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(Don't want to live in a) hub and spoke world - click opera
February 2010
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Mon, Mar. 26th, 2007 01:16 am
(Don't want to live in a) hub and spoke world

Do you like stats? I like them when they add up to a shape. I like them even when I hate the picture that emerges. Here are some stats for you today. They're about cultural markets.

Only 3% of books published in the UK every year were originally written in another language. (Source)

Worldwide, between 50% and 60% of all translations of books originate from English originals. It's sometimes higher: 70% of all books translated into Serbian have English originals.

Only 3% to 6% of all worldwide book translations are into English. (Source)

Okay, that presents quite a clear picture. At least as far as publishing goes, the Anglo world is talking a lot, and listening very little. It's a bit of a one-way street. We may talk about other countries, but we're not interested in listening to what they have to say about themselves, to themselves.

Rüdiger Wischenbart, who wrote the article those figures are from (it's about the UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions), concludes that "centrifugal forces are working against globalisation, resulting in culturally fragmented islands and regions, with few cohesive lines in between".

Centrifugal -- a one-way centre-out force pulling elements arranged around a hub apart from each other, keeping them related only to the centre. But is it working that way in publishing? Are countries right next to each other facing away from each other and towards Anglo countries, or are they listening to the information coming to them from all directions? If this were an aviation business model, would we be talking about Point To Point or Hub and Spoke? In other words, do Poles have to fly to London to get from Warsaw to Berlin?

Although he doesn't call it that, Wischenbart describes a Hub and Spoke world rather than the Point to Point world UNESCO would like. "In 2005," he says, "a mere 9.4 percent of all translations into German came from French originals... Yet this still brings French comfortably to second place in the overall translation statistics in Germany, as compared to 2.7 percent for Italian (number 3), or Dutch (2.5 percent, number 4) or Spanish (2.3 percent, number 5). Sixty-two percent of all translations were of English originals. All other languages and cultural in-roads seem like peanuts in comparison, and no politically well intentioned process [ie UNESCO's cultural diversity initiative] will ever mend this imbalance. A very similar pattern is seen in French translation. According to Livres Hebdo in 2006, 58 percent of French translations were from English originals, as compared to 7.2 percent from German, or a mere 0.2 percent from Polish. Even worse is the situation between smaller languages. Between neighbouring countries such as Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary, the 'horizontal' flows of books comprises a tiny trickle, making up on average less than one or two percent of all translations in those countries."

Okay, the picture is clear. Not only is the hub talking (but not listening) to all the spokes, the spokes aren't listening to each other, they're just listening to the hub. Another word for this situation is "empire".

But that's just books. What about film?

"I got my cinematic education from television," says Nick James, editor of UK film journal Sight and Sound. "But it would be hard to imagine anyone doing that now. What you see in the schedules now is an extreme geographical narrowness combined with an extreme lack of memory. On the terrestrial channels, there's really nothing made before 1980 unless it's very famous indeed. Not much, even, from Hollywood's great golden era. And hardly anything that's in a foreign language. It's pathetic and it's parochial." (Source)

The US in 2001 had a film and video market worth 104 billion dollars. Japan was next with a 12 billion dollar market. The US has 46% of all world broadcasting revenues, including free and pay TV. Japan is second with 18%, the UK third with 10%. (Source)

In 2002, six companies had a combined U.S. box office market share of approximately 70%: Walt Disney; Viacom; Sony; Fox Entertainment Group; AOL Time Warner; and Universal Studios, Inc. (Source)

Again, we see the "hub" thing. The force is one-way. The hub doesn't want to import, only to export. It doesn't want to listen, only to talk. And it doesn't want its customers talking to each other.

"The map of international TV program flows has been quite stable for many years now," says a paper called International Financial Components of French Television Production. "The most notable trend concerns sales : the erosion of the European zone (minus 6 points in structure) is exactly compensated by an increase in America. Some fluctuations, more or less pronounced, continued to occur inside each geographical zone. In Europe, [French] sales to the German-speaking basin, which is traditionally the biggest outlet for French TV programs, kept on receding, down to the level of Italy and the English-speaking basin (United Kingdom and Eire)."

Hub and spoke. Fewer of the Euro-spokes are listening to each other. More of them are listening to the hub. And it's a long-term trend.

"The American studios' share of the box office in Europe grew from 30 percent by 1950 to over 80 percent by 1990," says Slate in a truly shocking article about how the Hollywood studios played the German subsidy system to their own advantage. "Moreover, European films without American stars could not count on being released other than in art houses in the American markets. Even successful European films such as the French comedy 3 Hommes et un Couffin (Three Men and a Baby), the French thriller La Femme Nikita, and the Franco-Dutch drama Spoorloos (The Vanishing), had to be remade with American stars in order to gain access to wide distribution in America. American movies have increased their share of the German box office, accounting for more than 85 percent of it last year."

"European movies have won only 5 percent of the American market. Of the 100 highest-grossing movies in the world last year, 88 were American, and seven more were co-productions involving American producers. After aircraft production, the entertainment industry is America's largest source of trade surplus," says an anti-cultural protectionism article on ReasonOnline. (I don't agree with its argument, I'm just giving you the stats.) "The European Community requires all TV channels to carry at least 50 percent European programming. France has upped this total to 60 percent for European programs, with at least 40 percent of the total devoted by law to native French programs."

Reason describes how the French film industry was unseated:

Pathé, France's leading production company, controlled one-third of the world film business in 1908. By 1919, the French share of the world market had fallen to 15 percent. At the end of the 1920s, the French film industry ranked fifth in the world. By the end of the 1930s, however, French production had doubled, and the French industry ranked behind only the United States. In 1936, for example, the six most popular films in France were all native French productions. Of the 75 most popular films, 56 were French; only 15 were American. In 1935, 70 percent of all film receipts in France went to French-produced movies. The postwar French government negotiated a quota agreement with the United States in an attempt to protect French filmmakers. The French government required cinemas to show 16 weeks of French movies a year.

It sounds like a classic case of what I've called Pluricide, and what others call global monoculture. "A few decades ago," says the Turning Point Project, "it was still possible to leave home and go somewhere else: the architecture was different, the landscape was different, the language, lifestyle, dress, and values were different. That was a time when we could speak of cultural diversity. But with economic globalization, diversity is fast disappearing. The goal of the global economy is that all countries should be homogenized. When global hotel chains advertise to tourists that all their rooms in every city of the world are identical, they don't mention that the cities are becoming identical too: cars, noise, smog, corporate high-rises, violence, fast food, McDonalds, Nikes, Levis, Barbie Dolls, American TV and film. What's the point of leaving home? There are many causes for this dreary turn of events, but one is central: economic globalization and institutions like the World Bank and the WTO promote a specific kind of homogenizing development that frees the largest corporations in the world to invest and operate in every market, everywhere. For these agencies and corporations, diversity is not a primary value: efficiency is. Diversity is an enemy because it requires differentiated sales appeal. What corporations love is creating the same values, the same tastes, using the same advertising, selling the same products, and driving out small local competitors. Mass marketers prefer homogenized consumers. They also prefer places with low wages, cheap resources, and the least restrictive environmental and labor laws."

What about Japan? Well, as you can see from the box office chart, it's a losing battle as far as film goes. Sure, "the total number of feature films produced in Japan has increased to 500 this year, twice as many as three years ago," as Shuji Sato from Pony Canyon Inc. says. That matches Japan's peak years in the 1950s, when between 400 and 600 Japanese films were released a year. But today's films go to small screens in multiplexes. The big picture is the one the graph shows -- that if current trends continue (and I doubt they will, but that's for another day), by about 2040 no Japanese films will be watched in Japan; they'll all be American.

Overview: In Japan domestic films earned more than 70% of box office at their peak in late 1950s. Japan's domestic share was more than 60% until early 1960s. It decreased to 50% in the 1980s and to a low of 40% in the late 1990s (when Japanese film production dipped to a low of about 250 films a year). American movies accounted for nearly all of the remaining 60%. (Hub and spoke logic again: it's not as if that non-Japanese 60% is Chinese or Korean films. Nope, it's the hub, not the other spokes.)

In a 1998 study (reported here) of worldwide TV markets, Dupagne and Waterman found that the higher the GDP, the lower the amount of American fiction was imported into the country. The more revenue TV brought in locally, the less American stuff was on local TV. The country with a bigger domestic market will impose its products on the country with smaller ones. The study supported the view that economic development was the way to protect local markets, not government intervention.

Personally, I'm for cultural protectionism and market vigour as bulwarks against the hub and spoke effect, monoculture and pluricide. Japan's domestic TV is amazingly successful -- thanks to strong political regulation and protection -- at not only capturing viewers' attention, but also keeping the kind of strong national identity that cultural diversity is all about. We may yet be able to change a hub and spoke world into a point to point one, unipolarity into multipolarity, and monologue into dialogue.


Sun, Mar. 25th, 2007 11:51 pm (UTC)

Tobacco should be banned worldwide, some say, because of its proven physical harm. How do we do that while avoiding a monoculture? Can cultures only be diverse where they don't matter?


Troy Swain: Black Box Miasma
Mon, Mar. 26th, 2007 12:33 am (UTC)

I would say you're looking at it the wrong way.

You are correct, but consider the opposing ramifications of monoculture:

Consider the strengths and diversity of our best art, and how our best art rests on the backs of the strengths and diversities of arts that have influenced our own, and that are usually foreign.

Art becomes moribund and boring when it is ruled by monoculture. In visual art, think of the worst parts of Egyptian art, or the Post-Caravaggio mannerists, or the French Academy. In cinema, think of Hollywood movies from the 50s, or Hollywood today.

Monoculture is bad for art, and especially rough on creators and consumers who want to discover new voices and new ways of seeing.

For example, all of the influences on Funky Forest and Taste of Tea are common in the U.S. and Europe (Ozu, Bergman, Cronenberg, etc.), but the Japanese take on those influences resulted in specific films that gave us something fresh and new. Same with African writing from the 60s, French movies from the 60s, the discovery of Japanese prints in the 1880s, the discovery of African art at the turn of century, or contemporary Iranian film-making.

It's a trade off. Kurosawa (Japan) is influenced by Ford (U.S.), and Sergio Leone (Italy) is influenced by influenced by Kurosawa. It comes full circle when Clint Eastwood makes a film that is influenced by all of the above. The give and take that gave us magical realism also gave us modernist poetry and dark literary fantasy. But without protection, a lot of that stuff wouldn't have existed.

Cultural protectionism tends to be conservative, but it paradoxically forces the youth to rebel against the conservative national output. Monoculture doesn't do that, since there's no national film culture to rebel against. The techniques of filmmaking become Other and lost. In a protected environment, the young filmmakers will take aspects from the monoculture and also, inadvertantly, what is needed from their own (protected) culture.

Without cultural protectionism, the Taiwanese New Wave would not have happened, John Woo wouldn't have made movies, Abbas Kiarostami wouldn't have made movies, The Host wouldn't have been made, the French New Wave wouldn't exist, on and on. All of those people created niches that work economicly, but they needed help to get started. And without those singular voices, our own movies would be a lot worse.

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Mon, Mar. 26th, 2007 12:22 am (UTC)

In Sweden, we had a huge debate this fall about the death of high culture. It featured a lot tired old farts (of all ages) outraged about how most young people prefer black American music to long dead european males who's had a stick up their arses since Jazz was invented, but the debate it cuminated in the idea that Sweden should have some sort of official national canon.

Now, this reminds me a lot of your idea of politically fostered cultural protection, and makes me quite wary. The whole idea of a bunch of government-appointed besserwissers deciding what is Good Culture or Pertinent to our Local Clique Culture unlike the lowly riffraff regular people enjoy is deeply troubling in my mind.

And furthermore, can you really keep calling it culture if no one cares about it anymore? Wouldn't it be better off in a museum?


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Mon, Mar. 26th, 2007 12:41 am (UTC)

It seems as if getting the spokes to talk to one another would require a pretty tremendous lot of energy. Czech to Dutch to Hungarian to Norwegian and who has time for writing in between all the trans-ing?

An efficient group of writers who wanted to share ideas without spending a ton of time translating or learning new languages would probably decide it was in their interest to use a common and highly adaptable language for messages they particularly wanted to share. English hegemony benefits the creator by making ideas more liquid.

Is Europe a blander place now that you're not swapping your Deutschmarks for Francs and getting your passport stamped? If so, touche. I suspect, though, that the benefits of reducing sentimentalism usually outweigh the losses, and that when you make it easier to exchange things you'll end up with better outcomes.


Impervious horrors of a leeward shore
Mon, Mar. 26th, 2007 01:39 am (UTC)
Latiin, French, German for science and now English...

There is one strong factor - time to learn a language to be able to really converse in it is long.

Personally I would like to know more than Russian-Hebrew-English combo I use now. But I am quite sure that one more - and it will be all for me.

Till my counterpart knows English too - all is OK. But the moment he is, for example, Polish-French-Japanese - we both are lost.

So if we remove one language used as a common communication tool - we will actually reduce our chances of successful communication with people, not improve them. Because you can effectively communicate only in language you know real deep.


As for movies - yes - I too consider it a real problem. Protectionism will not solve it, though. I dream about Europe implementing different business model of movie distribution than US lead model we all use now. But I am afraid it will not happen. I have some hopes for Japan, but Japanese solutions do not usually work on foreign turf.

Mon, Mar. 26th, 2007 01:53 am (UTC)
Re: Latiin, French, German for science and now English...

maybe this is the undertone, but if we presume that american product is the most profitable then it stands to reason that it would draw the most money, and the highest production standards and consumability would come chasing quickly behind.

It only makes sense then that Hungarian movies wouldn't try to make themselves portable and consumable. They would try to cater to the uniquely hungarian market, without much expectation, and therefor not much concern with globally competitive quality.
Unsurprisingly, Hungarian culture, minus the global elements does not mesh well with korean culture.

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Mon, Mar. 26th, 2007 04:15 am (UTC)

I always wonder about those countries which place protectionist restrictions on their media output - for example the French stipulating that a certain (large) percentage of music broadcast on French radio must be of 'French origin', whatever that might mean. Does this actually have any beneficial effect on the local music industry? Would very much like to hear from anyone who has first-hand experience.

Here in Poland, the rise of the nasty right-wing nationalist government was attended by a change in radio policy (not government-inspired, though, as far as I can tell) whereby radio stations started to play much more Polish rock, pop, rap etc. But young people I talk to here, whose interest in Polish music was limited at best, now find themselves completely unstimulated by anything they hear on the radio, and musically exist entirely in the world of the net, where they can download or stream whatever they want.

(It doesn't help that Polish music is mostly a folder of pale and uninspiriting photocopies of Western styles and performers. The Czech scene, at least in the first few years of the 1990s, was very different, more original and challenging. Oops, I feel another blog entry coming on... ;) )

Mon, Mar. 26th, 2007 04:27 am (UTC)
Gangsters Rap a US import!

Every member of this sub culture thinks they are related to someone in Compton Califronia. You can find them around the world.
That's a pretty big influence on people.
I wish folktronica would be so popular.

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Mon, Mar. 26th, 2007 04:32 am (UTC)
Japanese BO

Hi Momus,

As the Japan correspondent for Screen International (London), I write a fair amount about Japanese box office. Your assessment for the "future" of viewership here is based on figures from 7 years ago (!) and is completely the opposite of what's happening recently.

Japanese films gained a majority share (53.2%) of the market in 2006, for the first time in over two decades. This is after year-on-year increases since the all-time low of '02.

Here are some more articles on my own blog about last year's quite amazing results:


Most believe it's a bubble that may burst as soon as this year and that the high number of productions is causing a glut. Nonetheless, Japanese people are loving Japanese films more than any time in recent memory, aided by major synergy between different media (especially TV/film/publishing).

However, most major producers agree that both Hollywood films and local films (as well as titles from other territories such as Korea) need to perform well for a healthy industry.

Mon, Mar. 26th, 2007 07:38 am (UTC)
Re: Japanese BO

Jason, that's very interesting and very heartening news. I did say I thought the death trend of Japanese cinema would be reversed, I just didn't know it had happened so quickly! Over 50% local productions is an amazing comeback.

Japan is a quirky country in some ways, but in others it's a bellweather -- it shows what could happen if other countries were wealthier and more vigorous and believed in themselves more. I think the Japanese turnaround may be the beginning of the multipolar world -- and of course India's rise as a world power is important here too. India has always had a strong and healthy cinema, producing more titles than the US.

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Mon, Mar. 26th, 2007 04:35 am (UTC)
show me monoculture

Monoculture will never exist. As soon as a stasis is reached in a culture, change burbles along to shape things differently. We can't, as a race, stand still.

I am not sure I fully understand the definition of these terms, but I oppose cultural protectionism. As I've posted here before, it reminds me of the poor South American donkey breed that wants to die. It won't eat, it won't have sex. But the donkey is adorable to many underemployed, matronly women. So they have spearheaded a movement to force these animals to breed. So the animals will be present for human amusement.

I say if a breed or species gets to the point where it does not want to eat or have sex, it's time for that species to be eliminated. It is humanly-empirialistic to force these animals into continuing their breed when the animals just want to die.

Mon, Mar. 26th, 2007 04:37 am (UTC)
I don't take vitamins

My therapist and psychiatrist both insist I take calcium and B supplements. I feel if I can't get the nutrients I need from the food that I eat, maybe I shouldn't be on the planet. I hate those damn pills, they taste bad and make me burp unpleasantly

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Mon, Mar. 26th, 2007 06:13 am (UTC)

" the kind of strong national identity that cultural diversity is all about"

I've been wondering about this for some time - why do you always conflate culture with the nation state?


Mon, Mar. 26th, 2007 07:41 am (UTC)

Because I'm a big believer that freedom you win as an individual is a pale, opt-out kind of freedom, and culture you develop as an individual is a sort of autism. Freedom and culture signify at the level of groups, and the nation state is a group with money and legislation behind it. With money and legislation you can achieve incredible things!

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Mon, Mar. 26th, 2007 08:55 am (UTC)
American Pollution Machine

One reason I dislike the internet is that it's just yet another way to allow more Americans into my living room.

I look at the internet for about 10 minutes every day and I never watch TV.

It's not a question of me being a cultural protectionist, it's just that I don't want that shit in my life and I'm under no obligation to have it.

Mon, Mar. 26th, 2007 09:03 am (UTC)
Re: American Pollution Machine

I wonder if there's such a thing as "saturation point" in an individual consumer? By which I mean, a point at which a consumer in a market in which one's own national product was stacked on the World Cinema shelf would just stand up and say "You know, I love America, but I think I've now seen all the American films I need to see. I know how they feel about life and the world and the individual. I know what their CGI effects look like, I know how their plots work, and I know the look of sunshine in California. It's time to find out about something different."

I suppose it's analagous to "Just how many Stereolab albums do I really need?" or "I think I can pretty much predict what Click Opera is going to be about even before I go there!"

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Mon, Mar. 26th, 2007 09:17 am (UTC)

"I know how their plots work, and I know the look of sunshine in California. It's time to find out about something different."

Except California sunshine looks nothing like it does in American movies.

In real life, Hollywood pretty much looks like Clapham Junction in the desert.

And that enormous canon of Beach Boys records: just a branch of the Californian tourist industry.

Those discs really were just a base-line American version of "Eat a Rat for Mao" cultural propaganda, as were everything in "American Culture" that's followed, and I mean Everything.

Mon, Mar. 26th, 2007 09:26 am (UTC)

I think it's fine for them to be patriotic and blow their own trumpet. But the fact that this flow of stuff crushes other people's patriotism, and makes other trumpets totally inaudible, is, shall we say, highly problematical. And then we get people arguing, as some did up at the start of this thread, that to resist one massively dominant flow of narrow patriotism is, itself, to succumb to narrow patriotism (even when we're actually advocating a point to point model of diversity, not the substitution of one dominant flow for another), well...

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Mon, Mar. 26th, 2007 09:32 am (UTC)

This is quite an interesting stat:


That isn't even per capita. When it's adjusted for population level, the UK is way ahead of everywhere else. I wonder why.


Mon, Mar. 26th, 2007 10:42 am (UTC)

"Looks like we got ourselves a reader!"
Bill Hicks describing rednecks reacting to him reading a book.

Is it something to do with internet usage? Do people read less if they're online more?

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Mon, Mar. 26th, 2007 09:38 am (UTC)
Birth of a Nation

It was deemed necessary at some point for the Americans to create the Hollywood propaganda machine to create a LIE national identity to cover the tracks of one of the biggest land-grabs in history and the mass-murder of it's true nationals.

That's what the bogey man is in the American cultural psyche, and it must be kept buried at all costs.

It's still pretty easy to see that the highest proportion of American cultural effort is invested in this imperative.

None of you are innocent. You all carry it. Your culture has assured it.


Mon, Mar. 26th, 2007 09:46 am (UTC)
Go West!

"Another way of putting that: I totally understand that Brian Wilson wishes they all could be California girls. But if the Magic Fairy waves her magic wand and Brian Wilson really can make every female in the world into a Californian, and does -- problemo, signor!"

That would certainly be a problemo for me. I never fancy American women - they're so masculine. They're like blokes. No wonder so many Californian men are gay.

Tue, Mar. 27th, 2007 03:34 am (UTC)
this post made me laff

<< I never fancy American women - they're so masculine. They're like blokes. No wonder so many Californian men are gay >>

Silly, they come here because they're gay, they're not grown gay here

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Mon, Mar. 26th, 2007 10:32 am (UTC)

I'm broadly sympathetic with your position, but I'm wondering whether the translation statistics for publishing really send a clear message. Translated works do often pose a problem in terms of readability; not everything is easily translated into something that doesn't smack of translationese, and some stuff (like poetry) pretty much resists translation at all. Even in markets like France or Germany where you have a lot of books translated from English, you tend to find that the top ten lists are still more native language stuff than translated stuff.

Secondly, one of the most significant trends in English literature over the past 20 years is a tendency towards exoticising other cultures. For example, all the English language Indian literature (Rushdie, Arandhati Roy et al.), immigrant culture literature (Zadie Smith, Monica Ali et al.), and other stuff from the fringes of the English-speaking world.