I’m often asked to provide a business justification for pursuing the tools and rights frameworks to enable remix culture. I have various stock answers for this, usually focusing on the potential for improved search or cheaper ways of achieving mass customization of media. This evening, while reading the introduction to David Hesmondhalgh’s The Cultural Industries, I came across another concept that I think gets at why media companies ought to embrace the remixing of their content. Hesmondhalgh, citing Garnham, points out that the media and entertainment industry is very high risk. To manage that risk, media companies attempt to build a diverse “cultural repertoire” or range of cultural products. Any given single production is likely to fail, but given a broad catalog of productions, at least one is likely to hit it big.
Allowing and encouraging remix is a way that media companies can expand their cultural repertoires not just at the level of individual works, but also at the level of the possible expressions of those works. Any given single production is likely to fail, but given a broad set of variants of that production, at least one is likely to hit it big. Electronic music producers caught on to this a long time ago–witness the number of remixes (for the street, for the club, for headphones) that hot hip-hop or dance singles receive. But even they are only scratching the surface of what could be achieved by relinquishing control over the creation of derivative works to radically expand their cultural repertoires.