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Of Netflix, self-publishing, music services, and traditional gatekeepers

29 November 2015

From Chris Meadows via TeleRead:

I just finished watching Jessica Jones via Netflix. It’s the second Netflix/Marvel original series, after Daredevil, and likeDaredevil is available in its 13-episode entirety for binge-watching. And it’s really amazing. It features a compelling storyline and standout performances from its cast (especially David Tennant as the villain, proving that he isn’t letting his Doctor Who fame typecast him). Given that this isn’t a TV blog, I won’t go into it in detail, but suffice it to say that I agree with pretty much every word of this review of it on Forbes, which goes so far as to call it “the best show on TV” in its headline.

. . . .

For all that “broadcast” versus “cable” television is becoming an increasingly pointless distinction these days now that almost everybody gets their television either from cable or from Internet rebroadcast services such as Hulu, “broadcast” channels are still regulated differently from “cable or satellite” channels (and, by the same token, Internet subscription services like Netflix) when it comes to the FCC’s decency restrictions.

. . . .

TV shows that air on broadcast TV are still subject to puritanical regulations that leave them pretty limited in terms of just how dark they can be. Even Arrow, probably the darkest, angstiest superhero show currently airing on broadcast TV, looks like a sulky teenager acting out by comparison to Jessica Jones.

Cable channels can go significantly darker and grittier—but they are handicapped by cable-industry bundling. To subscribe to any given pay channel, consumers generally have to subscribe to an extensive tier containing a number of channels, including ones they might have no interest in ever watching.

. . . .

And that brings me to why Netflix is such a special case. It isn’t subject to expensive bundle deals. Consumers can subscribe to the wide variety of movies and television shows it airs for a single low monthly fee. And that includes original shows, which Netflix is able to make as dark and gritty as it wants. Effectively, Netflix isn’t subject to the puritanical gatekeeper of FCC decency restrictions, but it also isn’t subject to the budgetary gatekeeper of cable-industry bundles.  So it’s one of the first major sources of dark, gritty programming that is inexpensively available to the average viewer.

. . . .

 

A similar revolution has been happening in terms of self-publishing versus publisher gatekeepers. After all, the self-publishing industry experienced explosive growth partly on the strength of providing a way for writers to publish works in categories that often draw resistance from traditional gatekeepers—romance, erotica, erotic horror, political fiction, and others. While Amazon has been known to purge certain categories of self-published erotica from time to time, there are still quite a number of stories that could never have been published by a traditional publisher, but which have plenty of fans willing to buy them via Amazon, Smashwords, or other outlets.

For that matter, digital music services have also provided a way for artists to skirt the gatekeepers of recording-industry contracts and radio stations’ limited playlists to put their works out directly for consumers.

. . . .

And this leads me to the realization that there are quite a few areas of consumer media interest that have historically been poorly-served by traditional outlets. People are not onlywilling to consume but clearly actively want to consume works that traditional gatekeepers have shut out—be they for raunchiness, violence, esoteric subject matter, more than one of the above, or some other reason altogether. Thus, the reductions in publishing cost and regulation of digital media, including e-books, provide openings not only for self-publishing writers and artists, but for new media outlets like Netflix that don’t fall into the same old categories.

And yet I wonder if we’re truly only seeing the beginning of the sort of expansion of choice that digital media publishing opportunities make possible.

Link to the rest at TeleRead

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24 Comments to “Of Netflix, self-publishing, music services, and traditional gatekeepers”

  1. Once again, the entire known universe has broadband access and only idiocy keeps them from doing as recommended. Sigh… Sometimes you can really tell when the writer lives in an urban environment.

    For the significant percentage of us with rural satellite internet access, however, the metaphor falls apart. Can’t have choice without distribution networks.

    We have great distribution networks for physical goods and for low-bandwidth digital goods. Not so much for high-bandwidth digital goods, or for broadcast (their technological predecessor). Hence the still thriving market for CDs, DVDs, etc. Yes, in the long run, that will change, but the long run could take quite a while.

    • Its true that wide swaths of the land in this country doesn’t have access to broadband internet. But currently, 83% of the population does have access. And those 83% live in areas that make 96% of the money in this country.

      From a retail and service perspective, the vast majority of the universe does have access to broadband.

  2. The entire known universe has access to cellphones and only intense Ludditeism prevents me from behaving like a modern person and using a landline instead of a smartphone. We don’t have a tower here. No service. Hence I don’t have a cellphone aka a paperweight. In the long run that will change but no cellular business is putting up a tower for 187 people.

    (Thanks Karen!)

  3. I have a running battle with the spouse about my landline. MY landline. The one with the good audio quality (instead of that skritchy thing the cellphones and wireless phones do).

    We had phone service during Hurricane Sandy, which took out the CELL TOWERS’ power as well as everyone else’s.

    Oh, well.

    As soon as he can promise me equivalent audio quality (hehe).

    • Heh, with everyone else on a cell you’ll have crappy audio from everyone else. Never mind the phone companies are letting those lines rot — so soon you will have joined us in poor audio quality without changing a thing …

      • Sort of like what happened when we were forced into MP3s from higher fidelity predecessors, both digital and analogue.

      • You already have crappy audio on landlines. We were testing international modem connections earlier in the year, and ended up having to lease direct lines to get decent connections, rather than rely on random companies in between not deciding to transcode the audio or convert to VoIP and back.

  4. I too enjoy Netflix and am watching Jessica Jones. My only area of disagreement with this article is the notion that it’s only dark, gritty, erotic, etc. stories that have been freed by self-publishing (and independent productions).

    A friend of mine, Debra Holland, has been wildly successful with a series of Western historical romances that include no sex at all and also no religious content. Publishers rejected her books for years, despite many contest wins including an RWA Golden Heart. Readers disagreed, in droves.

    A much wider variety of memoirs, cozy mysteries and other not-necessarily-dark books are now available for readers, many from conventionally published authors. So let’s applaud the vast opportunities for a range of tastes.

    • I did mention “romance” and “political fiction” as being included in categories that draw resistance from traditional gatekeepers in the above, and both of those seem to apply here. I’ll admit I didn’t emphasize them, though.

    • Not everybody like dark and gritty. That is one thing I am seeing in reviews for my post-apocalyptic series. It’s about rebuilding, and lucky for me, some people like that.

    • Comics are treated differently and subjected to censorship text would not be because they cannot avoid having a visual dimension. And it doesn’t have to be erotica. I’m doing a version of Wedekind’s LULU that Google Books banned without recourse due to nudity. I’ve had to make content decisions based on possible censorship in 2015.

      http://jlroberson.blogspot.com/2015/09/censorship-update-cbdlf-on-my-banning.html

      Which is hypocrisy.

    • I’ll add the ability to return out of print books to print/ebook formats (including my true-crime books from the 1850s) which no press of any size would touch because it’s economically unfeasible.

  5. I marathoned it from its debut day through the days that followed. Stayed up way past bedtime. I could not stop watching. Hubby didn’t like it as much as Daredevil, and I will admit that Daredevil is hard to beat, what with that amazing turn by D’Onofrio and the lead’s likability.

    But Jessica Jones is great. TEnnant is a formidable and damaged villain. And the sense of paranoia–how the hell do you BEAT this guy terror, too–was consistent. I loved the sisterly bond. It’s really nice to see two women, not related by blood, yet true siblings, loyal and devoted. Plus strong women. Even when Jessica does stupid, stupid things, we forgive her. 😀

    Plus, ladies, Luke Cage is SMOKING HOT! woohoo. Muscles and a deep, resonant voice. :::melting:::

    • We may have both been prancing around the room over Luke Cage for different reasons, but still. Prancing.

      Get a stronger bed geez! 🙂

      The two Netflicks series are totally nailing the villians. I love it.

  6. In science fiction books it felt the other way around. The gatekeepers pushed dark downers, so I stuck to my old books and Lois Bujold. Now I’m starting to find exciting books with lots of adventure where I don’t want to stare out the window and contemplate the horror that his humanity when I finish them. (While drinking chamomile tea.)

    • Yes. One reason I stopped reading much trade-published SF was because so many publishers abandoned the optimistic attitude of the books I read as a kid and went full S**.

    • Agreed, SF went in a depressing direction. I don’t know about it being an emphasis on social justice, though; gatekeepered activities are inherently faddish, and those fads can take all kinds of forms.

    • For a while there it seemed all the major outlets were only interested in either the downers, or what I now learned is “Mundane SF,” where apparently the rule is: Never use your imagination. Fantasy got some of that, too. The only reason you knew a work was supposed to be SF/F was because of the outlet it appeared in.

      If you had encountered the stories in the wild, and missed a sentence or two indicating “it’s the future” or something, you would never have guessed you weren’t reading plain, generic literature.

      Glad those days are over.

    • At a certain point it did seem that even authors I had liked in the past were writing long political space operas. Which I find boring.

    • Science Fiction reflects the outlook of the times.
      In dark times, some authors choose to wallow in the mood (late 50’s and early 60’s British SF, notably, while others choose to challenge the dark mood by looking ahead to better times.

      For example, a lot of establishment critics have long decried SF as militaristic while conveniently forgetting the field took shape in the 40’s and 50’s and many of the great writers of the canon came of age in that period. Hardly a shock that war and military conflict should be an integral part of their worldview just as it shouldn’t be a surprise that a younger generation of writers rooted in the culture wars of the last decades should be driven by what has become the defacto orthodoxy of the times. Either by supporting it totally or by purposefully choosing to flaunt and challenge that orthodoxy.

      The return to “fun, adventure SF” and Space Opera is as much a challenge to today’s establishment as the New Wave and Dangerous Visions authors of the 60’s and 70’s.

      The great news is that through Indie publushing those authors can flaunt and challenge the establishment and orthodoxy both in content and distribution and the challenge to distribution enables the flaunting of the orthodoxy.

      As a rule, establishment orthodoxies, whether it be broadcast networks or corporate publishing, tend to focus on what *they* perceive as the mainstream middle ground and come disruption time it is the “fringe” elements previously marginalized that jump at the chance to break free of the creative straightjacket of the gatekeepers. Counterprogramming isn’t just something broadcast networks do to each other; it is a approach available to all businesses. While the big boys are chasing a fad, smaller players quietly focus on the unserved customers that aren’t being pursued.

      Now, while HBO and Netflix are getting lots of attention for going dark and gritty as a reaction to the gatekeepers of broadcast is a good example of counterprogramming, it is also as much a fad as the corporate publishers’ chase of the *last* breakout phenomenon book. And as vulnerable to counterprogramming as the police procedurals and glossy soaps of the broadcast networks. Who themselves are well versed in the game.

      Notice that while Netflix has been receiving lots of attention for DAREDEVIL and JESSICA JONES, the Berlanti group has the top-rated new broadcast show in the fun and bubbly SUPERGIRL which is neither dark nor gritty, has been dishing fun rides with ARROW and FLASH for several years, and seems to be prepping yet another action adventure funfest in the upcoming LEGENDS OF TOMORROW, the trailer for which looks more like a trailer for a summer movie than a TV show.

      The wheel turns but it keeps on turning. Dark and gritty and explicit sex and violence sells… until everybody is doing it. Then it will be time to move on to the next fad. Maybe a return to romantic comedies is just around the corner.

      Disruption and counterprograming is a dynamic dance that more than one side can play. Worth remembering. Being contrarian has its uses.

    • Yeah, well, Lois McMaster Bujold has just retconned her entire series in the cause of…

      Political correctness?

      Shocking the bourgeois?

      Trying to prove that integrity is for kids, while decades of deceiving your family are for grownups?

      Security risks in your chain of command are harmless, healthy fun?

      Nobody has the right to get angry about anybody else’s lifestyle choice whatsoever, as long as there’s a consenting adult?

      So yeah, watch out for her new novel. Totally happy-clappy for whatever her point is, but obviously she is the latest victim of the Brain Eater of great science fiction writers.

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