Friday, July 05, 2013

Weekend Reading: The Changing Entertainment Landscape Edition

I've been thinking recently about the changing entertainment landscape, and what it means for people who create the things other people read, watch, look at and listen to as entertainment.

This is a topic I think about a lot. I don't necessarily want to make my living from writing things (although, I won't rule that out as a future option!) but I want it to be a viable career choice for other peopl, just like I want musician and artist to be a viable career choice. And I suppose I want filmmaker to be a viable career choice, although I personally am less drawn to that art form for my own entertainment.

I think the career landscape for creative types is changing right now, and I can't decide if I think the changes will ultimately increase or decrease the viability of being a creative type as a career choice. To be fair, the career landscape is changing for a lot of us right now, but it seems the changes are particularly profound in entertainment. Or maybe they are just particularly public.

Anyway, I came across an article on TechCrunch about a talk Lucas and Spielberg gave at USC about how they think the current business model of the film industry is unsustainable. Part of me thinks "Good! The current model is sexist and it is time for it to change." (See my recent weekend links post for more from that part of me.)  But part of me feels a little sorry for the people trying to make a go of it in the film industry- not the people on the top, but the average people who just want to make a living working in film, and are probably having a heck of a time figuring out how to guide their careers right now.

The TechCrunch article says that Lucas and Speilberg "suggest the marketplace will contract because there isn’t enough time in the week for us to go to the movies anymore. With Netflix producing top quality content, and video games cutting into weekends, it leaves little room for date night out at the cineplex. It’s getting so bad that Lucas complains about how hard it is even for him to get a film in a theater. This should probably make producers of films nervous."

That came to mind again when I followed a link from @Scalzi to a post his agent Evan Gregory wrote about changes in the book industry

Gregory writes about how all companies selling media are competing in a battle for people's attention, which he calls the Battle for the Pile of Eyeballs, and then he makes some interesting observations about the consequences of how that battle is currently impacting books and reading:

"Amazon, Google and Apple can tell you what you might like based on what you do like, but they can't tell what you should like based on what you feel like. In short, there isn't an App for that."

"If you remove accidental discovery from the picture, what kind of book culture do you create?  If most content must be accessed through a device, utilizing software, delivered by a digital distribution platform, to what extent are we yielding a part of the experience of discovery to the proprietary marketing algorithms of giant conglomerates?"

"There ought to be room for physical books, bookstores, and even independent e-book publishers and online stores.  A lush and diverse media marketplace benefits everyone, and as consumers we ought to be aware of how we consume media, and to what extent we are feeding systems of proprietary control. Book culture should be determined by people who read books, not by device manufacturers, or online retailing conglomerates, or anyone whose primary interest is separate from the interest of readers."

All good points, and the rest of the post is interesting, too. Go read it!

Obviously, I am not anti-Amazon. But I have been thinking about how the big algorithms don't necessarily have a goal of steering me to what I really want- they have a goal of steering me to something that I'll want enough to buy. I'm still thinking, but I may start adding some more variety into how I find my books. I don't currently have a lot of time to visit physical bookstores, but I can buy my eBooks from other sources in addition to Amazon, and maybe I'll start doing that.

But as I said, I'm not sure all of these changes are necessarily bad for creative types. As an example of how they can be good, I point you to this blog post from author Alex Schvartsman about his Great Short Story EBook Experiment. There is no denying that the digital marketplace gives authors options they didn't have before. The trick is figuring out how to take advantage of those options. Amazon does not necessarily have the authors' backs- for instance, despite the fact that I have repeatedly searched on Amazon for short eBooks to buy, I have never found Mr. Schvartsman's short stories. Now that I know what to look for, I went and found one and bought it. So maybe the system is working... but I suspect Mr. Schvartsman would have preferred I find his stories in my earlier searches.

So that's one great unsolved question of this new entertainment era we're in: how to help interested consumers find the entertainment on offer? The search engines and recommendation algorithms aren't quite there yet- and maybe, like Evan Gregory argues, they'll never be there. Maybe we really can't search our way out of this conundrum, and need to build up better systems for purposeful browsing and even serendipitous discoveries.

And of course, if we find the answer to that question, there is a second, even thornier one to answer: how to convince people to pay for their entertainment when so much is out there for free? One of my current favorite bits of media is this:

And I honestly have no idea at all how the people who created it get paid. None. Maybe they get a cut of the advertising revenues? I just don't know. (They've done two more videos in the series, but the first is still my favorite.)

How about you. How do you find your entertainment? Do you know how the people who made it get paid?


  1. Great post. I always appreciate your thoughtful analysis. One thing you might not be aware of is that Amazon and other booksellers outright manipulate, not just search results, but their bestseller lists too. Then, on top of that, they try to tailor results to your shopping history.

    It's a virtual shopping reality that removes consumers' autonomy without their awareness or permission. This is great for booksellers, because they make more money and no one complains.

    Some links you might find interesting:

    (I'm an indie author by the way and I've had my work removed from search results many times while silliness like Fifty Shades of Gray carries on unfettered. There are books Amazon won't even let users find. This really does happen. You can do a title and name search and you will not see my 'hidden by Amazon' books.

    It is interesting to me that the 'hiding of books' disproportionately affects indie authors who also, coincidentally, offer lower profit margins as our sales prices are much lower than traditionally published books.)


    1. Anonymous4:23 PM

      We have an unwritten post in our drafts about how the "long tail" is gone. Back when Netflix started, it was awesome because people would recommend things that other people had never heard of, and even the most obscure movies were getting watched.

      I suspect they deliberately killed this ability-- that's why we can no longer even see names attached to recommendations (much less follow people whose reviews we like or see what our friends have enjoyed). They want to control what people are watching rather than letting people find more things to watch. A quick google of netflix long tail shows I'm not alone in this suspicion.

      Which is a bummer. There was a dude named Mustafa who had horrible taste in movies (we were like 17% compatible) but amazing taste in anime. I haven't really found a new good anime series to watch since I stopped being able to search for his reviews. More time for blogging, I guess.

    2. Thanks for the links! I'll check them out.

  2. Alexicographer7:16 PM

    Great post and topic.

    I have only joined the e-reader world (Kindle) in the past 6 months and don't watch (much) TV or movies (last seen: War Horse, no, wait -- Quartet!), so am certainly not typical.

    I also basically don't buy books (because I don't want to own them; most, I read once and never again so I don't need to keep them). So I get my e-reader material from my public library, and have found that unless I'm looking for a specific title/author (which would reflect having had a friend or a blogger recommend it -- I got Quiet at your suggestion, for which, thanks, or having read a review likely in the NYT), the easiest way by far to find something is to go to the "recently returned" link and scan through it. If I search by topic, category, etc., everything I want is checked out; this avoids that problem. I have to scan past a bunch of James Patterson and John Grisham but have found things I had never heard of, yet really enjoyed (most recently, Incredibly Fast and Extremely Close). So it's certainly not perfect, but perhaps there's a marginal advantage to this crowd-sourcing approach (I might in the crowd bump into someone unlike me, but with good taste in books).

    But ... yes, agree on your basic point about the nature of the problem, and not sure of its implications or solutions.

    1. Alexicographer6:47 PM

      Oh, and, of course clearly I am part of the problem (not buying books) and not part of the solution. Although I do support my local library! And I do, come to think of it, give books as gifts (usually either things I've read or seen reviewed).

    2. I don't think using the library is being part of the problem. Libraries pay for their books! Downloading pirated copies... now that is part of the problem.

  3. Hate to admit it (because it implies that Facebook got it right), but most of my reading material is through other peoples' recommendations, either through people I know, or through curated lists (by Amazon members or through Goodreads).

    I remember back when Goodreads first launched - I didn't think it would be viable because I couldn't imagine that there would be a need for a separate review resource outside of a mass retailer like Amazon. But I think your distinction captures what people on Goodreads are looking for - things they they'll enjoy reading, not just things that they're most apt to purchase.

    On a somewhat related topic, since you're someone who did just recently publish a book which is sold on Amazon, I'm curious to hear your experiences with that, especially with respect to how easy it is for your target audience to find your new book on Amazon. Have you marketed it in any particular way?

    1. Anonymous6:48 AM

      librarything does a WAAAY better job of recommending books for me than Amazon does... never thought that stealth marketing could be the reason why

    2. I don't know that I've done a very good job marketing my books. I certainly don't think Amazon makes it super easy for independents and books from small publishers to be found- it wasn't so much that they hindered, but their algorithms factor a lot of things in and I think volume of sales is one of those things. So maybe they'll help you take off if you get a good run of sales going, but it is hard to get things started.

      Also- I didn't publish independently, I had a publisher, so I didn't see all the ins and outs.

  4. I love the video about conversations with 2 year olds, although I have to admit my favorite part is the mother, because I know that feeling of captivity that she is expressing throughout.

  5. I'm a librarian, and, like Citizen Reader, I find most of my books at the library, sometimes by browsing the actual shelves, sometimes by browsing online, sometimes by doing strange librarianly catalog searches.

    I guess I would say that the publishing industry has been changing for years. You read about these guys back in the 1930s and 40s who could make a living writing short stories, because there were lots of magazines buying short stories back then. Fast forward to the 80s and 90s and all these writers were lamenting how they couldn't ever get money for a short story, as only obscure journals took them any more. So I tend to take a longer and perhaps less dire view of changes than most. (Also, library patrons still mostly check out physical books -- partly that's due to limited ebook selection, but largely it's due to preference and economics.)

    If you *are* looking for other places to find ebooks, though, Smashwords and Lulu are both pretty great. And you can buy my book on the latter as an ebook or a paperback. :)

    1. I read a really interesting book awhile back that posited that buying books is not necessarily the natural way to do things- and may eventually be seen a short blip in a long history of the written word. He thought book renting might come into fashion. The book was Information Wants to Be Shared, by Joshua Gans. I recommend it to anyone interested in this question!

      I'll take a look at your book when I am next looking for reading material!

  6. Thanks! I'll take a look for it (at the library, of course. :)).

  7. Where, of course, I can't get it, since it's a Kindle-only book. Information economics at work!


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