On The Commons: What we can learn from the “Nollywood” Model

Link: OnTheCommons.org | The Improbable Success of Nollywood.

David Bollier has a blog post at Onthecommons.org that takes a look the rising Nigerian film industry, and their more decentralized and more “open” distribution practices. (quote):

“Every week, about 30-40 new films are released. They are all sold by street vendors, directly to consumers, on videocassettes. (Nigeria doesn’t have any movie theaters.) The videos cost $3 apiece and rent for 50 cents. Although pirates in outlying areas of Nigeria sell illicit copies for $1.50, the industry is still thriving. Indeed, one might argue that sales of pirated videos is whetting the consumer appetite for legitimately purchased films.

Nigerian filmmakers release about 2,000 low-budget films a year, which rack up sales of $200-$300 million. (By comparison, American studios released 611 commercial films in 2005. India released 934.) The Nigerian industry employs about one million people, which makes it the second biggest employer after agriculture. A typical film costs between $30,000 and $100,000 to make, according to The Economist magazine (June 29, 2006).

A lot of Nigerian films deal with witchcraft, murder and other unsavory themes, and production values are often poor. But the stories clearly resonate with the Nigerian consumer. In fact, Nigerian films are so popular that they are watched throughout Africa; on a South African satellite television network; on a British pay-television channel owned by Rupert Murdoch; and on commercial airlines.

The lesson that I draw from Nollywood is that an open, decentralized marketplace with lots of participants is likely to be more creatively robust and competitive than the Hollywood blockbuster culture that we are now saddled with. In fact, doesn’t the Nigerian film biz sound a lot like the Internet itself? It’s a low-cost platform open to newcomers who have the talent to connect with audiences. Word-of-mouth beats out glitzy advertising campaigns. Internet-savvy creative rebels in the industrialized world may find something to emulate in the Nigerian film industry.”(end quote)

In my opinion, we started to see a similar industry grow for a time in the US, Europe, and elsewhere, with independent music record labels, magazines and distribution systems. And, in these areas, we now have “long tail” distributors (like Amazon, ebay, lulu, netflix, etc). So, it seems that we already have the infrastructure, and past examples of models like what Bollier is talking about above.

So, why haven’t these models emerged on a larger scale? I think this type of relatively distrubted and open media emerged in Nigeria because there was a void that needed to be filled. While, in the US for example, big entertianment conglomerates make it by comparison extremely easy to access their content. They tend to fill in and dominate all of the major voids.

However, the nicheing of consumer demand may be causing new “voids” to emerge faster than the large conglomerates can fill them in. This may then present more opportunities for a diverse and decentalized industry to emerge that can fill these voids and niche demands.

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