The Man Behind the Curtain? It Was Never as Simple as That.
Generally interested in historiography, it makes the most immediate sense for me to situate an industry within a legacy of that which has come before. Whether it is tracing the progression of mass media from print through digital communications or understanding that the “time shift” phenomenon was preceded by a “space shift” as the telegraph separated a message from its source, history provides a valuable framework through which to understand industries. Unfortunately there are no clear demarcations between periods/ages/epochs and it is, at times, difficult to separate out the complex milestones in an industry’s progress. And although Holt and Perren invoke De Certeau in order to remind readers that historiography always works toward an end (put another way, the end cannot help but be known) I must also remind to avoid adopting a deterministic view—just because things ended up in a particular way does not mean that they had to.
And yet, even on a smaller scale, we might choose to examine verticality in another fashion with respect to the chain of production. Nodded to by Holt and Perren, production can be expanded to include the more discrete content areas of design, production, distribution, sales, and consumer. Although these labels may begin to overlap as individual companies or organizations undergo vertical integration, I believe that they represent a solid position from which to start analyzing the downstream flow of products in an industry. In some ways, each of these five areas potentially represent a rich site of study (e.g., see Holt and Perren’s section entitled “The site of production”), but we can also consider how a much more complex picture occurs when we begin to look at the ways these sections interact with each other and how multiple pipelines are arranged in parallel.
As an example:
Using this (very simplified) diagram, we can more readily see how individual companies’ holdings within the pipeline may affect the ways in which those organizations interact with one another. In order to gain greater control over their products, Companies A and B may form some sort of partnership (or one may be taken over by another) while we see similar potential for Companies C, D, and E. Alternatively Company B may try to buy out Company E in order to become the sole point of sale in this industry. We can also see that certain positions are more advantageous than others, for although Companies A, B, and C each control two content areas, Company C must deal with at least two other companies in order to function whereas Companies A and B need only interact with each other. Understanding the nature of the pipeline for a particular industry, then, can offer great insight into the practices of the companies within that sector.
Adding another layer of complexity, we can examine the ways in which these companies interact with, and utilize, consumers. Although they exist at the bottom of this chain, consumers ultimately have a measure of power through their consumption choices and may occasionally rebel against companies who evidence unseemly practices. But, more interestingly, recent years have seen the growth of fan involvement largely through the ability of the Internet to increase access. In an ideal world, this new form of fan involvement might operate in synergy with industry allowing audiences to have a say in the direction of their favorite entertainment properties and making fans more loyal viewers in the process. Opportunistic companies, however, also seem to be keen in taking advantage of this free labor, “employing” fans in aspects of design (e.g., fan fiction), production (e.g., fan videos), and sales (e.g., buzz marketing).
We have, then, obtained a sense of how to begin unraveling the interrelated set of connections that exist to support an industry. Our task is made difficult by the ever-present need to retain multiple perspectives simultaneously, understanding how actions undertaken on one level have implications on others. And yet, despite the inherent challenges, clearly visualizing the past/present is invaluable if we even hope to see into the future.