the new elite media

A few incidents:

Notice a pattern? It’s this: elite cultural producers no longer need brokers. The world of culture is now showing signs of bifurcating between elites who self manage and everyone else. Those at the top of the game can earn more than enough as independent contractors. The rest are stuck with middle men, whether they are tour promoters. Hollywood agents, or editors. How will this affect the academic world?

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Written by fabiorojas

January 2, 2013 at 7:39 pm

Posted in uncategorized

8 Responses

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  1. Fabio, wouldn’t it be more accurate to say that elite cultural producers no longer need brokers once they become elite? Various kinds of brokers are still important in finding talent, giving them opportunities, and most importantly helping us find talent as the potential audience. There are thousands of independents in each of these cultural fields who are trying to self manage, and we probably can’t name them. We don’t have the time to search for the next Andrew Sullivan or Louis C.K. ourselves. Brokers are still important in many steps of an artistic or cultural career.



    January 2, 2013 at 7:53 pm

  2. Let’s not kid ourselves into thinking that this post includes evidence of some kind of change in the volume of “elite cultural producers” who “no longer need brokers.” And let’s also be skeptical of what counts as “need.” Louis C.K. may have by-passed HBO (or [insert]) to produce and distribute his TV special, but he certainly needs FX for his TV comedy show.

    If there’s anyone interested in a considered treatment of how we mythologize “independence” in culture, consider reading Steve Waksman’s (2009) This Ain’t the Summer of Love: Conflict and Crossover in Heavy Metal and Punk, or perhaps Laura Miller’s (2009? 2010?) Reluctant Capitalists (on booksellers).


    Jenn Lena

    January 2, 2013 at 8:39 pm

  3. Usually technologies that lower transactions costs and make information-search cheaper promote more efficient matching between suppliers and demanders. These make the world more egalitarian, not less. It is in fact the maintenance of communications inefficiencies that create cultural monopolies possible, that make follow-the-leader brokering and hierarchical rents possible.

    The same technology that allows Louis C.K. and Radiohead to deliver directly to consumers is the same technology that’s made production and distribution cheap enough that zillions of artists now have markets for their goods, from musicians to artisans to authors — notable examples are, Amazon self-publishing, the explosion of independent musicians on FaceBook, Spotify, and Sound Cloud.

    Anyway, I do not expect communications technology to have nearly any effect on the academy any time soon, whether it be in undergraduate and graduate education, or in professional scholarship and communique. The American University is modeled on a system of hierarchical patronage, rent-seeking, and monopoly established nearly a thousand years ago. The tenure system and centralized (government) funding keep things rolling. It’s difficult to imagine, when academic citation networks demonstrably follow power law distributions, that our scholarship isn’t riven with argumentum ad verecundiam — and it’s thus difficult to imagine top scholars “going solo” like Louis C.K. when they enjoy such enormous rents in terms of money, prestige, and professional attention.


    Graham Peterson

    January 2, 2013 at 8:56 pm

  4. @noah: Yes, you are right. It’s about what happens after you become elite.

    @Jenn: If you think 1 >0, then yes, the volume of self-managed elits is increasing. It varies by cultural area. The fine arts world has always had a few high status self-managed artists. Cy Twombly, for example, went a long time without a dealer. But in other areas, like publishing, it is much harder to find many (if any) authors who self-publish on such a massive scale.



    January 2, 2013 at 10:53 pm

  5. […] See on […]


  6. This sounds like a bunch of applications of Rao’s market rebellion. Music has been doing that (first become famous, then launch a self-run label when you have a critical mass of followers) for some time, at least in rock, hip hop and techno.

    @Noah : Max Tucker starts his column with a disclaimer implicitly stating that brokers are still useful to become successful. Perhaps it’s a two-step thing: first rise to prominence, then kill the middle man. But the true change, I’d say, would occur if he were to sponsor other writers.



    January 4, 2013 at 3:12 pm

  7. It’s worth pointing out that after Louis C.K.’s experiment with going solo, he has decided to go back to HBO for his next special. It also seems that “name” comics who followed his lead like Jim Gaffigan (new book w/ Crown) and Aziz Ansari will also be going back to nests of “old” media firms (not that they ever really left). .

    With regards to books, the prevailing story in self-publishing is that self-published authors who explode in popularity then sign contracts with major publishers (e.g. Amanda Hocking). “Name” authors deciding to go solo are much more far and few between, and are mostly all still relying on middlemen ( e.g. Amazon signing Penny Marshall for $800K gets told as a “self-publishing” story, huh?), or doing so for projects when the promotional work has already been done (e.g. the flap over Andrew Wylie’s Odyssey Editions; J.K. Rowling’s “Pottermore”) but not for newer projects (e.g. J.K. Rowling’s THE CASUAL VACANCY).

    We shouldn’t underestimate how meaningful advances are for artists in unpredictable cultural industries — even for stars, who get large advances from firms not for the promise of profit but to minimize the risk of flops — or the fact that “old” intermediaries do a lot more than just provide advances (i.e. many artists would rather be artists than artists/publicists/managers/editors/producers/etc.). Even for those believed to be furthest toward the heteronomous pole, “art for art’s sake” (or even just “time for time’s sake”) is still a meaningful enough force to cause many folks to see the value of passing off these duties to entire industries of support personnel who are waiting in the wings.

    In the case of Hirsch and Gagosian, this could have as much to do with the relationship not being as profitable as it has been in the past — both from a social and economic perspective — given the very public lawsuits against Gagosian and Hirsch’s declining sales. That said, as I recall, there is a fairly long if slim history of Hollywood stars firing their agents and representing themselves once they’ve become successful or annoyed enough to do so (Bill Murray, as a more recent example).

    Overall, I think the “world without brokers” story is quite overblown on two counts. 1) It confuses the emergence of new brokers and possible decline of older brokers as the decline of brokerage overall, and 2) it tends to rely on anecdotes about outliers while slipping a still imagined future in through the backdoor. It seems to be one of the last vestiges of the “Internet-Will-Change-All” meme of the mid to late 90s, which was even an unfulfilled prediction about the future back then, while of course being surreptitiously written in the present-tense.

    In terms of portability to the academic world, I think we’re actually seeing the reverse. Most academics don’t have or need agents or other middlemen, but the academic “stars” with larger advances and book sales are getting them (which feels like a trend, but someone else would have to weigh in on that).



    January 9, 2013 at 1:36 am

  8. […] the new elite media ( […]


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