Tag Archives: gamergate

Impressions of “Dangerous,” by Milo Yiannopoulos

Milo Yiannopoulous is a former gadfly who placed himself in two of the biggest political stories of the past few years. His method for doing so is “trolling,” a form of literary expression combining humor with condemnation, similar to literary prophecy such as the Book of Jeremiah. A pivot player in gamergate, Milo helped transform a minor revolt against a corrupt trade press. Finally, Yiannopolous has become a civil rights hero, as the violent attacks on his right to speak on college campuses by members of the Antifa terror group attracted media, FBI attention, and Presidential attention.

Dangerous is a guided tour of Milo’s career over these events. It’s told primarily in the prophetic style. As such the bulk of the work is funny and thought-provoking, but not particularly substantive. The two chapters on a scandal involving ethics in game journalism and violent attacks on American campuses, however, are excellent. A version of the book with only those two chapters would be well worth the price.

The greater part of the book is a collection of attacks against the general left-liberal political coalition,” as well as “debate-club” (which is to say, Establishment) Republicans. Yiannopolous (and the broader alt-lite or new-right movement he is part of) has a strained relationship with the Republican establishment. The question is one of prioritization: the Party establishment focuses on concrete policy objectives (such as foreign policy or tax policy), while the prophetic wing of the Party is interested in cultural change, demographic stabilization, and media control. This dispute over objectives can flair into anger and lead to crude insults on both sides — such as this twitter screen where Weekly Standard pro-Establishment writer calls a prophetic public intellectual a “Nazi”


Milo includes an excellent chapter on the gamergate trade press controversy. I’ve described the economic dynamics of it before. Historically, the game press was controlled by large hardware companies and written by subject-matter enthusiasts. Google and Facebook’s advertising monopolies reduced the publishers’ revenues, leading to a collapse in journalist wages and press. Simultaneously, new self-publishing platforms took users away from the trade-press . The retreat of a traditional editor-centric approach led journalists to pivot away from ethics in journalism: journalists funded the products they reviewed while maximizing revenues through click-bait, or a combative and deceptive editorial style style. And journalists sleeping with subjects.

Yiannopolous doesn’t discuss any of this — well, except for sex and, briefly, ethics. As in the rest of the book, his interest is cultural change, not economic policy. Instead he provides a complementary account of personalities involved in the scandal and their objective. From Leigh Alexander to Carl Benjamin, Allum Bokhari to Anita Sarkeesian, the people who became Internet celebrities from the affair give drama to his narrative. The rhetorical focus is on the corrupted power of editors, and the marginalized voices of the readership. Milo once planned to write a book on gamergate –this chapter would have been a great conclusion to that work.

Politics In the Age of ANTIFA

One reason I write less about politics now is that the nature of politics has changed in the past decade. We may be entering a paramilitary age of American politics. One symptom of this is the rise of Antifaschistische Akton, a German paramilitary organization shortened to “Antifa”.” The son of the former Democratic Vice Presidential candidate is active in the terrorist movement ANTIFA. A failed candidate nominee for the Democratic National Chairmanship likewise endorsed street violence. Perhaps one reason I adored DNC Chairwoman Donna Brazille’s recent memoir was that it reminded me of American political before the normalization of terror.

Politics now is more dangerous. If gamergate made Milo an Internet celebrity, he became a national figure after the ANTIFA riot at the University of California. Antifa succeeded in pressuring the University into silencing Milo, out of fear for property and lives. Milo’s not the first figure to be targeted by leftist paramilitaries — Dr. Allison Stranger was hospitalized following in an attack that recalled Red Guard violence during the Chinese Cultural Revolution. But unlike earlier victims who saw the success of the paramilitaries and simply fled (Dr. Stranger was fleeing while being attacked), Yiannopolous used the attacks to grow his own following.

ANTIFA paramilitaries are well organized around certain universities. They are able to force police to stand down. Milo is by the clearest voice exposing this violence, which is often ignored or defended by ANTIFA’s moderate allies. Directly because of Milo’s actions there is both Presidential concern over and FBI investigations into ANTIFA. This is a tremendous civil rights accomplishment. Milo’s prophetic and hyperbolic style can be tiresome. His activity in the computer games trade press was important but niche. But there is no doubt he is a civil rights hero.

The 2016 Presidential Election

Individuals who were active on gamergate, regardless of their affiliation, often claim the events foreshadows or directly lead to the 2016 Presidential election. Milo is one of those individuals. For the most part, I agree. Tactics of social media organization and intimidation were developed and tested by both sides in gamergate that were weaponized by Clinton and Trump allies during the election. Indeed, a common element between Mr. Yiannopolous, gamergate, and the Antifa riots are Milo’s former editor: Donald Trump campaign chairman Steve Bannon.

I just wish there was something substantive in Milo’s account. Unlike Bannon, Yiannopolous did not leave Breitbart for the Trump campaign, even though he has a great story to tell. Shattered, a book about the election from the Clinton campaign’s perspective, could be complemented with a book by Yiannopolous. At the very least Milo is part of that story, but this book is not an account of it.

Final Thoughts

If you plan to read the entire book, get the unabridged audio narrated by the author. Milo is a terrific public speaker, and even the repetitive first half is enjoyable because of how engaging and funny he is. Alternatively, if you plan on reading the book on paper or e-reader, the introduction and final few chapters (beginning with the chapter on gamergate and his civil rights work on American campuses) are very worthwhile.

I read Dangerous in the Audible edition.

The Structural Origins of Gamergate

“The AAAs *are* supporting Gamergate, at least tacitly. They don’t want the journos to gain any more influence (or to stop losing influence), and they loathe this pseudo-academic “critique” stuff just as much as your average gamer. The thought of having to kiss the ass of some PhD in order to gain an Indie or Social Justice imprimatur is insulting to them. They’ve got money to make. So by remaining silent on Gamergate and having IGN do the pageantry of adopting an ethics policy (no skin off their nose), the AAAs signaled that they were not in alignment with the journos. And they aren’t. They are happy to see Gamergate take these people on–and that enrages the journos all the more. This wasn’t a planned strategy on behalf of the AAAs, but it was an easy call to make once Gamergate was in play.”
David Auerbach, Sour Gripes: E3, the AAAs, and the Journos

Last year the most inexplicable event in the history of American publishing happened. Multiple game-enthusiast publications, in a coordinated campaign, published nearly identical editorials, with headlines like “Gamers are dead,” “Gamers don’t have to be your audience,” “Gamers are over, etc.”


Replace gamers with “golf-enthusiasts,” or “yacht owners,” or “biblical archaeology nuts,” or “railroad modelers,” or any other hobby you can think of. Never before, in American publication history, had publications that catered to hobbyists condemned their own hobby.

This was the origin of gamergate. There were events before (a sex-for-publicity microscandal in the hobby before hand, some tweets by actor Adam Baldwin afterwards), but those fit neatly into the daily churn of pop culture.

Hobbyist publications condemning their own hobby doesn’t “just happpen.” Something like gamergate requires professional media manipulators, and a failed revolt within a sector of the industry.

This is how it happened:

The games industry historically has five fundamental groups operating with in

  • Multimedia creators, such as AAA development studios (Electronic Arts ,etc) and indie studios of one or a few employees
  • Text and graphics creators, such as AAA magazines and indie hobbyist publications
  • Media consumers, who are gamers and game enthusiasts
  • Outrage entrepreneurs, attempting to extort various members of the three above groups for their own purposes
  • Gamers, who are customers that buy games

In the 1990s the barriers to capital for the multimedia and graphics creators were relatively high. It was (and is) expensive to run a AAA games studio. Running a magazine involved highering a lot of people, negotiating wiht book stores for shelf placement, and a large budget for printing and postage. Development tools were relatively unfriendly, and it was difficult to collaborate with others who were not in your same town. “Indie” games largely consistent of wargames, RPGs, and direct translations of these genres.

The only outrage entrepreneurs at this time were cultural conservatives such as Jack Thompson. They were alienated from all aspects of the industry, and so had to attack it (unsuccessfully) from the outside.

Gaming Industry Then and Now Slide1

Then, the internet happened.

The internet had a lot of consequences, all relating to lowering capital requirements as a barrier to entry:

  • News become “free” leading to the closure or consolidation of the old-line AAA publishers
  • Cheap “indie” or “clickbait” publications arose with no physical presense
  • Platforms with consumer-side economics of scale (like Twitch and Youtube) arose that lets gamers and game-enthusiasts self-publish to a broad audience, with no staff

But publishing a AAA game didn’t become cheaper. Instead (as gaming became increasingly hit driven, and the internet allowed the creation of marketing echo chambers) it became more expensive. Instead of both AAA game publishers and AAA news publishers both having ‘monopolies’ and some degree of equivalence, the remaining news publishers had a stark choice to make:

1. the transition to a “USA Today” of soft news managed by AAA game studios (the model adopted by the most popular online publisher, IGN, and the sole survivor of the print era, PC Gamer)
2. reducing expenses and dependency on AAA publishers for access by allowing writers more freedom; non-financial contributions in allowing writers to use their positions to push pet political interests, as long as the headlines geneated clicks (the model adopted by Gawker, Vox, and other “indie” or “clickbait” sites)

A second-order effect of the ultra-low cost model adopted by Gawker and Vox is that it enabled outrage entrepreneurs for the first time to target writers within the industry. In short order a new generation of such entrepreneurs. Its perhaps not a coincidence that the most successful such entrepreneur is rightist-become–leftist Jonathan McIntosh: as the audience for gaming outrage changed, so the political stances of the entrepreneurs changed.

Yet these “indie” or “clickbait” outlets faced the even lower-fost competition of self-publishing gamers on Youtube and Twitch. And there was a real culture clash. The sort of person who happily plays videogames and talks about videogames in a second or third tier city in England or Wisconsin is not the sort of person who moves to Brookyln or San Francisco to work for Vox and Gawker. Their sense of mission is different (evangelize how fun games are, v. share social commentary learned in university), their sense of persecution is different (memories of being bullied or mocked for a hobby, v. academic concerns learned in university), their sense of villains are diffrent (those who would prevent them from enjoying their hobby, v. rich businesses and capitalists).

This was gamergate: a “goat rodeo” built on an ill-defined culture clash but containing many petty grievances and placing indie developers at the center, with their presses and audiences eager to hear them praise or condemn any given side. The chaos of the situation lead to the bitterness, a civil war within the community.

Gaming Industry Then and Now Slide2

In internet debates, the larger community centered around AAA publishers is sometimes called “gamers,” and the rival community of outrage entrepreneurs and clickbait journalists “SJWs” or “Social Justice Warriors,” but these are ideological terms that hide the materialist structure of the unfolding drama. AAA publishers like money, and so have friendly relationships with light media which celebrates their industry; with self-publishers who act as category captains for their products, and of course with their final customers, gamers. Outside, and looking in, are the outrage entrepreurs, now joined by clickbait journalists who due to economic reasons have become their audience and mouthpiece.

This is the Best Games Media Ever. But the Worst Games Journalism

This is the Best Games Media Ever. But the Worst Games Journalism

I must be doing something right, because I now know two Zens! ZenPundit is a terrific historian and author. ZenOfDesign, a game designer, is also the most polished of the voices defending GawkerMedia and Vox in the gamergate scandal.

ZenOfDesign has a terrific post, This is the worst games media ever (Except for all the ones before) that covers much of the territory I’ve been blogging about, including

    1. The collapse of paperbound games journalism
    2. The rise of social media (with its consumer-side economies of scale)
    3. The financial pressures that the new old media of online games journalism faces

We use different terms for these trends, but I think we see the objective sitaution very similarly.

Where we differ is in understanding the difference between entertainment, commentary, and journalism.

ZenOfDesign’s otherwise terrific post is an anarchy of conceptual confusion.

        1. ZenOfDesign and I agree that sites like Gawker and Vox at least aspire to be journalists.
        2. ZenOfDesign confuses commentary with journalism. For instance he explicitly compares Gawker with Daily Kos, apparently without realizing that Daily Kos is a site dedicated to commentary and political agitation.
        3. ZenOfDesign confuses entertainment with journalism. For instance, he appears to be honestly disturbed that celebrity “streamers” engage in product placement (he’s not alone in this — a famous celebrity streamer well known for his gentle personality was also very worried).

Very few care about celebrity product placement for the same reason very few care about Daily Kos’ liberal bias: neither celebrities nor political agitators are journalists.

Many times I’ve mentioned that the #gamergate scandal was fueled by a naive population that believed game journalists were had the prestige or access of, say, Washington Post reporters. ZenOfDesign is striking for me in that he is a supporter of Vox and Gawker, but equally naive. His passion against celebrity product placement is heartfelt, and his demand to know how product placement is made is earnest.

Look, if I were a #gamergater and cared about actual journalistic integrity in games as much as they purport to, I’d at least demand some answers. I’d be aiming the angry mob at demanding confirmation of these requirements. I’d be trying to find out what OTHER games this particular marketing company shilled for and looking at those. I’d be taking a hard look at early YouTube videos and seeing who made videos that matched these requirements, and try to figure out which YouTube video personalities are basically purely on the take. I’d be pushing personalities to establish disclosure rules for financial rewards and editorial content restrictions such as this.

To anyone who understands that entertainment is not journalism, however, it’s also bizarre

Types of Publishing Platforms

There are three (maybe four) kinds of publishing platforms

Consumer-side economies of scale are currently disrupting the publishing industry. That is why the rise of consumer-side economies-of-scale platforms is currently the biggest news in publishing. The increasing power of platforms such as Twitch (widely used by gamers) is removing the prestige associated with journalism. Likewise, the loss of audience from “traditional media” (employee-produced, with no consumer-side economies of scale) means that traditional media needs to further cut wages, and cut quality.

There are three (and maybe four) important kinds of publishing platforms

  • Consumer-produced, consumer-side no economies of scale
    Most published content is produced by users of the service. Each additional consumer/producer does not increase the utility of the service for other users (in ways not related to producer economies of scale)
    Examples: WordPress
  • Consumer-produced, consumer-side economies-of-scale
    Most published content is produced by users of the service. Each additional consumer/producer increases the utility of the service for other users (in ways not related to producer economies of scale)
    Examples: infiniteChan, Facebook, Reddit, Tumblr, Twitch, YouTube
  • Employee-produced, no consumer-side economies of scale
    Most published content is produced by paid employees or contractors. Each additional consumer/producer does not increase the utility of the service for other users (in ways not related to producer economies of scale)
    Example: The Washington Post
  • Employee-produced, consumer-side economies of scale
    Most published content is produced by paid employees or contractors. Each additional consumer/producer does not increase the utility of the service for other users (in ways not related to producer economies of scale)
    Example: This may not exist in a pure form. But a pretty close example is Amazon Kindle, where the bulk of the material is created by paid authors, while reviews and annotations are shared between consumers.

Interestingly, Amazon.com is involved in three of these platforms. Amazon owns Twitch, Kindle, and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos owns the Washington Post.

Just as interesting is the predictable way besieged “traditional media” (employee produced, and without economies of scale) attacks “new” media with consumer-side economies-of-scale. For example, the Washington Post employs Caitlin Dewey, whose only responsibility appears to be targetting media that has consumer-side economies-of-scale. Recent targets include

If you didn’t know the kinds of publishing platforms, you might think the Washington Post was just publishing objectively interesting news, or that Amazon was just a book seller.

Gamergate is a Publishing Scandal: The High Cost of Low Wages

Gamergate is a scandal, not a movement. The gamergate scandal is a sign of a publishing industry in crisis. The scattered demands of those who talk about gamergate are irrelevent, because it’s not a political or even social campaign. The gamergate scandal goes away either when game journalism once again becomes a skilled profession, or when the digg-like exodus from dying old game outlets concludes.

Gamergate is a scandal which outrages a community because it combines collusion between journalists (like the secret GameJounroPros” mailing list) with collusion between journalists and the industry they cover (including sex-for-favors, and even commissioning works to review).

But I’m more cynical than I was when I started this blog. If gamergate was just a scandal of corrupt journalists fucking their subjects and working together to cover that up, I probably would be bored.

But it’s not just corruption, which is normal, but actual incompetence, which is rare. When caught, a normally intelligent corrupt figure will apologize, pretend to make amends, and wait for things to die down before being corrupt again.

An incompetent tells their audience they are “over.”


When you see multiple employees causing havoc, poor pay is to blame. Smart editors would apologize, change policies, and at least wait for the buzz to die down before going on with life. Incompetent editors brag about coordinating a public relation campaign on the behalf of the industry they cover, against the interest of their readers, in an official column, or even write that he suggested that gaming journalists organize a “public letter of support” for a favored game developer.

The gamergate scandal is what happens when publishers cannot pay high enough wages to attract competent editors. Gamergate happens when a new self-publishing media with consumer economies of scale cannibalizes revenue from old publishing media. This kind of scandal happens when editors lose access and need to find something else to talk about, without any training in deciding what to talk about.

Gamergate ends when the habit of gamers to care about what “game journalists” say ends. This could end by kotatku, gamastura, and other websites changing their mind and deciding they don’t want gamers to be “over.” But more likely: the gamergate scandal ends when gamers realize that their voice is as important as a theatre-major in Brooklyn, or a hipster in San Francisco. The gamergate scandal ends when black gamers, white gamers, asian gamers, gay gamers, straight gamers realize the one thing they share — love of being gamers — is the one thing that game journalists despise.

Gamergate ends when Twitch replaces Kotatku, Youtube replaces Gamasutra, and twitter replaces Polygon. Gamergate ends when the cost of self-publishing is so low that gamers on youtube get equal access to upcoming games as game “journalists.”

The gamergate scandal shows how when a publishing industry keeps lowering wages beyond what is required to attract competent editors, the outcome is the mamarginalizationf a publishing industry and a mass defection to new media.

Hachette, Penguin, Simon & Schuster — are you listening? This is the biggest news in publishing. I hope you’re ready..

The Gamergate Scandal is the Biggest News in Publishing

The fight between Amazon and Hachette has got a lot of publishers paying attention. But it’s not a scandal. It’s exactly what you would expect when a big five technology company and a big five book group try to dividie profits between themselves.

There is a scandal in publishing though, and it takes place in a part of publishing where self-publishing platforms have economies of scale and publishers are no longer attractive to their traditional partners: game journalism publishing.

The gamergate controversy began after it became clear than a celebrity indie developer (whose game I positively reviewed) slept with at least one journalist after positive coverage of her television show and game. Given the insular nature of game journalism, no action was taken against either the journalist or the developer by the publications in question. A series of public relations disasters — collectively called the gamergate scandal — later brought the disclosure of a secret email group designed to coordinate coverage, harassment of critics of game journalists, and then the weirdest news in publication history…. coordinated editorials of magazines condemning their own readership.


The scandal (journalists like some of their subjects, and fuck them) is not new to anyone familiar with human nature. But the public attacks and mockery of a magazine’s own readership may be unprecedented.

If  that wasn’t inexplicable enough, it then followed that game journalists were actually paying for games they were covering to be created. Kotatku, publicly supporting the concept of journalists financially supporting their subjects:

However, Kotaku still allows its writers to directly purchase a game for reviewing, or to back projects on Kickstarter and Indiegogo, two other, more established platforms for people to crowdsource revenue, despite the fact that both of these transactions also involve the writer financially supporting the developer. Where Kickstarter and over-the-counter purchasing differ from Patreon, according to various writers and figureheads at Kotaku, is that through them you support the product, whereas through Patreon you support the person.

Imagine if Sports Illustrated said that athletes — or football fans — where “over.” Imagine if there were football teams operating because of donations by ESPN columnists.

Imagine if ESPN said they had no obligation to look out for the interests of football fans

no obligation

The gamergate scandal is the biggest news in publishing, because it shows how publishers operates after the industry can no longer pay grown-ups. Game journalists actually thought it was a good idea — in any sense — to publicly attack and mock their own readers. Game journalists actually have been creating stories — funding favorite designers — in order to give themselves something to write about.

Major book publishers like Hachette, Penguin Random House, and HarperCollins can afford to pay professional salaries to editors, because self-publishing platforms don’t have economies of scale yet. When that day passes, when you see editors at Penguin declare that “readers are over” and the New York Review of Books publishing reviews by books commissioned by the reviewers, book publishing will be as wasted as game journalism is now.

Journalism, Access, and Gamergate

Journalism and Access

The business of journalism is built on access. And the prestige of journalism is related to the ease of access.

Areas that are the easiest to access allow journalists to be most prestigious. For instance, covering the Unitd States government is a prestigious assignment of a journalists. It’s always an “easy” on: there are so many agenda and centers of powers in the United States government that it is relatively easy to aquire access. Occasionally, this allows journalists to present themselves as hollywood heroes. An example of this is All the President’s Men, a book (and later movie!) which is about two journalists special access to an FBI bureaucrat.


Areas that are moderately difficult to access allow journalists to be moderately prestigious. For instance, the organizational behavior of large companies shares with the United States multiple centers of power and many agendas. Unlike the ggovernment almost all employees at a company share some material interest in the well-being of a company. This, journalism about organizational behavior in large companies can be most prestigious either during a scandal, or during a succession transfer. An example of this is Inside the Plex, a book that was written during current Google CEO Larry Page’s successful campaign against former Google CEO Eric Schmidt.

steven levy

Areas that are the hardest to access allow journalists to be least prestigious. This is because of the monopoly power of any source that chooses to talk: they can extract concessions from the attractiveness of the reporter to a very real fear that access can be revoked if the tone of coverage becomes un-flattering. Journalists in these situations may find themselves almost indistinguishable from corporate shills

Access and Gamergate

The gamergate consumer revolt against the low-prestige game journalists is in its second month. One reason  for this revolt is the disgust that journalists feel about gamers: as Vox Media’s T.C. Sottek says, that game journalists feel no obligations to look out for the interest of gamers

no obligation

But even before gamergate, the feeling was mutual: gamers do not like game journalists. The most successful game outlets, whether in terms of consumer recommendations or twitter followers, are “celebrity” gamers on youtube and twitch, and not journalists who declare their core demographic dead.

So if you are a publisher of games: who would you provide access to? Low-prestige journalists that do not like gamers, do not like games, and are unpopular with gamers? Or celebrity enthusiasts who are popular with the community and care about it?

Journalism and GamerGate

This is the context for Kotatku announcing they were deprioritizing access

The future of games coverage is in the present. For too long gaming coverage has focused on the vague future, the preview mindset of possibilities and maybes. And when it’s involved the present it has been drenched in the dreary falseness of empty interviews, bland producer-speak and executive-hype. It’s neither been real enough nor true enough to what is actually happening now. For too long games reporting has involved staring at what is opaque, maybe glimpsing something through it and reporting about that possibility, all the while ignoring so much of what is clearly visible and exciting around us. P

I believe there is a better way to cover games, one that puts future-based coverage and executive interviews in proper diminished proportion. We must focus on the games that are being played now and the human beings—the gamers, mostly—who are doing interesting things with them.

Game journalists have made their living as low-prestige journalists for decades. That’s not ending because they have a chance of being higher prestige journliasts. It’s that they’ve given up on being journalists.

This shift was made by the rise of consumer-side economies of scale which allowed self-published youtube and twitch channels to be more popular and trusted than gaming journalists.



I ignored #gamergate for the first month because I recognized game journalism as a low-prestige, low steaks profession.  Only this inexplicably stupid editorial from a once-respected magazine got my attention.

But my attention is mostly on the collapse of an industry I loved growing up — game journalism — its painful death throws, and seeing what comes next.

After GameGate, the deluge

GamerGate began with a sex-for-reviews microscandal concerning a free-to-play online game. It continued with coordinated editorials in which major publications asked their primary demographic to stop reading their magazines, in perhaps the most self-defeating series of op-eds in history

It is now an ethics-in-journalism movement.

Those all will pass. What comes next is the deluge.


The Economies of Scale

There are two kinds of economies of scale. One, producer-side economy of scale (just called “economies of scale” by old textbook) refers to the cost advantages of dividing a large fixed cost of capital over an even larger number of consumers. The great modern enterprises of our day — Barnes & Noble for example — were primarily based on the immense cost savings of producer side economies of scale.

Producer-side economies of scale allowed Barnes & Noble to nearly destroy the local bookstore industry.

Barnes & Noble’s rise was the crowning glory of the Modern Age.

They were once even cool enough to draw protesters.


But there’s another kind of economy of scale: consumer-side economies of scales. This, called “network effects” in the booming days of the .com bubble because the socialized road and postal systems had been frozen for so long as to be invisible, refer to the transactional cost savings (reduction of duplication of effort, reduction of friction, etc) of acceting a standardized communication platform. The Internet itself is an example of something with massive consumer-side economies of scale: the more consumers are on it, the easier it will be to procure goods and services on it.

Consumer-side economies of scale allowed Amazon to challenge Barnes & Noble, until it had acquired enough producer-side economies of scale to bury it.

Amazon was, and is, a company straddling the line between Modern enterprises, and whatever comes after.


The Publishing Industry

There are two ways to treat a human client. You can treat him as your customer, from whose wallet you obtain your income. Or you can treat him as your product, selling him to your actual customers. Amazon is an example of the first sort of enterprise, Google the second. Both approaches can lead to happy humans, and happy shareholders.

But not always.

Consider magazine publishing. Traditionally, magazine publishers received their income from a combination of subscription revenue of and advertising revenue. These magazines benefited from a “multi-sided market” in which they the human end-users were both the client and the product. This allowed magazines to nimbly change their pricing strategy as the situated warranted. Humans were happy. Advertisers were happy. Shareholders were happy.

And all this coincided with massive supplier-side economies of scale, and no consumder-side economies of scale except for the socialized (and static) highway and postal systems. This was the Golden Age of publishing


The introduction of new consumer-side economies of scale meant that it was really, really cheap for each marginal consumer to aquire published materials — the internet, the web, web browsers, even communication lines were there, and accepting these standards was invisible. This allowed micro-amazons, with goals of large readership bases and exploiting consumer-side economies of scale, to thrive.

Time’s cover stories were for a quant age, in which transaction costs were still high enough to exclude low-cost low-quality competitors. Instead, new competitors enjoyed the benefits of economies of scale, from both the consumer and producer sides.

The new companies (Buzzfeed, Vox, and so on) were further able to exploit the economies of scale by substituting quality of audience for quantity. Instead of dedicated readers paying $10 or $20 or $100 dollars a year, instead htey focused on “click-bait” or emotional pieces written by even worse paid writers. The advertisers got their audience, the new publishers still got money, but the core readership felt increasingly alienated.


The day of the endless “Top Ten Reasons Why You’re Addicted to Buzzfeed” had dawned.


Self-Publishing and GamerGate

Just as Amazon put fatal competitive pressure on Barnes & Noble, Buzzfeed and its ilk put fatal competitive pressure on Time-Warner. With consumer-side economies of scale taking away its moat, and producer-side economies of scale fading with declining readers, the old Modern enterprises began fading.

Two-forces kept churning: consumer-side economies of scale continued to reduce transaction costs. And the most engaged readers (those who had been most willing to pay for subscriptions, and more enthusiastic about their subject) felt increasingly alienated by the new Buzzfeed world.

In gamer-oriented commentary-and-entertainment publishing – because of the relatively young and educated nature of its target demographic — we see this post-Modern world right now. Self-publishing is more valuable than traditional (magazine-based) or hybrid (listicle-based) publishing.

The top self-publishing platform for gamers — twitch.tv — was recently purchased for Amazon.com for one billion dollars. This is ten-times more than the highest estimate I was able to find for an estimate of the entire Vox Media congolomerate (of which a very small fraciton is gaming).

And it’s not just revenue, but influence. “Steam” is the top online marketplace for video games. The top curator is a guy with a Youtube channel.


Of the top 10 curators, only 3 are magazines.

An example video from “cynical brit” is this op-ed piece, which combines footage of a computer game with commentary on Gamer Gate itself

These change are coming to other parts of the media. The recent fight between Amazon adn Hacette is just bargainin for a cut of the profits. It does’t matter. But what matters is when Amazon is able to drive the cost of reading for consumers to $0.

What happens then is what happened to gaming 15 years ago: a widespread collapse of the old publishers, a shift to an advertising model of some form, a collapse of wages, and a deprofessionalization of writers.

What happens after that? What happens when those future readers exploit even newer self-publishing platforms to cater to a nearly-forgotten core audience? What happens when book writers and journalists become as out of touch with their audience as game journalsits?