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Marketers and Pirates, Businessmen and Villains: The Blurred Lines of Nollywood Distribution Networks

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Popularly known as Nollywood, Nigeria's booming video industry has emerged as a regional hegemonic cultural force, consumed throughout Africa. It is also an economic powerhouse: by some estimates it is the second biggest employer in Nigeria, and generates revenues of $300 million. Most remarkable about Nollywood's success is its informal structure, built across communal networks and held together by unwritten codes of conduct rather than regulatory mechanisms. After nearly two decades of video production and repeated attempts by the state to structuralize the industry and decrease piracy, Nollywood has only become a more complex and diversified system.

Nevertheless, the same informal networks that have allowed Nollywood to thrive in a regulatory vacuum have become the industry's Achilles' heel. Piracy poses the greatest challenge to Nollywood's growth, since each new video hits a revenue ceiling when pirated copies flood markets, often within days of a film's official release. But how do piracy networks make such a devastating impact, stifling the development of an entire industry? Ethnographic research demonstrates that networks of piracy and illicit trade are in fact deeply enmeshed within the video industry itself. Marketers' associations exploit less powerful sellers, and the disconnect between production and distribution networks limits accountability and sows fraud. Marketerfunded task forces protect video marketplaces from antipiracy raids by police, leading to outbursts of violence that have ended in deaths.

The regulatory gaps within Nollywood have allowed thousands of Nigerians to participate in media production, but they have also allowed for corruption to infiltrate every stage of the filmmaking process. The industry has hence expanded outward but not upward, unable to raise film profits and budgets. The greatest threat to Nollywood's continued growth, it seems, comes not from an outside force but from the industry itself. This paper draws from informal economy theory and anthropological discussions of the “culture of corruption” in Nigeria to trace the limitations of video production networks and assess their internal patterns of illegitimacy. As the industry considers a transition toward formalization, it must weigh potential benefits against the risks of disrupting an established system—one that has allowed Nollywood to become an international phenomenon.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 February 2012

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  • The St Antony's International Review (STAIR) is the only peer-reviewed journal of international affairs at the University of Oxford. Set up by graduate students of St Antony's College in 2005, the Review has carved out a distinctive niche as a cross-disciplinary outlet for research on the most pressing contemporary global issues, providing a forum in which emerging scholars can publish their work alongside established academics and policymakers. Past contributors include Robert O. Keohane, James N. Rosenau, and Alfred Stepan.
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