Digital network media has radically changed the relationship between publishing institutions and society.
Clay Shirky (2008), in a McLuhanesque insight, says that when we change the way we communicate, such as with the emergence of digital networks, we change society (p.17). Digital networks have enabled new ways for groups to form and media convergence; both have had a profound impact on society (Jenkins, 2004; Shirky, 2008).
This post will explore the impact of digital network media on the democratization of publishing and the epochal changes occurring in the relationship between publishing institutions and society through three examples: new economic publishing models such as crowdsourcing; self-publishing on platforms that circumvent traditional publishing avenues; and lastly, transliteracy as an integral part of published works in order to engage the audience and remain viable.
Decentralized economic models
Traditionally, the media and entertainment industries have enjoyed virtual control over what gets produced via barriers to entry afforded by their market dominance, ability to raise money to bankroll projects, and access to technology. Digital network media, however, are creating business models that break the traditional rules and provide access to resources – both technological and financial – that were previously out of reach of individual artists. For example, crowdfunding lets creators publicize their projects using the Internet and social media. The first crowdfunding site, aristShare, launched October, 2003. Another site, Kickstarter, has raised huge sums of money and achieved commercial and creative success. In 2012, three Kickstarter films ranked among the best-reviewed films of the year and six films garnered Oscar nominations (Geist, 2013). Inocente, a documentary on a 15-year old homeless girl who dreams of becoming an artist, raised $52,527 on Kickstarter and won an Academy Award.
Another recent development underscores the flux in the digital economy. Warner Bros., a major film studio, turned down creator Rob Thomas’ movie pitch based on his cult TV show Veronica Mars. The show was cancelled in 2007 after three seasons, but had enough of a following to raise $2 million on Kickstarter in less than 11 hours. It went on to raise over $4.5 million with time still remaining. Fans receive rewards for their level of donation but ultimately the win is their collective abiliy to create something that otherwise would not materialize (Jenkins, 2013). The power of the audience to resource and hence decide what gets created marks a fundamental change in relations between media institutions and society.
New media gurus predicted these models would emerge. Benkler (2006) explains the new economic models as “commons based peer production” (p.59) where individuals, neither hierarchically assigned or even paid, act on their own will and passion to develop or contribute to the development of a shared vision or product. Jenkins (2004) predicted the emergence of a digital economy negotiated between producers and consumers and the emergence of a micropayment system allowing producers to sell their content directly to the consumers, cutting out intermediaries and lowering production and distribution costs.
Decentralized editorial power
The convergence of media industries and resulting loss of diversity in journalism is being counterbalanced by the emergence of a crowdfunded blend of journalism, production and consumption (Aitamurto, 2011). For example, the site Spot.Us acts like a collective intelligence site for freelance journalists. Readers make cash donations in order to fund a story, providing collective judgment about issues they believe deserve attention. Readers can also donate other resources such as knowledge on an issue, photography, or editing. Crowdfunding is a form of participatory culture where donors feel empowered and encouraged to participate – becoming co-creators. This is also an example of collective intelligence; rather than rely on an expert to determine what is newsworthy, the wisdom of the crowd becomes the arbiter of what is newsworthy. Mainstream media is paying attention and exploring new sources outside their traditional publishing process. On November 10th, 2009, the New York Times published a story from Spot.Us by Lindsey Hoshaw on the Pacific Garbage Patch, an island of trash afloat in the ocean. This was the first crowdfunded story to be picked up by a major US publication.
The rise of the amateur publisher
Digital network media have given society its own means to publish, resulting in “the largest increase in expressive capability in human history” (Shirky, 2009). Toffler (1980) coined the term prosumer to describe the emerging trend of consumers as co-creators and active producers in the economy. This new peer-based media ecosystem is creating a lot of content that competes against traditional publishers for audience share and relevance. The rise of the amateur publisher is supported by HTML coding tools that make it easy to create and update blogs, and comment boxes create opportunities for dialogue to take place between authors and readers (Lessig, 2008). Internet search engine hubs like Technorati count links to blogs and index and rank them to “show the revealed preferences of the blogosphere” (p.61), allowing us to see that many blog sites outperform traditional media.
In this new media ecosystem Canadian internet users have the 2nd highest level of engagement in the world, spending more than 41 hours per month online and ranking 2nd worldwide in video hours consumed (comScore, 2013). Social Media sites in Canada are increasing their visitor base and engagement. The annual growth rates of the visual web are particularly significant – Tumblr (96%), Pinterest (792%) and Instagram (900%) (comScore, 2013). Lee Rainie, director of the Internet and American Life Project, says “The act of telling your story and sharing part of your life with somebody is alive and well — even more so than at the dawn of blogging. It’s just morphing onto other platforms” (Kopytof, 2011).
Self-publishers: the future of publishing
Tim O’Reilly, publisher and founder of the Tools of Change Publishing Conference says that self-publishing is enabled by the democratization of technology. He predicts self-publishing is the wave of the future (Webb, 2013). Best-selling author Amanda Hocking is an example of self-publishing success. After constant, frustrating rejection by traditional publishers, she self-published on Amazon and quickly entered Kindle Million Club for sales (Pilkington, 2012). Marketing is done by her fans, through positive reviews on sites like Goodreads or Amazon whose computer-generated recommendations do not differentiate between self-publishers or legacy publisher titles (Fowler & Trachtenberg, 2010).
The transition from print to electronic publishing is opening up new business models that benefit both publishers and authors. The e-book eliminates intermediaries and enables direct contact between author and reader. Compared to print publishing, the creation and distribution of e-books is economical, enabling an almost infinite numbers of titles to be carried and electronically distributed to numerous platforms. The e-publishing marketplace is an example of the Long Tail theory reflecting “culture unfiltered by economic scarcity” (Anderson, 2008, p. 53). Readers benefit with lower prices, an average of $2.99 on Smashwords, the world’s largest distributor of self-published eBooks (Pilkington, 2012). Numerous options exist for self-publishing. Pressbooks promotes that if you can blog you can make a beautiful e-book. Their open source software is built on WordPress and authors can make an ebook alone or with collaborators and export to numerous e-book formats. Apple recently launched Breakout Books to promote high performing self-publishers in their iBooks store (Coker, 2013).
Despite trends in self-publishing O’Reilly is optimistic for the publishing industry. Using himself as an example, he predicts self-publishers who enjoy the experience, will in-turn become publishers and extend their acquired publishing expertise to help others. Despite her solo success Amanda Hocking signed on with a traditional publisher in May 2012 explaining that she was burned out by the stress of solo publishing.
Transliteracy for engagement and viability
O’Reilly (2013) also predicts the rise of the cross-media star becoming the backbone of the industry — those who engage audiences through a variety of mediums. Jenkins considers the new literacies to be social skills that require new ways of thinking about how to communicate (Jenkins, 2008). John Green is an example of a popular author whose books, video channel entitled VlogBrothers, and live appearances, most recently at sold out Carnegie Hall, are all outgrowths of the same spirit and the same engagement with his audience, yet each requiring different skills in order to engage with his audience. Green says, “For me there is no bright line between publishing and making stuff on the Internet . . . They are both about collaborating with others to make something new (Kaufman, 2013). His ability to move easily across discursive communications platforms demonstrates his transliteracy skills (Thomas et al, 2007). As literacy practices alter around new genres, our understanding of what constitutes legitimate fields of publishing will also change (Ware, 2008). O’Reilly says the book as a user interface will continue to change and that people who embrace all the ways to express what we (publishers) do and think that way will be the stars, not those who stick with one form of expression (O’Reilly, 2013).
Digital media provides new publishing models, new means to publish and media convergence to enable what Tim O’Reilly (2004) has coined “an architecture of participation”. Functions once only the domain of professionals in publishing institutions has transferred to broader society, transforming roles and relationships.
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