by Roni Simunovic
You could argue that the publishing industry’s relationship with technology—in the creation of new digital formats, online modes of dissemination and movement away from traditional markets—is something that’s being mirrored in creative industries worldwide. The music industry is the most obvious example, since it has faced both the rise of digital music downloads and, more recently, music streaming services, which might be outperforming all previous forms of purchased music—but what about industries outside the creative sector? What about, for example, the sports industry? Although the games themselves might not have changed in any immense way (unless we’re talking about technical advancements with regards to physical equipment, which is a different conversation), new technology has affected the way consumers interact with professional sports in a big way, just as it has with publishing.
The publishing industry creates a form of entertainment for consumers in books, and the sports industry does the same through the spectatorship of organized sports. Both industries traditionally employ a “few to many” system of dissemination: a few writers from big-name publishing houses write heavily-promoted bestsellers, and a handful of major league teams play specific sports that are shown to millions of fans. (Although this is changing in creative industries, the sports industry might not be ready to take a chance on the same diversification of content.)
In both cases, the introduction of technology that could make dissemination easier, faster and cheaper caused “techno-panic” and was fabled to ruin each respective industry. The printing press was supposed to cause a harmful overabundance of data and a lack of appreciation for the written word, and in the early days of radio, teams banned live sports broadcasting in their hometown to encourage fans to attend games. Now, however, technology has a similar effect on both publishing and sports: readers have the option of purchasing a book’s traditional, physical form, or its digital form, via a reader or other mobile device, and sports fans can either attend games or experience them with the help of television, radio or online streaming services.
For both books and sports, the traditional mode of consumption is generally seen as more expensive (the cost of printing adds value to a book that’s generally passed onto the consumer, and tickets to major league sporting events are more expensive than ever) and less convenient, because print books usually require a trip to the bookstore, and sporting events require attendance. On the flip side, digital editions don’t take up physical space and have no constraint on supply, and games can be listened to for free on the radio or seen in a sports bar, or purchased on cable at a fraction of the cost of a ticket.
Likewise, technology has created ways for both readers and sports fans to connect with their communities another outside the traditional act of reading or watching a game: readers can use the web to find new books, see reviews from others and join online book clubs and forums, and sports fans can chat on any number of sports forums or use online fantasy leagues, both of which create a community around each source of entertainment apart from actual physical contact. Similarly, creators in both industries are using apps to make consumption easier: reader apps catalogue and track which books you’ve read, and sports apps keep track of schedules, scores and stats for a myriad of major league teams.
The two industries share similarities outside modes of dissemination and consumption, too. Ebook piracy is a new fear for publishers (although the issue seems to not be as pressing as it is with film and music) and, in a similar way, illegal live streaming of sporting events may threaten the value of television broadcasting rights. In both cases, it’s argued that if the form of entertainment is available for free, even the digital versions of the product (ebooks or broadcast sporting events) will become worthless. However, you could easily argue that although the financial value of these things might drop, neither “product” is in danger of dying out: books will not stop being written, regardless of the form they take, and sports will not stop being played, regardless of the way they’re viewed. In both industries, the issue being dealt with in the face of new technology is not quality or prevalence, but the financial health of each industry and its ability to profit.
With that being said, the big difference between the two industries is obvious. Sporting games do not require space for viewers to consume, only time—there are no warehouses full of unwatched sporting events, building up and waiting to be seen. As long as sports exist, they take up the same amount of space in arenas and not in the homes of viewers, so when we discuss the way that technology affects sports, we’re talking about dissemination and consumption, and not form; unless, as previously mentioned, we’re talking about technology with regards to equipment and things that really do affect the way sports are played, but these have no real relationship with the consumers of sport, only the players. On the other hand, traditional print books definitely take up space, and when we talk about digitization, we’re talking about dissemination and the product’s physical form: technology is affecting creators and publishers by redefining what a book is, and readers, by changing how the written word is consumed and interacted with. In the future, the sports industry might use technology to change the “few to many” mode of dissemination and allow fans to somehow interact with physical games in a way that changes their viewing experience, in the same way that ebooks have changed the relationship readers have with literature—virtual reality, maybe? But until then, the two aren’t quite the same.
But, the big question is: is the sports industry being affected by new technology in the same way that the publishing industry is? Is the publishing industry being negatively affected by changes caused by new technology? As far as sports go, early fears that broadcasting would make less fans attend games seems to be largely unfounded: between 2014 and 2015, game attendance has stayed relatively the same or, depending on the league, has increased or decreased—there’s no real pattern. You could argue that fans who can afford tickets and who enjoy the experience of live sporting events will continue to attend, and those who can’t have many cheaper, more convenient options available to them, be it viewing via television, radio or online streaming (pirated or otherwise). The same could be said about books: the jury is still out on whether “print is dead,” as terrified bibliophiles are crying in the streets, but there’s no conclusive evidence that suggests print books will be going extinct anytime soon; on the contrary, ebook sales may be dropping. To suggest that print is dead because ebooks exist is like suggesting that arenas will close because cable television exists, which sounds ridiculous. For the foreseeable future, both industries have traditional modes of consumption that will be championed by those who love them, and for everyone else, there are a growing number of options available: my dad can stream a Serbian UEFA game on his computer, and I can save up for Canucks tickets; I can read ebooks on my phone while sitting on the bus, and my mom can have a library full of hardcovers. There’s still going to be something for everyone.
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