Culture

by Timothy Lee


Filed Under:
writer's strike



Titanic Crew Strikes Over Deck Chair Arrangement

from the one-size-fits-all? dept

As a professional writer who mostly writes for Internet publications, the news of the Writer's Guild strike is a bit of a culture shock. There's no bloggers' guild negotiating a standard set of wages and residuals for bloggers. It's hard to imagine the blogosphere going on strike. And frankly, that's better for all of us, writers and publishers alike. The web is such a diverse and fast-changing medium that it's hard to imagine a contract that could address the diverse needs of all its writers right now, to say nothing of anticipating the future evolution of the industry.

A one-size-fits-all writers' contract made a certain amount of sense for Hollywood in the mid-20th century when it was relatively homogenous and dominated by a few large firms. But it's looking increasingly anachronistic today. Thanks to the Internet, Hollywood is on the brink of a difficult transition towards a more competitive marketplace in which a lot more people have the opportunity to get in on the action. The studios will need imagination and flexibility for the old studios to maintain their dominant position. They'll need to experiment with new technologies and business models. Given how quickly the marketplace is likely to change over the next decade, it's a little silly to expect a single industry-wide contract to fairly determine how writers will be compensated for the next few years. We don't even know, for example, if the dominant business strategy for Internet video will be paid downloads, ad-supported free downloads, or some other business model nobody's even thought of. The best compensation structure for writers will be different depending on which of these business models wins out in the end. Also, as the long tail of video content fattens, it's not obvious that it will be either possible or desirable to pay folks way down the tail using the same pay scale as the folks at the head.

If there ends up being a lengthy writers' strike (and especially if the actors and directors join the strike next year) it's only going to create a content vacuum that will be filled by small independent producers who understand how to use digital technologies to produce and distribute content on a tight budget. Something similar happened during the last strike, in 1988, when networks reacted to the shortage of writers by launching unscripted shows like "Cops" and "America's Funniest Home Videos," giving birth to the reality TV format that remains popular to this day. With products like Joost, YouTube, and Apple TV offering alternative distribution mechanisms for independent producers, a writer's strike could have even more dramatic consequences this time around.


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  1. icon
    Mike (profile), 5 Nov 2007 @ 11:22am

    Re: professional writer

    First of all, isn't the whole point of "long tail" recognizing the value of content all the way down the tail, and not just at the head?

    But the point is that the value can be different along the tail. Prior to the long tail the value down below was "zero." Now it's something greater than zero, but it might not be as great as being in the "short head."

    Also, the writers the only ones who don't get a part of the DVD long tail sales. As in zero tail. The writers want to be part of the same "tail" as the other content creators, hence the strike.

    You're looking at this wrong. Assuming producers can make money from other sources (DVD, internet) it will give them more money to pay for more writers in the future. So they ARE getting paid, just not as directly.

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