There is a really interesting book review in the New Yorker of Harvard Business School professor Anita Elberse’s new book ‘Blockbusters: Hit-making, Risk-taking, and the Big Business of Entertainment’ that pits it against Chris Anderson’s ‘The Long Tail’ from 2006. It suggests that though Anderson talks about the triumph of the small independent media producers and artists thanks to the web, in the end Elberse, who insists on the supremacy of the Hollywood blockbusters, shares some of his thinking because they both imply the end of the mediocre content in the middle. Writer Kelefa Sanneh also invokes Tyler Cowen’s economic view of labour market polarization, in that people who make good content will be rewarded, but the price of accessing this will come down, thanks to services like Netflix – so that’s a good result.
Sanneh’s key point is about the degeneration (or not) of culture. Earlier there was a perception that Hollywood would corrupt society (I think this is still true in many ways), but now because it’s so democratic, there’s less a fear of that and more a fear of how content creators can focus on culture, because people are hiving off to support different artists/producers/directors online wherever they choose. Where do they focus? Where should the investors with the big bucks focus? If the people can vote with their money and create multiple communities of interest around good content, then that’s a good thing in my opinion, and Sanneh says as much:
Each paid-for download, each Kickstarter donation, each movie ticket, each HBO subscription is an affirmative act, and a social one: a contribution to the cause, a vote in favor of Katniss Everdeen or some rookies on Bandcamp, a strike against the demise of whatever part of the entertainment industry still entertains us. Even Elberse’s blockbusting executives look vulnerable: they are producers in a consumers’ paradise, forever scrambling to adjust to the public’s changing whims.