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  • The Platform Economy: How Japan Transformed the Consumer Internet by Marc Steinberg
  • Takahiro Nishiyama (bio)
The Platform Economy: How Japan Transformed the Consumer Internet. By Marc Steinberg. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 2019. x, 207 pages. $108.00, cloth; $27.00, paper.

Marc Steinberg's work The Platform Economy: How Japan Transformed the Consumer Internet is a detailed discourse analysis that historically explores the relationship between the discursive formations of "platform" and "contents" in the dynamics of capitalism. His study is also an extension of his approach developed in Anime's Media Mix: Franchising Toys and Characters in Japan.1 Although the first monograph focused on the term "media mix," Steinberg's latest work examines the term "platform." Following a similar approach to Michel Foucault's L'archéologie du savoir (1969),2 Steinberg attempts to answer the following questions: Why does the term "platform" appear everywhere today? What exactly are the differences between "platform" and "contents"?

For this purpose, Steinberg investigates the term "platform" on a metalevel and analyzes the discourses found in the management literature. Such discourses have not only shaped the structure of meaning in society, but they have also created the modus operandi from which the opus operatum (i.e., a set of empirically analyzable practices) has emerged.3 Previously, Luc Boltanski and Ève Chiapello stated that the discourses in the management literature have had a significant influence on the spirit of capitalism, which, in turn, have had an impact on the emergence of internalized ethics by the actors in economic systems and have legitimized the accumulation regime of capitalism.4 In a similar vein, Steinberg examines the "platform" discourses in the management literature from the 1980s to the present in France, the United States, and Japan, and shows how such discourses have fostered the design of today's "platform economy."

In order to determine which discursive arguments have constructed the episteme around the term "platform" and whether this particular discourse can be substituted for the "contents" discourse, Steinberg begins by analyzing the latter. The term "contents" (kontentsu), in its current sense, was first [End Page 158] used in 1993 by Sekizawa Tadashi, the CEO of Fujitsu, and in Shimizu Kin'ichi's work Fujitsū no maruchimedia bijinesu (1995) (p. 41). This term was derived from "sofuto," an abbreviation of the word "software" used in the 1980s and 1990s for audiovisual information and software programs. Its transformation occurred with the renaming by the editorial team of Zaidanhōjin Maruchimedia Sofuto Shinkō Kyōkai (Multimedia Soft Promotion Association, 1991) to Zaidan-hōjin Maruchimedia Kontentsu Shinkō Kyōkai (Multimedia Contents Promotion Association, 1996) (p. 45). Although the term changed from "sofuto" to "kontentsu," its significance remained the same until the boom in management and scientific literature in the 1990s. In fact, since 2002, "kontentsu" has been used by the Japanese government as an instrument of revitalization, in terms of both economic policy and strategy.

In Japanese, the term "kontentsu" is always used in the plural form. According to Steinberg (p. 63), the reason for such use is that the term connotes the character of a media mix in which the "contents" can be transmitted via diverse "containers," thus enabling their circulation into various media formats.5 In addition, the characteristics of "ambiguity, openness, and relative inoffensiveness" (p. 65) are the reasons for adopting the term "kontentsu" (instead of the term "sofuto"), along with the possibility that the increasing pressure on the saturation of the material goods market can be reduced by an alternative economic policy regarding the immaterial goods market.

The term "contents" is by no means just a term for works of art that cannot be bought (e.g., those in state museums). Instead, it refers to the "creative expression" of humans that is transferred into tangible (or intangible) goods and traded on the market.6 In this regard, such "contents" are embedded in the economic system of production, distribution, and consumption. Steinberg draws on this discourse in the marketing strategy literature and finds this narrative in the counterreaction to the crowded material market of the 1980s (pp. 59–61). Subsequently, due to the emergence of the term "contents" in the management literature in...