Triumph of a Time Lord (Part Two): An Interview with Matt Hills

Last time, I ran the first of a two part series featuring an interview with Matt Hills, a leading British thinker about fan culture and genre entertainment, discussing the revamped Doctor Who series. Hills is currently hard at work writing a book, Triumph of a Time Lord, which discusses the retooling of this classic British series for new audiences and new times. In the first installment, I focused on questions concerning the series’s relations to its most hardcore fans, discussing the argument that the new Doctor Who represents what happens when fans take over control of a media franchise. But that’s really too simple an explanation for all of the changes which have happened here. This time, I asked Hills to drill down on how the changes in the series format reflect trends in British and global television production as strategies to broaden the viewership of the programme.

As with last time, Hills assumes readers are relatively familiar with the contents of both seasons of the new Doctor Who — and makes frequent and telling references to individual episodes. He’s pretty careful not to kill the drama for poor Americans who haven’t had official access to all of the episodes this season (and haven’t figured out how to order them from UK Amazon or download them from some extra-legal source.) But if you’ve really remained in the dark about what happens this season, you may not want to read this since there are some major plot developments that get discussed here.

Of course, there are going to be spoilers afloat in the Doctor Who community at this point: it is really absurd to have such long delays in the distribution of the series between the United Kingdom and the United States, two countries seperated by a common language, at a time when information flows so fluidly across national borders along various digital networks. Television fan culture is now global and producers run a high risk when they muck about with the temporality of information flows!

To what degree do you think the new Doctor Who has been conceived for a global rather than a national audience? I gather there were complaints early on about

the “Americanization” of Doctor Who because of shifts in the format. Have those concerns settled down?

If anything, I’d say that UK fandom has shown a certain pride in the show’s volume of overseas sales – back in the day, this always used to be cited as a barometer of the old series’s popularity. There are still some residual and highly proprietary attitudes among a few UK fans, though, who very much perceive the show as ‘theirs’, which isn’t always helpful. The history of Who has frequently been one where certain groups of fans have contrasted its supposed “Britishness” to the allegedly “American” values of, say, the likes of Star Trek. And that hasn’t totally gone away, even in an era where fans can internationally access the same production information, and spoilers etc, at pretty much the same time via web-based communities like Outpost Gallifrey.

I think one sign that the show has absolutely been conceived of as a global vehicle is its comparative reliance on London as a setting. Filming in Cardiff has frequently doubled for London – even causing some consternation to drunken passers-by on those late-night occasions when the Welsh capital city has been ‘dressed’ as London: I overheard one Welshman shout “how rude!” as he lurched past a London underground sign which the production team had erected in the city centre for the filming of ‘Rose’.

Contemporary London helps to sell the show’s Brit identity abroad: it makes sense as a setting for international audiences much more readily than other UK cities would. The ‘showreel’ used to promote series one to buyers and advertise it on-air to audiences, included that scene of Big Ben being demolished by an alien spacecraft: ‘marvel as an international icon of tourism is trashed’ was evidently just as strong a subtext as ‘we’ve actually got decent special effects’.

And Cardiff’s first appearance was, of course, in ‘The Unquiet Dead’, which compensated for this by capitalising on the BBC’s reputation for costume drama (again, something likely to help sell the show overseas). This combination of ‘cool London’ – set up in the very opening montage of the series – and ‘heritage’/period drama settings makes the show a likely candidate to travel well. And the emphasis on clear storytelling (by Who’s standards) and iconic monsters are also both tokens of a global ambition, as are the occasional inserts of media coverage within invasion stories, which the show has been increasingly careful to internationalise, so that fictional US newsflashes, for instance, are seen on-screen alongside UK ones.

The 1996 US-UK co-production of Doctor Who was far more self-evidently “Americanized” than the current series. There, the TARDIS had a “cloaking device”, and the Doctor kissed his ‘companion’ in a more straightforwardly romantic manner compared with the various contrivances Russell T. Davies has used to justify this event. And though some fans may feel the latest show has been “Americanized” in the sense that it’s followed in the wake of US TV successes like Buffy, or adopted a story arc approach characteristic of shows like The X-Files, in fact elements of the new series’ format can be traced back through previous Russell T Davies’ screenplays and even his own Who novel – the emotionally complex, hard-hitting, and beautifully condensed Damaged Goods – as well as being indebted to developments in other Who novels: for example, the matter of groups of people (conspiracy theorists) trying to track the Doctor was raised in the Virgin novel Who Killed Kennedy, and is not simply or directly a reaction to developments in genre ‘realism’ in US cult TV (even if some of these 1990s Who novels may, themselves, have been written in the shadow of The X-Files). And the self-reflexive depiction of fandom (done far more directly than ‘Love & Monsters’) is carried out in Kate Orman’s Virgin novels Return of the Living Dad and Room With No Doors, in which a fan actually discusses negative fan stereotypes and asserts that he wanted to “get a life” by emulating the Doctor. Given that these adventures were written for, and sold to, a fan niche market, it’s not at all surprising that they moved ahead of the new series in terms of explicitly addressing fandom as a subject. But there is a very strong argument that far from simply reacting to American cult & quality TV, the new series is partly reacting to developments there (and production values) and partly reacting to developments within an international community of professionalised fan writers.

If the series were conceived of more centrally for a national rather than global audience, then I’d argue that it would display far more of a sense of UK regionality than it does. Even Christopher Eccleston’s “all planets have a North” Doctor has been rapidly replaced by David Tennant adopting an estuary English (or London-ish) accent in line with his Casanova performance, and the international sales that presumably garnered. And Peter Kay’s Bolton accent surfaces in ‘Love & Monsters’ only when he is under heavy monster make-up, seeming to suggest that the producers wanted to reinforce the point – yes, this is still Peter Kay the famous comedian, even under all the prosthetics. Otherwise, the dominant norm in the new series of Who is that its characters and settings are London-default and largely speak in ‘received pronounciation’ or Queen’s English: plus ca change. UK regionality is suppressed because of its irrelevance to a global audience: the fact that the series is made by BBC Wales has made relatively difference to its material form, though it has undoubtedly been a great boost to the Welsh TV industry, which – much like UK fan audiences – has again shown considerable pride in its success. And I think that takes me back to where I came in on this answer!

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Triumph of a Time Lord (Part One): An Interview With Matt Hills

For the past decade or so, I have had people come up to me and treat me as though I were an expert on Doctor Who. This is because I co-authored a book with Doctor Who expert John Tulloch (Doctor Who: The Unfolding Text) called Science Fiction Audiences: Watching Doctor Who and Star Trek. I provided the sections on American Star Trek fans and Tulloch wrote the sections on British and Australian fans of Doctor Who. I hate to say it but I really didn’t like the classic Doctor Who very much, though my wife and son were hardcore fans. My son dressed up as Jon Pertwee when he was a wee lad, much to the confusion of our midwestern neighbors who had never heard of the actor before. But when Doctor Who returned, I fell hard — again, perhaps not as hard as my wife and son — but hard enough.

So, I reached out to my friend and colleague Matt Hills of the University of Cardiff to share with us a British fan’s insights into what has happened to the new series. Wisely, I let my wife and son frame the questions. Hills wrote Fan Cultures which is perhaps the most important new book on fandom since… hmm, what was the name of that book again. There’s a conversation between the two of us about generations of fan studies in my new book, Fans, Gamers, and Bloggers, and as you will learn below, he is now hard at work on a new book about the Doctor. So what follows taps Hills’s special expertise as a fan and academic obsessed with this particular series.

I am going to run this interview, which is quite long (no doubt a shocking development for readers of this blog) but also quite rich, in two installments. This part focuses heavily on the relationship of the new series to its long-time fans, reading the new Doctor Who as a prime example of what happens when the fans take over the franchise. Along the way, there are lots of minor spoilers so for those of you who have not seen the second season, read this at your own risk. I don’t think there are any fatal spoilers here but it’s death by papercuts. And in any case, the more you know the individual episodes, the more you are going to get from his more specific comments.

Tell me a little about your relationship to the series and how you came to be

writing a book about the new production.

I’ve been a fan of the series since I was at least three years old – according to family stories, I used to be quietly absorbed in watching long before I learnt to talk! So, I suppose I’ve been a fan longer than I can actually consciously remember. My earliest proper memories of the show are of watching ‘Genesis of the Daleks’ on its original transmission, and ‘The Deadly Assassin’, both of which must have made a big impression. Davros really did terrify the younger me, even in ‘Destiny of the Daleks’. And Tom Baker’s eventual departure in ‘Logopolis’ formed a major part of my childhood emotional life…

As for how I came to be writing this book about the ‘new’ (2005–) series – Triumph of a Time Lord: Regenerating Doctor Who in the 21st Century – well, it was really just something I felt I had to do, given my previous work on fandom and science fiction TV, and my love for the show.

I was fortunate enough to get the chance to discuss the idea, however briefly, with Russell T Davies. He was absolutely supportive, and welcomed the notion that scholars might want to study the programme’s latest version.

One interesting snag, though, is that because I’m not doing the book as an official BBC publication, BBC contracts apparently mean that production personnel are not able to grant me interviews. This is what I’ve been led to believe, anyway. It seems to be a very different situation, and a very different moment, to when John Tulloch and Manuel Alvarado were writing Doctor Who: The Unfolding Text back in 1983 – they interviewed a wide range of then-current and former production personnel. It strikes me that right now, something like Doctor Who, especially with the success it’s had, is much more intensely about information control and ‘brand management’ than it ever was before. It’s almost as if there is a kind of info-war taking place – sometimes between the lines, and sometimes bursting into full view – between producers, fans and academics.

So, this book will probably have to be written without behind-the-scenes access, which is a shame in a way – but it’s not as if working from ‘the text’ has ever stopped academics before: there’s still masses of interesting things to be said about the new show and its audiences from different kinds of media studies perspectives.

I’ve ended up working with I.B. Tauris because of their excellent track record in publishing books on US and UK cult/quality TV: I’ve contributed to their books about Angel and a forthcoming one on CSI, and they’ve also done things like Reading the Vampire Slayer and Reading Desperate Housewives – spot the trend in titles! I wanted to avoid ‘Reading’ in my own title, though: it sounds a little limiting. And as I argued in Fan Cultures (2002), my very dense first book, being a fan is about so much more than ‘reading’ a beloved TV series. By now, I think ‘reading’ is a rather old-school academic concept or metaphor for what we all do in relation with television shows.

I.B Tauris have also recently published James Chapman’s excellent study Inside The Tardis, which focuses on the ‘classic’ series of Doctor Who. My own book will be a little more theoretical than James’s: he begins, only semi-humorously, by likening cultural theorists to Daleks and Cybermen, which I find truly astonishing. For me, ‘theory’ isn’t ever going to be the monster of the piece. I begin my manuscript by suggesting that the ideals and politics of media theory – which often involve championing the underdog and challenging systems of power – are actually really much closer to the ideals of the Doctor himself. And in any case, Who fan writers and luminaries such as Paul Cornell, Lawrence Miles, and Tat Wood have been making very interesting use of so-called ‘theory’ in their work for years. Like the best of their writings, I’m aiming to provoke fandom, and sometimes challenge received wisdoms, but not disappear up my own fundament at the same time (hmmmm, famous last words, there!).

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Fan Fiction as Critical Commentary

This has been my week for dealing with law professors — having engaged in a conversation with Yale Law Professor Yochai Benkler last week at the MIT Communications Forum, I was pleased to find a review of Convergence Culture over at the blog of the University of Chicago Law School written by Randy Picker. The first and second parts of the review mostly provide a detailed, accurate, and positive summary of the key points from the book, targeting those passages which may be particularly relevant to people interested in the legal implications of participatory culture. The last segment, not surprisingly, gets into the book’s discussion of fandom and intellectual property law. I thought I would use my post today to respond to a few of Picker’s key points there.

Now let’s be clear that I am no expert on the law. My wife happens to have a law degree from the University of Wisconsin and we both take some interest in developments in the area of intellectual property law and regulation of free speech. I suspect I know more than most laymen about these matters as they impact fan culture and the other sites of grassroots participation I have written about. But I would be a fool to try to debate the fine points of the law with a scholar of Picker’s stature.

Fan FIction and Fair Use

Picker writes:

Jenkins pushes (p.190) for a reformulation of fair use “to legitimate grassroots, not-for-profit circulation of critical essays, and stories that comment on the content of mass media.” But he clearly wants more, as he recognizes that most fans aren’t that interested in producing work that the law is most likely to protect (parody or critical commentary of the sort seen in The Wind Done Gone), but who want instead to write about Ron and Hermione kissing.

Let me spell out a little more precisely what I argue on page 190 in the book:

Nobody is sure whether fan fiction falls under current fair-use protections. Current copyright law simply doesn’t have a category for dealing with amateur creative expression. Where there has been a public interest factored into the legal definition of fair use — such as the desire to protect the rights of libraries to circulate books or journalists to quote or academics to cite other researchers — it has been advanced in terms of legitimated classes of users and not a generalized public right to cultural participation. Our current notion of fair use is an artifact of an era when few people had access to the market place of ideas and those who did fell into certain professional classes. It sure demands close reconsideration as we develop technologies that broaden who may produce and circulate cultural materials. Judges know what to do with people who have professional interests in the production and distribution of culture; they don’t know what to do with amateurs or people they deem to be amateurs.

For me, the phrase, the public right to cultural participation is a key concept underlying the book’s discussion. If I had my way, the right to participate would become as important a legal doctrine for the 21st century as the right to privacy as been in the late 20th century. I argue elsewhere in the book that a right to participate might be abstracted from the combined rights listed in the First Amendment and the right to participate would include the right to respond meaningfully to core materials of your culture. In that sense, I might go beyond our current understanding of fair use.

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Ms. Doonesbury’s Lament or Why She Can’t Take Our Class

We’ve been getting some calls and messages here at the Comparative Media Studies Program regarding the situation with Mike Doonesbury’s daughter getting lotteried out of our Introduction to Media Studies subject. See the most recent installments from the long running comic strip.


An installment a few weeks ago introduced the problem, saying that she was lotteried out of a HASS-D subject in Media Studies.

So let me clarify some of the background. In MIT lingo, a HASS-D is a Humanities Arts and Social Sciences Distribution subject. Essentially, this is our variant on the core curriculum. Each student selects from a broad array of possible options. Interestingly, there is only one HASS-D in Media Studies at MIT: the Introduction to Media Studies class which we teach each fall. I created this class in collaboration with Martin Roberts about a decade ago. It is currently being taught by my colleague, Beth Coleman, who doesn’t look very much like the guy shown in the cartoon.


The class is a large lecture hall subject which draws 50-75 students and breaks out into a range of smaller discussion sessions.

By design, HASS-Ds are small subjects. We are not allowed to have more than 25 students in the discussion sections. A Lottery system is set up to deal with the overflow problem created by the most popular classes. One of the prides of MIT is that these HASS-D subjects are taught by MIT faculty — we all spend time in the undergraduate classroom — unlike a certain place up the road from us, where such subjects would likely be taught by graduate students.

Ironically, Introduction to Media Studies has never actually had a lottery. Gary Trudeau is correct that the subject draws strong interest — many students share Ms. Doonesbury’s passionate engagement in the topic — but because of the mixture of lecture and breakout session, we have been able to accommodate every student who wants to take the class.

That said, I would have little sympathy for Ms. Doonesbury’s protests for special treatment. MIT is very much a meritocracy and would not make exceptions to its policies based on parental pressure or other forms of personal influence. MIT is proud of the fact that it does not allow “legacies” — students whose parents have MIT degrees do not receive preferential treatment in our process — and has never given out an honorary degree. Those who wear the brass rat have earned that honor by hard work. We try to be flexible in accommodating special needs of students but at the end of the day, a lottery is probably the fairest way to decide who stays when a class is oversubscribed.

Anyway, I thought people would be interested in knowing the back-story on these particular strips. I can say that we in the Comparative Media Studies program are delighted that Ms. Doonesbury is so enthusiastic about wanting to get into our classes. We hope she makes it one of these days. We’d love to see her become a major. A growing number of frosh are arriving at MIT wanting to major in our program. We are now the largest Humanities major at MIT.

Several people have noted that the guy in the cartoon doesn’t look very much like me — and he looks even less like Beth (who as I said is the person teaching the class this term). So, here’s the offer. I will send a free copy of Convergence Culture to the first person who sends me a doctored version of the cartoon which replaces the rather generic professor character with an authentic Henry Jenkins avatar. Send them to me at

Update!: We have a winner and in record time. Genie, a reader from Australia, was the first to send me a “corrected” (or some would say “doctored”) version of the Doonesbury cartoon with my likeness embedded. Here it is:


After all, to “doctor” is to make someone better, isn’t it?

Picking Over Pilots

Let’s take a moment today to think about the shifting status of the pilot episode on American television — a worthy topic in the midst of the rolling out of a battery of new television shows across the various networks.

In the past, the pilot served very specific functions within the behind-the-scenes decision-making at the networks. We might think of the pilot as functioning in television the way that a character sheet functions in comics or animation: it seeks to define the core characters and central premise of the series but it also does so by pushing them into their most extreme versions. The characters in pilots are often over-defined to the point of being reduced to stereotypes as the producers try to show who these people are, how they relate to each other, and what functions they serve in terms of the plot.

Compounding this problem is the degree to which performers have not yet fully jelled with their characters — in many cases, they may have just received news that they were assigned these roles and been rushed into production on short notice. They are trying desperately to prove they can act so they can hold onto these parts. In the past, it was not at all unusual to recast key roles after the pilot was shot and before the series reached the air. In any case, we know that character on television is generated as much by choices made by the performer on set as they take up the roles as written and make them their own and typically it takes a few episode for the rough edges to give way to more fully human characters. (Of course, the opposite can also happen and a compelling character in the pilot can be smoothed out or compromised through the production process.)

Radical shifts in the conception of the series may occur after the pilot has been shot (see, for example, the case of classic Star Trek where Spock was a highly emotional character in the pilot and Number One, a character cut after the pilot, represented the voice of cold rationality). The pilot was almost never a particularly strong episode from the point of view of the audience but producers and network executives knew how to read pilots, or thought they did, and used them as tools to make decisions about the show’s fate. It would not be rare for the pilot to get shuffled into rotation later in the run of the series (again, Star Trek is the classic example here where the original pilot got reframed and turned into a two part episode — a flashback — later in the run of the series). There was a clear separation between the pilot and the first episode.

And all of this took place behind closed doors. Network executives saw lots of pilots; they knew more or less which ones turned into good shows down the line and they knew what were the symptomatic rough spots experienced by most pilots. They might be anxious about innovation and shut down shows which took them in new directions; many of those shows are more likely to be embraced by at least cult audiences than network executives, but for most series, they knew what they were looking at when they saw a pilot.

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Update: The Flow Television Poll

A while back, I posted here my choices for Flow‘s television poll: Flow is an online zine where media scholars share their insights about contemporary developments in the medium with what they hope will be a diverse and engaged general readership. Participants were asked to identify but not rank their top ten favorite television shows of last season.

Well, the results are now in and can be read in their entirity over at Flow for anyone who might be interested in what a bunch of academics think is worth watching on television. The top ranks look like this: Lost won overall, identified by 12 of the 24 critics who participated; the second tier down was Arrested Development, The Colbert Report, and The Daily Show with 10 votes each (Keep in mind that 7 people also voted for Colbert’s appearance at the Washington Press Club which may suggest that news/entertainment got more votes overall than Lost depending on how we count). 8 people (myself included) vote for Veronica Mars; Project Runway and Deadwood got 6 votes each; and altogether, 94 different series, specials, commercials, and YouTube videos got identified by at least one voter. Of the shows I identified on my original list, Spooks/MI-5 was the only one unique to my rankings. I don’t know whether I should be depressed because my taste is so mainstream or kind of proud.

As Jason Mittell notes, many of the shows identified reflect the ways that new media is impacting our relationship with television — shows that have not yet aired legally in the markets where the critics live, content which circulated only on Youtube or as in the case of Colbert’s remarks, gained visibility through digital circulation, and series which really only found their audiences among academics once they became available on DVDs. In fact, he suggested that The Wire might have ranked very high indeed, based on feedback from academics who were discovering it on DVD had it not been off the air during the 2005-2006 season and thus been ineligible for inclusion. Mittell predicts it is an early front-runner for status in this coming year on the strength of its new season which is indeed getting rave reviews. (I still have to catch up with Season 3 on dvd before I can watch it but my Tivo is storing away episodes for the cold winter months ahead.)

Anyway, I thought you might be interested.

“Random Acts of Journalism”: Defining Civic Media

I have found myself this week struggling to put together my thoughts on the concept of civic media in light of a series of conversations and encounters I had last week: for one thing, there was the public conversation which the MIT Communications Forum hosted last Thursday between myself and Yochai Benkler (The Wealth of Networks) about how participatory culture was impacting how we access and process news and information. For those who’d like to hear the podcast of that conversation, you can find it here. For another, I listened to the earlier exchange which the Forum hosted involving Dan Gilmore (We The Media), Ellen Foley (The Wisconsin State Journal) and Alex Beam (The Boston Globe) on the rise of citizen journalism and its impact on established newspapers which can be found here. And finally, I got into a series of interesting conversations about the impact of new media on civic engagement as part of the planning process for a new series of books being put together by the MacArthur Foundation on Digital Media and Learning.

Across all of these conversations, I found myself returning not to journalism as it has been traditionally defined but to something broader I want to call civic media — that is, media which contributes to our sense of civic engagement, which strengthens our social ties to our communities — physical and virtual — and which reinforces the social contracts which insures core values of a democratic society.

Imagining New Kinds of Imaginary Communities

Newspapers and news broadcasts can certainly play that role and some of the speakers from traditional newspapers at the Forum events made powerful points about the important role that newspapers play at all levels — from the micropublics of individual neighborhoods up through cities, states, regions, nations, and global cultures — in forging a sense of connection between and within what Benedict Anderson calls “imagined communities.” Anderson’s point is that we feel a sense of emotional bond with people who we will never meet in part because media, like newspapers, continually remind us of what we have in common as citizens. Democracy depends not simply on informing citizens but also on creating the feeling that we have a stake in what happens to other members of our community. Such an attitude emerges in part from what the newspaper reports and the rhetorical structures it adopts; it also emerges through the perception of the editor’s responsiveness to her readers and the notion that the op-ed page of the paper functions as a shared forum where community members can speak with an expectation of being heard. Part of what may be leaving young readers feeling estranged from traditional journalism is that they feel that these publications do not represent the most important experiences of their lives, do not care about the issues that matter to them, and do not value the kinds of communities which they inhabit. One need only point to the ways that news coverage of issues from games violence to MySpace and DOPA emphasize the adult’s concerns but do not report or reflect young people’s perspectives.

Players often experience a similar sense of social connection in regard to their guilds, for example, in multiplayer games. There are plenty of players who go on forays on nights when they are too tired to see straight because they don’t want to let their virtual neighbors and comrades down. Such games are powerful introductions to civic engagement because they taught young people what it was like to feel empowered, what it was like to feel capable of making a difference within a world, and what it was like to feel a strong set of bonds with others with whom you worked to accomplish common goals. This is something radically different from Robert Putnam’s argument that people who go online lack the deep social ties that emerged through traditional community life. Those people who form guilds in multiplayer games can scarcely be described as “bowling alone,” to use Putnam’s potent metaphor. This is a totally different ballgame. What ever we want to say about what they are doing — they are doing it together.

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For Those Living In Or Around New York City…

My book tour promoting Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide takes me to the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria next week.

Here are the details:

Convergence Culture:

A Conversation with Henry Jenkins and Steven Johnson

Wednesday, September 27, 7:00 p.m.

Henry Jenkins, author of the new book Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide, and Steven Johnson (Everything Bad is Good for You), two of the nation’s most incisive cultural critics, will discuss the ground-shifting and often surprising ways in which audiences are participating in the creation, distribution, and consumption of media in the digital age, and the effects of these developments on entertainment and learning. The program will be followed by a reception and book signing. Tickets: $10 public/$7.50 for students with ID/Free for Museum members, call to RSVP. Buy Tickets Online

I hope to see some of my blog-readers from the Greater New York City area in the audience. I am told that they will put up a streaming audio and transcript of the talk sometime in October and I would announce it here when they do.

I am also scheduled to be interviewed on Tuesday night on the Joey Reynolds Show on WOR and the WOR network. For those not in NYC, the show seems to be available online here.

Comics and Micropayments: An Interview with Todd Allen

Yesterday, I ran an outtake from Convergence Culture which centered around the efforts of Scott McCloud to build public interet in micropayments as a means of supporting digitally distributed comics. Like McCloud, I believed that micropayments offered perhaps the best way to provide a commercial infrastructure which would preserve the diversification of content that currently characterizes the web while at the same time allowing artists to make a living off of their work. When McCloud spoke at MIT last week, he told me that Reinventing Comicswas designed to be a book about the future when it was published more than five years ago and it was still a book about the future now. We are just moving towards the future at a slower rate than any of us might have imagined. The success of iTunes suggests that people are willing to pay small amounts of money online to consume content they want (and thus suggests that some micropayments model might still make sense). At the same time, they are doing so through a central distribution channel which could easily become a gatekeeper locking lots of content producer out.

I have not been paying as much attention as I should lately to developments in the debates around micropayments and other ways of paying for online content. A few years ago, I served as a member of a thesis committee for Todd Allen, a student at New York University’s Gallatin School, who was doing a project focused on business models for digital comics producers. He has since self-published the thesis as a printed book and made it available online Allen is now a Chicago-based consultant and author on matters related to digital media and its business applications. He teaches E-Business for the Arts, Entertainment & Media Management Department at Columbia College Chicago. Allen’s writing on technology has been seen in the Chicago Tribune and Iconocast. Allen has worked with a diverse group of companies including the American Medical Association, National Parent Teacher Association, Modem Media and the Marketing Store. Outside of technology, Allen spent two seasons covering the New York Knicks for New York Resident, a Manhattan weekly paper, where he also penned a humor column. He once appeared on MTV in a futile attempt to explain computer science to Pauly Shore.

Todd is someone who follows digital comics very closely and so I decided to check in with him this week to see if he could bring us up to date about developments in that area.

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comics and convergence part four

This is the final in a series of outtakes from Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide dealing with the ways that the comics industry is responding to shifts in the media landscape. This segment deals with how we pay for digital content. Reading back through this, this section felt less au current than the other excerpts on comics I have posted here. When he spoke at MIT last week, Scott McCloud, himself, conceded that micropayments have not so far taken off in the ways that he had hoped and that other business models were emerging to support online content. To bring us up to speed on the latest developments in this area, I have arranged to run an interview tomorrow with industry observer Todd Allen, about recent trends in the digital distribution of comics.

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