As a fitting follow up to my previous post about how shortsighted corporatism killed American comics, YouTuber David V. Stewart recommended his insightful video The 5 Phases of Corporate IP Ownership.
In his video, David breaks down the corporate decision making process that runs franchises across all media, not just comics, into the ground.
Let me talk a little bit about why this happens. Corporations have a different set of motives than artists, and artists have deeper intrinsic reasons for creating the art than [corporations] do. That’s part of being an artist. They have soul in the game.
When you write a song, you’re expressing something fundamentally about yourself. When you create a movie and you create a story, you’re expressing something fundamentally that’s important to you, hopefully.
And so, when the ownership of being able to produce sequels is handed off to a corporation, they don’t view the art as something that needs to have soul invested in it--that needs to have meaning behind it. They view it as an asset, and an asset needs to be creating value for the company, so it becomes just a value transaction.
These conflicting artistic and corporate mindsets produce the following IP death cycle:
- Creation: An artist with soul in the game creates a work--usually low budget; usually not expected to turn a profit. The work is a labor of love.
- Explosion: The work resonates with a mass audience and becomes a surprise hit. The studio/publisher/network immediately demands more in an attempt to catch lightning in a bottle. With a bigger budget and the original creator still on board, some superior content can come out of this phase.
- Milking: Emboldened by success, the creator asks for more money. The corporation does a cost-benefit analysis and refuses the deal, reasoning that the back catalog is already successful, so they don’t need the creator to maintain momentum. With a massive hit under his belt, the creator secures better paying work elsewhere. The corporation brings in pens for hire to exploit the original work to the fullest extent possible.
- Death/Hibernation: The IP gets so watered down by the endless glut of progressively lower quality sequels, TV spin-offs, tie-in novels, toys, and breakfast cereals that the public loses interest. The IP goes moribund, and the fans move on to something else.
- Reboot: Enough time passes that the last milking phase is forgotten. Maybe the IP has changed hands a couple times. Perhaps a wave of nostalgia sweeps the zeitgeist, and the corporate IP holder makes a move to cash in. Either way, a reboot--sometimes disguised as a sequel--is released. It doesn’t approach the original’s quality level, but nostalgia may lead fans to overlook the warts. Regardless, the franchise immediately returns to the milking phase, and soon another death phase, which may or may not be permanent. Otherwise, the cycle eventually repeats.
One takeaway is quite clear. Whatever comes next, it’s going to come from independent creators who control their own IPs. Hollywood is a propaganda factory that’s forgotten how to entertain. The Big Two comics publishers are now brand management firms maintaining copyrights for propaganda films. The Big Five book publishers are dead and on their way to going broke.
Creating a cultural touchstone like Spider-Man or Star Wars takes a visionary with an idea that resonates with mass audiences by solving longstanding storytelling problems in revolutionary ways. Furthermore, that next-level artistic vision must be paired with expert marketing savvy.
A combination like that only comes around once or twice in a generation, and in Current Year, the big media corporations have become too bloated, monopolistic, and shortsighted to foster what’s next.
The revolution awaits an indie creator to come along with the right idea at the right time and maximally leverage the new open distribution infrastructure. We’re already seeing the first glimmers of this future in newpub. I hope you’ll support it.
Originally published here.