Your Lying Eyes

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02 May 2005

Print Media Decline Continues

Overall circulation declines 1.9% since last year, no doubt due to further internet in-roads. Print media is doomed, of course, but so is all other media as we know it. For a very brief time in human history (about 100 years), large entities (publishing houses, record companies, movie studios, broadcasters - we'll call them "corporations") took advantage of the sudden availability - though at a cost too great for individual exploitation - of mass-distribution technology (printing presses, film, radio waves) to make unimaginably huge sums of money providing entertainment to the people. The good news was lots of people experienced things they never would have otherwise. The bad news was that they did so on the corporations' terms.
We are now at the end of this brief period (hardly long enough to be termed an "era") and it will be looked on as an anomaly. Before the anomaly people generally entertained each other. Some particularly skillful entertainers would be paid for entertaining and some entrepreneurial types would even be paid for arranging the entertainment. This approach will continue after the anomay. But now, given the cheap cost of distribution, the entertainment will be available more widely. Of course gone will be the days when certain entertainers will be earning unfathomable amounts of money due to their popularity. Nor will corporations be able to haul in vast sums of money by monopolizing entertainment.
Is this a bad thing? Only if you think that Shakespeare, Beethoven and Dickens are examples of poor entertainment. Sure, there will never again be a Beatles phenomenon, but that was never going to happen again. The Beatles were the logical extreme of the anomoly - a massively appealing though never before heard of form of entertainment - rock'n'roll - suddenly seized on and exploitedly by a few unusually talented individuals. Nothing like it has happened in the 40 years since.
Not that the role of the corporation in controlling entertainment will be completely eradicated - there will be pockets of it such as HBO's "The Sopranos" and certain niche movies will continue to be made. But as the ability to copy and distribute entertainment becomes cheaper and cheaper the willingness to invest huge amounts of money into developing mass entertainment will become too risky. The only way this will be avoided will be via Stalinist enforcement of copyright law. There will be some of that, but it won't last. My prognosis - 10 years, and the beast is dead.


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