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A reader asks,

What is the meaning and usage of landscape in [phrases] like ’emerging media landscape’ or ’emerging distribution landscape’?

First I’ll address traditional meanings of the noun landscape as it refers to scenery.

Although Old English had the word landscipe, meaning “a tract of land” or “a region,” the word landscape entered modern English in the early 17th century from another Germanic language, Dutch. It was borrowed as a technical term for a painting or drawing that represented natural inland scenery–as opposed to a portrait or a seascape.

By the 19th century, landscape had also come to mean “a tract of land with its distinguishing characteristics and features, especially considered as a product of modifying or shaping processes and agents.” The features could be the result of either natural processes or human design.

Here are current examples of both meanings:

William Turner (1775-1851) was an English Romantic landscape painter, water-colorist, and printmaker.

Running for 186 miles, the Pembrokeshire Coast Path takes you through a rich assortment of different landscapes along Wales’ west coast, from limestone cliffs to red sandstone bays and lush, glacial valleys.

The New California Landscape promotes a balance between urban landscapes and the environment, includes diverse and beautiful aesthetic qualities, and facilitates the efficient use and management of resources, especially water.

The phrases “emerging media landscape” and “emerging distribution landscape” reflect landscape’s new use in the vocabulary of marketers and bureaucrats. The Ngram Viewer shows that “media landscape” appeared in the 1960s, but didn’t soar until the 1980s. “Distribution landscape” emerged in the 1990s.

The “media landscape” refers to the way people get their news and entertainment. In earlier times, we read newspapers and books, listened to the radio, watched television, collected records, and went to the movies. That was the “old media landscape.” Now we have smart phones, electronic notebooks, digital books, home theaters, and the Web.

Distribution in “distribution media” is a business term referring to the way vendors get their products to consumers and how consumers pay for them.

One channel of distribution is the simple transaction of buying a set of dishes at a yard sale: the seller of the dishes puts them outside with a price on them; the buyer hands over cash and takes them home.

A more complicated channel of distribution is involved in buying a computer. The buyer places an order–in a store, on the telephone, or online. Payment is made in advance–by cash or check in the store, by credit card in the store or online–or by some other method, such as PayPal. The computer is then transported–likely from China–by air and by truck to the point of purchase.

The “new distribution landscape,” moves beyond traditional methods of delivery. For example, it’s possible to buy a product such as software or music online and have it delivered by download.

This figurative use of landscape has nothing to do with the physical world. It seems to be a trendy replacement for the once-fashionable paradigm as an inflated synonym for pattern or model. This abstract use is trickling into other contexts:

The Changing Content Distribution Landscape

Reflections on the New Compliance Landscape

Navigating the New Rural Banking Landscape

The New “Meaningful Use” Landscape: A Transition from Incentives to Penalties

A brief discussion about the new lending landscape

In the context of printing, landscape is used as both adjective and adverb in reference to shape (oblong) and directionality (horizontal). The opposite of landscape in this context is portrait (vertical):

Should I design my illustrated kindle ebook for portrait or landscape mode?

AOL pages print Landscape Instead of Portrait

Print set-up shows portrait but prints landscape.

As a verb, landscape means to beautify an outside area by making it part of a continuous and harmonious scene.

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3 thoughts on “Landscape”

  1. I think that the misuse of “landscape” above is ghastly.
    This especially noteworthy because of the useful words that were already here:
    realm, arena, field, fiefdom, plain, setting, continent, kingdom, etc.

  2. Concerning the height vs. width distribution of pictures and other graphical information, the key quantity is called the “aspect ratio”.
    Look that one up and learn a lot more about graphics and aviation, too.

  3. A common aspect ratio for modern TV sets is 16:9, and airplanes can be found that have wings with the same aspect ratio.

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