As this blog reaches the ten year mark, I’m proud to introduce the first guest poster I’ve ever had at FiveFeetOfFury.
Entrepreneur Saul Rothbart will be providing us with a bracing, timely, ongoing seminar on the ever fascinating topic of Capitalism. Join us here each week for a new installment.
Here’s the premier column. I really enjoyed it, and I think you will too:
VIRTUAL CAPITALISM 101
by Saul Rothbart
This being my first post for Five Feet of Fury on the subject of virtual capitalism, I’d like to start by borrowing a few words from the immortal Louis Meyer, and get everyone up to-date by way of a snappy 19th Century story.
In the 1890’s, the basic technology of projecting moving images had developed to the point where any keen enthusiast, imbued with entrepreneurial possibilities, could from available parts assemble a light bulb and lens coupling and functionally attach the unit to a sewing machine chassis. The motivating idea being — to enthrall, edify and educate the public at large with wondrous visual experiences of the world, near and beyond — and in the process, make a handsome living selling tickets.
At the time, Thomas Edison had effectively locked-up the technologies that made it possible to make and show moving images. For anyone who wanted to “get in the movie business”, homage, tribute and recompense were to be made in New Jersey.
It’s worth mentioning that while Edison laid claim to the intellectual rights to the machines that made the magic work, there were numerous countervailing claims by other patent holders. But Edison was undeterred and when lawyer letters to suspected infringers would go unheeded, his sure-fire fix was to dispatch a team of Pinkerton’s men to extract the desired result. As far as Edison was concerned, he owned the movie business and needless to say, it was a tough business to be in if you were an independently minded operator.
Ever the opportunist, by carefully controlling the rights to use his machines, Edison was also able to appropriate rights to the “creative” product” — dictating not only who could make movies but also, the subject matter that could be made and would be shown.
His strategy worked well for a while, allowing him with machine-like precision, to effectively consolidate a monopoly on both the production and distribution of short reels.
In France, the Pathe Brothers, infused with the imaginative fervor that made Paris in those days a veritable hothouse of scientific inquiry and raging artistic expression, opted for a different approach in getting their “shorts” to the American movie-gong public. While Pathe’s reels were of a different sprocket gauge and could not run on Edison’s projectors, the lure of the American market was overwhelmingly compelling.
The great thing about standards is that there are so many of them, and not wanting to tangle with either Edison’s lawyers or his security forces, Pathe & Frere decided on a bold course of action by offering their film catalogs to exhibitors with unlimited and unrestricted usage rights. As an additional inducement, Pathe offered a new machine that made it possible for an enthusiast to duplicate any reel purchased from Pathe. It’s worth noting that while the film duplicate ran on Pathe’s sprocket standard, the machine would accept any master regardless of the source standard. All that was needed to get Pathe’s film to run was a technical adjustment to the projectors timing mechanism to which Pathe was kind enough to include detailed instructions.
On learning what Pathe was up to, Edison quadrupled his effort chasing down any and all rogue exhibitors spawning by dozens each day as new copies became available. For any unauthorized operator, the consequences were significant — a guaranteed visit to the hospital with a broken nose or twisted arm resulting from a mistaken mishap with the operator’s equipment.
For fifteen years Edison won every single battle with rogue operators but in the end, lost his bearing and his market. (Can anyone remember the last movie they saw from the Edison Film Company? ) Pathe had inadvertently set in motion the reason Hollywood would need to be created. First as a refuge from Pinkerton’s men, (Los Angeless’ proximity to the Mexican border was favored over Florida should one really need to lay-low until things blew over), and then as a creative-technical enterprise that would became the third largest industry in America within a few very short years.
But let’s take a few words to honor Thomas Edison.
Edwin Porter serving as Edison’s chief filmmaker / engineer, recognized early-on the creative limitations inherent in making movie “shorts”. Stories take time to develop but the physical limitations of the machines didn’t allow for anything other than a ten minute sequence. At one with the zeitgeist of Edison’s invention factory, Porter crafted a device that could automatically affix short reels together by way of an adhesive splice that coalesced separately shot segments into a new higher priced catalog offering.
The invention led to the discovery of “re purposing” content and instantly quadrupled the value of Edison’s film library. It also provided the means to actually tell a more interesting story by giving filmmakers of the day the time they needed to go beyond, by then, the tired-old travelogues and street scenes into hard-hitting and hear-felt theatrical dramas aimed at the teeming immigrants landing on American shores at the time.
More profoundly, what the film splicer provided was a new kind of tool that allowed for a truly innovative way to communicate time and space. A new language, so to speak, that is still evolving today by way of blogs.
Have a look at what the consummate enthusiasts at Boing Boing are doing to enthrall, edify and educate the public at large, to see what I mean.
(Next week: Get the process going to monetize your blog.)
Copyright A. Saul Rothbart 2010
(Off-line, the author provides contact marketing solutions to the financial services industry. To find out more, CLICK HERE.)