Book Reviews Assaulting Today’s Goliaths

Strangled Capitalism – How Big Tech and Big Content Captured Creative Labor Markets and How We Will Reclaim Them
by Rebecca Giblin and Cory Doctorow
(Scribe, £10.99)

THE way we consume creative works has changed drastically and bewilderingly over the past two decades.

From online retail behemoths like Amazon to music and video streaming services like Netflix and Spotify, our cultural habits have completely changed and continue to do so.

What must be equally obvious is that it had major deleterious effects on society – one need only look at the state of any main street in the country to see it.

The independent bookstores, record stores, and movie theaters that were once the “third places,” providing community hubs from which street-level creativity often thrived, are quickly and alarmingly becoming a thing of the past.

Another much-discussed consequence is the effect on the ability of creative work to earn a living as these tech giants consolidate their cultural hold.

There have been meaningful comments and at first glance, Chokepoint Capitalism might seem like yet another work in the cottage industry of the dismal jeremiads of times past.

But where Giblin and Doctorow’s work stands out is in the practical meat he puts on those bones. Giblin is a professor specializing in intellectual property at Melbourne Law School and Doctorow has an established reputation as an author, speaker and commentator on creative work in the digital arena. Both bring their respective expertise to add forensic details to the matter.

The book is split into two parts, the first being essentially a series of case studies on all the big players in “big content” – Amazon, Spotify, Audible and a few others.

They’ve certainly done their research, and even those with a passing interest in these things will find plenty of jaw-dropping quibbles that might have eluded them before, such as Audible’s clawback of authors’ royalties on unfinished audiobooks.

Giblin and Doctorow identify the monopsonies (marketplaces with essentially a single buyer) created by Amazon and their ilk and the anti-competitive “flywheels” with which they stifle meaningful choice and squeeze the earning potential of independent producers and creative workers. themselves.

Much of this involves a deep dive into copyright law, legacy royalty payments, and anti-trust legislation that was originally intended to guard against predatory corporations, but has become their primary weapon against potential rivals.

If that sounds boring, that’s because it potentially is, but Giblin and Doctorow manage to make even the most abstruse legal shenanigans readable.

The second part of the book is another area where the book excels. Most books of this nature tend to be able to articulate the problems but lack the solutions. Giblin and Doctorow offer a range – from laws on greater contract transparency to stricter time limits on copyright and a guaranteed minimum wage for creatives.

Some of these may seem more achievable than others, but the fact that Giblin and Doctorow brought these measures into the conversation can only be a good thing and a great starting point for a fairer settlement.

Ultimately, however, their argument is one of collectivity: “The most important individual action you can take is to join a movement,” they write, and of course they are right. And, as they point out, this is an argument that applies not just to creative work but to work of all kinds.

Alycia R. Lindley