but little else. I published through an online print on demand publisher and managed to sell enough to make my expenses back, but little else. (Which was okay with me. I never expected to get on the NY Times bestseller list.) This seems to be the norm with other artists I talk to. Some have done alright because they have built an audience. That was the case with my “Once Upon a Village” book. Having a strip in The Union really helped.

  2. RL Crabb says:

    Here’s one of the new alternatives to traditional media… http://www.patreon.com/keefknight

  3. Don Pelton says:

    RL: Thanks for your interesting comments. They reinforce the point of that article, which is a kind of eye-opener for me. Until recently I’ve been a sort of uncritical booster of all the changes wrought by the new Internet to the old media.

    But now — and especially with this article and your comments — I’m concerned about the downside.

    It’s important for creative types such as yourself to continue to do what you love. It’s worrisome if your only choice is between pursuing your craft as a “mere” hobby on the one hand, or seeking patrons (as in that link you just added) on the other.

    I suppose it’s not bad (in principle) to find new ways to “monetize” artistic creations, but if these new ways tend toward making artists slaves of monopolists, then we should all be worried.

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