November 11, 2010

Rising Power Of The ‘Informal Media’

A huge new media power is arising, offering a perceived threat to established media but also opening up new ways for society to exchange ideas, opinions, news, cultural and creative products.

Around the world, vast quantities of media now circulate in unregulated and unmeasured channels, out of sight of governments and mainstream industries, says Professor Julian Thomas of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation (CCI) at Swinburne University.

Professor Thomas and colleague Dr Ramon Lobato have been awarded an Australian Research Council grant to study these "invisible" media flows, and how they are changing the way we communicate today.

"Nobody knows how big the informal media economy really is. All we can say is that it is already very large and is growing by the day, in reach, in value and in influence. It would have to be worth billions of dollars," says Prof. Thomas.

By "Ëœinformal' Professor Thomas means media circuits that do not show up in trade statistics and industry monitoring "” from parallel-imported CDs and books, to pirate DVDs, to illicit material traded on the internet. Even second-hand books and LPs sold at thrift stores are part of this economy.

"It's akin to the black or grey economy, which economists talk about. That refers to the part of the economy that is not regulated, taxed or measured. Nobody has yet been able to establish the scale of this phenomenon for media. All we can say is that it is growing at a remarkable rate, and that it is very fluid," Professor Thomas says.

CCI research fellow Dr Ramon Lobato suggests that studying informal media can change the way we understand today's media industries: "If we look a bit closer at informal circuits, we find that it's not all about piracy and porn. These networks often get content to audiences in fast, cheap, and efficient ways, and some serve important socio-cultural functions. Understanding how informal circuits work can also help us understand the challenges faced by many creative industries today."

Depictions by the publishing industries of the informal media economy as "Ëœpiracy' and by traditional media owners as a threat to their business, miss the point, they say.

"What we are saying is that the informal media comprise a part of our economy and society that is not currently being measured, is largely unrecognised and is not well understood," says Prof Thomas. "It's happening below the radar. But it is important, and very interesting. Rather that posing a threat to established media, as many of them seem to believe, we think there is a productive connection between the "Ëœformal' and "Ëœinformal' media "“ however this needs closer investigation," he says.

With their colleagues Prof Stuart Cunningham (CCI) and Prof Dan Hunter (New York Law School), Prof Thomas and Dr Lobato have been awarded an ARC Discovery grant to expand their research into the informal media economy. As part of this project, they will be studying a variety of topics including pirate DVD markets in Latin America and Asia, online film distribution platforms, and the history of anti-piracy campaigns.

They will present a report on their project at a CCI symposium to be held at Swinburne University tomorrow, November 12, 2010.

The CCI Symposium will take place at Swinburne University of Technology, AGSE Lecture Theatre (AGSE207), Hawthorn, Melbourne on November 12, 2010. Media are welcome to attend and interview participants. For details, see:

The ARC Centre for Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation (CCI) is helping to build a creative Australia through cutting edge research spanning the creative industries, media and communications, arts, cultural studies, law, information technology, education and business. It is funded by the Australian Research Council (ARC).


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