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It isn’t just publishing going through massive changes

June 15, 2013

If you pay even a little bit of attention to publishing industry news, all you see is about change. But the changes to the industry aren’t happening in a vacuum, and they aren’t necessarily specific to book publishing. The digital revolution has affected almost every portion of the entertainment industry.

Newspapers and magazines are losing market share to digital competitors all the time. Several newspapers have cut back publishing to three days a week, and some have abandoned hardcopy printing altogether. Newsweek magazine has gone digital only and may no survive much longer.

Television network audience has become so fragmented that the numbers put up by the best-performing shows now don’t match the worst-performing shows of a generation ago. And networks that used to be afterthoughts, like AMC, FX, and TNT–that used to be havens for reruns, are now broadcasting the most innovative shows on television.

And now, one aspect of the entertainment industry that previously appeared immune may be entering the same shake-out publishing went through a few years ago. And that’s not me talking. It’s George Lucas and Steven Spielberg–guys who’ve sold a movie ticket or two.

According to an article in The Hollywood Reporter, Spielberg predicted that the movie industry would implode, resulting in massive changes to the industry. He said that inevitably, a handful of large-budget movies ($250 million or so) would fail, and then things would change. For instance, if you wanted to go see the next Star Trek movie, you’d pay a lot more than this generations version of Fried Green Tomatoes.

Lucas said that he sees a change to a model more like Broadway, where far fewer movies are made, they run for longer, and the prices are much higher. Some of that would be going back in time, to a time when movies ran for far longer than they do now.  ET, for instance, was in theaters for sixteen months. That longevity isn’t likely to be matched, given the money to be made by digital options. But 42 was released two months ago to great acclaim, but is already an old movie. And Star Trek Into Darkness, which was released four weeks ago, isn’t far behind.

And the same way smaller titles are starting to go to smaller publishers in the book world, Lucas predicts that smaller movie titles will go directly to TV. Spielberg’s biopic Lincoln, also highly acclaimed, was very nearly released to HBO, rather than to theaters, as was Lucas’s Red Tails. When Stephen Spielberg and George Lucas have a hard time releasing a movie, it’s time to pay attention.

Like books, movies are facing increased competition as the result of hardware. Why drop $40 for a movie and snacks when you can watch the same movie a couple months later on a huge screen at home and the popcorn and soda doesn’t require you to refinance your house?

It’s as close as the movie industry can get to self-publishing, ebooks, and independent publishers.

What this means to you: While it’s important to understand the publishing industry, that industry exists in the larger context of a number of other industries. If the changes occur that Lucas predicted, the majority of studios will still make money. But smaller studios will fill the gap with smaller movies. And the prices will undercut the prices of the big studios.

The bigger, more important point is understanding that what’s happening to publishing isn’t confined to publishing. It’s part of a larger trend that affects all media–from the consolidation and syndication of radio, the shifting of television audience and rise of cable channels to fill niches, and now, changes to the movie studios.

Then the key is to accept the changes–they’re bigger than our ability to fight–and learn how to use the emerging changes to your best advantage. And to understand that any changes that make it harder for names like Lucas or Spielberg–or any number of former best sellers struggling now–are formidable and need to be researched and understood.

One Comment
  1. June 15, 2013 11:28 pm

    Speaking of digital, I’d like to see old or dead actors resurrected by animation like they did in “Avatar.” Wouldn’t it be cool to see a hybrid John Wayne come to life, or a young Clint Eastwood in more spaghetti westerns? Who needs real actors?

    The Actor’s Guild might not like it.

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