- Introduction:The "Bad Romance" of Media Industry Studies
I want your horror
I want your design
'Cause you're a criminal
As long as you're mineLady Gaga1
Lady Gaga neatly sums up my relationship with industry studies. I guess that I've always had a bad romance with media industry studies, betraying my original discipline of Economics to pursue Media Studies and, in turn, cheating on academia by leaving to work in the industry. Still, I've always felt that industry studies existed in a bold liminal space of Media Studies, never fully embraced by those engaged in narrative/textual work, and more or less openly dismissed by those in traditional economics (I once overheard two microeconomists at UCLA shriek with gales of laughter over the possibility of "film theory" intersecting with "economic theory"). As a result, when teaching or writing in the area of media economics, I always felt that a certain freedom was possible: the parameters of the field were still being set, and the "open terrain" was vast. Since leaving academia ten years ago, I've kept track of industry studies through editing a book series (Commerce and Mass Culture, University of Minnesota Press), reviewing manuscripts and articles, and occasionally writing articles and giving guest lectures. On the occasion of Cinema Journal reviewing five industry studies texts, the editors have asked me to consider the state of industry studies today. Using my lost decade as a starting and ending point, I want to suggest some tendencies for industry studies during the decade. [End Page 167]
Much of what I find to be the strongest recent academic writing in industry studies is not explicitly tagged as economic or as drawing from the tradition of media industry studies. Implicitly, though, some of the most impressive scholarship paints a picture of the media industries and their operation without specifying an explicit economic model. Frederick Wasser's Veni, Vidi, Video: The Hollywood Empire and the VCR and Tim Anderson's Making Easy Listening: Material Culture and Postwar American Recording offer clear examples of how economic media history has been advanced in this manner.2 Wasser studies the impact of the VCR but, almost coincidentally, illustrates a number of key economic "lessons" on distribution strategy, price setting, labor formation, and technological changes impacting industry organization. As such, Wasser's text could easily be used to illustrate microeconomic issues played out against a specific historical moment. Similarly, Anderson's book on issues surrounding the commercial exploitation of music recording also presents a compelling series of economic lessons on labor relations, intellectual property, and the definition of goods. Their placement within a text more likely to be labeled as media history rather than industry studies makes this economic analysis no less engaging or significant. Wasser's and Anderson's texts are just two examples of the tendency of "industry studies" scholars to address structural and functional economic questions as a backdrop for a larger historical argument.
Of course, several scholars have addressed economic imperatives directly, as well as, more courageously, the thorny issues of method within industry studies. John Thornton Caldwell's Production Culture: Industrial Reflexivity and Critical Practice in Film and Television tackles the problem of writing industry studies head on.3 As if anticipating academic debate on the merits of his approach, Caldwell is explicit in identifying his method: "I have employed a cultural-industrial method of research to examine and integrate data from four registers or modes of analysis, including the textual analysis of trade and worker artifacts; interviews with film/television workers; ethnographic field observation of production space and professional gatherings; and economic/industrial analysis."4 While most definitely innovative in design and ambitious in scope, Caldwell's book embodies one of the many pitfalls of this brand of industry studies theorizing: so much attention has been paid to the detail and development of the case studies and rigor of the argument that the larger stakes of industry studies can seem lost somehow. The foundational question is, why should we bother studying the media industries? In other words, what's to be learned about the structure, operation, and development of the industries through the...