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An oligopoly is a market form in which a market or industry is dominated by a small number of sellers (oligopolists).

Oligopolies can result from various forms of collusion which reduce competition and lead to higher costs for consumers.1 Was the 1980s stand-up comedy business controlled by a few big suppliers who maximized their profit on the account of the customers loss? In order to answer that question we need to establish who were the consumers and sellers of comedy in the 1980s and also to analyze the situation in comparison to the present and past of this industry and also other creative industries that went through similar changes (the Netherlands paintings market in the 17th century and the musical industry in Vienna in the 18th century). The distribution channels of the 1980s stand-up market consisted of comediansproducers, comedy clubs and TV shows-retailers and of people with a sense of humorconsumers. Lack of competition between the comedians was never an issue. The market was traversing its boom period and demand was as high as ever with supply never failing to keep up. Market barriers were nonexistent for a talented young comedian as shown by the huge number of stars that emerged from that period: Eddie Murphy, Rosie O`Donnell and Andrew Clay. In fact the large number of people who were trying their chance at becoming a comic super star eventually oversaturated the market causing the great depression in the comedy industry from the `90s. One major disadvantage of the oligopoly is the lack of creativity that it encourages. Although the numbers of comedians was increasing, the quality of the stand-up comedy experience was not. The huge achievements of consecrated comics made the big number of new comers apply the success recipe and stop improving the genre inevitably leading to a loss of respect from the public for the art that they perform. It is this side effect that the 17th century painters guilds presented as an argument for the ban of public sales (Marchi & Miegroet, 1994) and that we can see today in new industries- YouTube Vlogging. Maybe the more obvious tension in the market was to be found in the relationship between the producers and the retailers. The main reason for the dispute was the different way in which they saw comedy clubs` scope in the distribution channel: while the comedy clubs thought of themselves as providing free publicity for the comedians, the comics thought of comedy clubs as a place where they can sell their merchandise and demanded to be paid for the services they were offering. In the comedian- comedy club relationship the one who usually had the advantage in negotiating was the later. The reason for this is the little choice a comedian had for promoting himself in order to monetize his talents through the other retailer: comedy TV shows. It is in this sense that the market could be characterized as an oligopson. It had a large number of suppliers who were competing for the attention of the few buyers out there: comedy clubs. In exchange for the services the comics provided, comedy clubs offered little
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monetary compensation (25$ per set) but repaid the comedians with a chance to success and to the real money in the industry: the TV shows. The micro-economic goal of fair wealth distribution is not fulfilled as maximum profit is made by major players only, and small players are left with little profits. While this is, to some degree, a reality for all industries, it is especial true for cultural industries. From the Netherlands painters in the 17th century who had to first be an apprentice to a great master in order to be allowed to sell paintings(Marchi & Miegroet, 1994) to the 80s comics who were performing in a comedy club for publicity we can see a pattern. Only the well-known, respected or popular artists get to monetize their talents. This is the reason why Mozart published his sheet music without making a profit (Baumol & Baumol, 1994) and why music stars do not receive remuneration from the radios that are playing their songs: publicity. Even with todays more liberalized cultural market, in which artists can sell directly to their fanbase (as Louis CK was able to do by self-distributing his most recent special), they still have to be initially popular in order for people to buy tickets. From the perspective of wealth distribution and lack of creativity the 80s comedy market was an oligopoly but in all other regards: little competition, costumers dissatisfaction through price control, high barriers for entering the business and shared control of the market, it was not.

References Baumol, W. J., & Baumol, H. (1994). On The Economics Of Musical Composition In Mozart's Vienna. Journal of Cultural Economics, 18(3), 171-198. Marchi, N. D., & Miegroet, H. V. (1994). Art, Value, and Market Practices in the Netherlands in the Seventeenth Century. The Art Bulletin, 76(2), 451-464. History of Stand-up Comedy. (n.d.). Comedians - News and Reviews About Comedians and Stand Up Comedy. Retrieved September 5, 2013, from http://comedians.about.com/od/historyofstandupcomedy/History_of_Standup_Comed y.htm