The Culture Journalist
The Culture Journalist
What is chokepoint capitalism?

What is chokepoint capitalism?

Cory Doctorow on how platforms got so good at taking creative workers’ money — and making it impossible for us to leave.
Graphic from a promotional video for Chokepoint Capitalism, the new book from Rebecca Giblin and Cory Doctorow.

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How did tech giants like Spotify and Meta and TikTok get so good at separating us creative workers from the value we generate with our work? According to a fascinating new book by Melbourne Law School professor Rebecca Giblin and journalist, science-fiction author, and activist Cory Doctorow, the answer lies in something called “chokepoint capitalism”: the phenomenon whereby platforms insert themselves between cultural producers and consumers and charge creators money — either explicitly or implicitly — to reach their own fans.

In other words, if you’re a creator and all your fans are on a platform, you can’t leave without losing access to your audiences, their wallets, and critical gates for exposure; most of the time, that means you just have to take the raw deal you’re being handed, ethics or the ability for you to eke out a living from your work be damned.

Cory, who also wrote a fascinating article earlier this year about the “enshittification” of TikTok, is one of our favorite critics of the contemporary internet. We invited him onto the show to discuss how chokepoints became so acute in the creative industries (hint: it’s something that fusty legacy institutions like the major labels, radio companies, and Hollywood talent agencies have also been doing for years), and how companies leverage factors like network effects, switching costs, weak anti-trust enforcement, and even copyright law itself to rig creative labor markets in their favor.

While these platforms feel impossible to leave, there’s still something we can do about it. Cory also tells us about some of the tactics creative workers can use to dismantle these chokeholds and get paid, and where the current tech downturn (and Silicon Valley Bank) fits in with all this. if there’s such a thing as a quintessential Culture Journalist conversation, we think this episode is it.

Purchase Chokepoint Capitalism: How Big Tech and Big Content Captured Creative Labor Markets and How We’ll Win Them Back

Read Cory’s essay, “Tiktok’s Enshittification” (but also sign up for his newsletter)

Help crowdfund the DRM-free audiobook Cory is releasing for his new novel, Red Team Blues, which he describes as a “post-cyberpunk anti-finance finance thriller”

Rebecca Giblin is the director of the Intellectual Property Research Institute of Australia and the leader of a number of projects dedicated to protecting creators’ rights, including the Author’s Interest Project, the e-Lending Project, and Untapped: the Australian Literary Heritage Project. You can read some of her research here.

The Culture Journalist
The Culture Journalist
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