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(Don't want to live in a) hub and spoke world - (Don't want to live in a) hub and spoke world - click opera Page 2 — LiveJournal
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.


Mon, Mar. 26th, 2007 11:11 am (UTC)

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

I've often noticed that when the subject of American cultural imperialism crops up in a conversation, the first thing an American will do is rush to put the blame on so-called "rednecks" (After all, they can't mean US, can they?).

Anyone with half a brain can see that so-called rednecks have little or no input into American cultural exports.


Mon, Mar. 26th, 2007 11:41 am (UTC)

Note that after writing this essay, the author went to a café where he ordered his coffee ... in English! (Not the official language of the country where that beautiful scene unfolded.)


Mon, Mar. 26th, 2007 11:45 am (UTC)

I tend to order "Ein Japanischer grüner Tee, bitte!"

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Mon, Mar. 26th, 2007 02:22 pm (UTC)

Interesting piece.

It focuses a good deal on rankings based on box office data and TV revenues but less on the audience numbers. The large populations of China, India and Indonesia read, watch TV and also films but don't pay enough to challenge for a top spot in those lists. It is important to look at where the money goes but if you want to talk about a global monoculture then you need more data and what people are actually looking at independent of how much they are spending.

Is a remake automatically bad for internationalization? In TV, ideas are circulating faster than before. Big Brother is a Dutch idea, Pop Idol is British and Ugly Betty is Colombian. I wonder where the hub is in those examples?

Also, it's not all one way traffic. A lot of people watching Japanese anime in the 60's and 70s assumed it was American-made whereas few would make that mistake today.

There is a danger of becoming a hostage to the data. When you thought that foreign films still held sway in Japan you described it as a "losing battle". When you found out that the trend actually switched around last year, it is celebrated as a possible harbinger of change elsewhere. There's not much predictive authority there. Which argument stands if foreign films regain the majority share this year?

Mon, Mar. 26th, 2007 04:22 pm (UTC)

I take the point that paying attention to paying attention rather than to simply paying money is a good idea. It's harder to google, though!

I think remakes are a bit like the phenomenon of ersatz, third culture stand-ins for exoticized cultures (the Western-educated Kazuo Ishiguro stands in for domestic Japanese authors in the UK market, for instance... although actually, more people are reading Murakami). A remake is a bad faith encounter with the Other. It may be a wooden horse, but more likely it strips as much otherness as possible away, and with it most of the challenge, atmosphere, etc (I'm thinking of the awful US remake of Ringu, for instance).

But you're right that much of what passes for Anglo imperialism isn't so clearcut. On a trip through Berlin today I saw a newspaper about Kylie's love for a boxer, Madonna posing for H&M, and a film poster featuring Uma Thurmann. I remarked to Hisae that not only were they part of the same monoculture, they all seem to be converging towards one (blonde, bland, post-surgical) look, no matter how they started out (Madonna once looked sort of Italian, didn't she?). But then we remembered that H&M was Swedish. I suppose it's some comfort...

As for your last point, YES the data can change my mind about what the outcome of this might be! I didn't think that Japan would ever hit 100% American box office, but I didn't think the change would come as fast as it has done. But bear in mind that the Japanese themselves are calling this snap resurgence the "hoga bubble" rather than, say, the "hoga corner".

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Mon, Mar. 26th, 2007 02:40 pm (UTC)

I'm going to play devils advocate here and ask you - since theres a huge market for US media in countries outside of US prove that other countries want to buy US-original items? I understand your viewpoint that culture should be preserved (though to say WE have to step to preserve seems like a form of bigotry) but does the average person on the street think it should?

Of course the fact that the US imports more than it exports (in terms of cost) shows that the economy is losing money, the only exception being entertainment. So if the american economy falls apart we'll probably see more equal sharing of culture.

Mon, Mar. 26th, 2007 03:30 pm (UTC)

It seems to me like the stistics between "published" and "consumed" don't really link up. My experience has been that it seems that most people who actually read (in america at least) tend to read a lot of world literature, especialy these days, murakami is a fine example of a contemporary, wheras usually it's sort of a scattershot classicist rhetoric.

There may be a lot of "american literature" that comes out of the states, but it seems like the interest, and what's touted about it much more polycultural. Many books in English that are published in English-speaking Nations aren't actually written by natives to those countries, another trend(?). I don't know what to say about europe though, I'm in Austria and students here do seem to fall into a similiarily broader spectrum of interests, though they know more about origionally german literature than others...

Mon, Mar. 26th, 2007 04:32 pm (UTC)
Re: litstuffs

Couldn't help but notice your avatar. Isn't it from that amazing footage in Mein liebster Feind where the beautiful butterfly dances around and lands on Kinski's face and hands? He was one charismatic bastard.

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Mon, Mar. 26th, 2007 08:56 pm (UTC)

I'm profoundly shocked by these statistics; I wasn't aware that people still read.

Mon, Mar. 26th, 2007 09:11 pm (UTC)

the remedy: one poem a week. on a park bench. hampstead heath. oi, is that doris lessing over there? royalist bitch !!! mellowed with age, didn't she?

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

Ideally, I'd have a view on this but I don't:


"Fresh Japanese Wave Threatens Korean Pop Culture"


Mon, Mar. 26th, 2007 10:46 pm (UTC)

Channelling Momus, I'll try to explain that one...
Japanese wave = winner in the free market of creative ideas
American wave = cheater backed up by guns and money

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Tue, Mar. 27th, 2007 01:55 am (UTC)

I'll take advantage here and coin my own catchy phrase of the moment (with a tip of the hat to one of our mutual heroes): "Divided by a common culture".


Tue, Mar. 27th, 2007 03:56 am (UTC)

I'm an American living the U.S., and I've probably watched/listened/read more non-American movies/TV/music/novels than American ones. You always have some degree of choice in what you expose yourself to if you know there is are alternatives. The real problem of monoculture is not in the rest of the world, but in the U.S., where most people don't know alternative cultures exist. If you want to see the effects of cultural protectionism, look no further than the U.S. itself.


Tue, Mar. 27th, 2007 10:08 am (UTC)
Can I just Say...

In 1989 afterhaving been a journo, a clubbo, and a 24 hour party person-o for most of that decade, I chose to undergo a 2 year media black-out.

I really didn't miss much.


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Wed, Jan. 8th, 2014 05:22 am (UTC)

To update this article seven years later, here's how the situation now looks in regard to US films in Japan:


The Japanese public has gone off "dark and depressing" (and non-family-friendly) Hollywood movies, whose market share in Japan has halved in ten years, from 67% to 34.3%.