Abstract: Soft Power: The Media Industries in Britain since 1870

Gerben Bakker


I discuss the emergence and growth of various media industries in Britain. I show how a rise in real wages and leisure time, rapid urbanization and the development of fast urban transport networks, and a rapid growth of the market's size led to a sharp rise in the demand for media and entertainment products and services, which was met by ever-new technologies coming from constantly emerging new industries, such as recorded music, film, radio, television, cable, videogames, internet, and social media. I argue these industries contributed to a sharp productivity rise by industrializing traditional media and entertainment, and to a sharp welfare growth as consumers valued them so highly that they were willing to incur ever-higher opportunity costs to consume them. I also discuss how four factors—quality races, marginal revenues equalling marginal costs, the superstar effect, and agglomeration benefits—shaped the evolution of individual industries, and assess the success or failure of British media across six distinct policy objectives. I also observe the external effect media had by improving the functioning of the market through better information transmission and the shaping of morals, reducing transaction costs, and how the media and the new forms of advertising they introduced affected market structure in various consumer goods industries.