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ARTS2090 Final Essay. Tara Kohan

June 8, 2012

Tara Kohan

Tutorial: Thursday 10:30 (Andrew)

‘It makes increasingly less sense even to talk about a publishing industry, because the core problem publishing solves—the incredible difficulty, complexity, and expense of making something available to the public—has stopped being a problem.’ Are digital and networked media dismantling the “publishing industry”? Is it being replaced? If so, what is replacing it? If not, what is the publishing industry becoming, and how is it doing so? Are there new difficulties and complexities or expenses involved?

The issue of “making something available to the public” has become a problem of the past. In a technologically savvy, modern society, traditional forms of publishing are undoubtedly being challenged by the overwhelming power of the internet. As Clay Shirky’s quote suggests, publishing and distribution of information is no longer an obstacle. In fact, one could argue that there is too much information on the internet today, which is why filtering services are so vital in shielding users from information that may be useless or offensive to the individual. In response to whether the publishing industry is being “dismantled” by digital media, it seems necessary to alter the term ‘dismantled’ and instead, consider digital media technologies as slowing down traditional printing publishing forms. The main reasons for this are based on technological advances, the popularity of social media, the revolutionary impact of the internet upon the media and technology world and the costs involved in the printing press.

One of the most important aspects here is the technological advances that the world is experiencing on a constant basis. The undefeated success of the Apple computers empire has lead the way for smartphones and other compact, portable devices. These include, IPhones, IPads, IPods and the Macbook laptops, all of which are regularly being updated and have almost become the latest must-have accessory to have in the younger generation. These devices have heavily impacted the dismantling of the newspaper publishing industry as it has given the public a new and more convenient way to access information. As opposed to going to the effort of purchasing a newspaper from the local store and then having to carry it around all day and do the same thing the next day, even older generations are becoming accustomed to saving that effort and scrolling through their touch screens, often for free.

In particular, IPads and ‘ereaders’ are quite relevant in terms of “contemporary publishing” forms. With the release of the IPad only last year, e-books have become a new technological trend only recently. This focuses more on the book publishing sector rather than the newspaper sector. The Observer’s (Guardian, 2010) John Naughton, says that publishers should not rely on the hope to survive through the idea that IPads and other similar devices will still need text. He argues that though this remains true, “The concept of a “book” will change under the pressure of iPad-type devices, just as concepts of what constitutes a magazine or a newspaper are already changing.” (Naughton, 2010)  This proves the idea that publishing must adapt and update their resources and skills in order to keep in the media race. Naughton adds, “If they don’t do it, then someone else will. There will always be “books”. The question now is: will there always be publishers?” (Naughton, 2010)

It is not uncommon to hear that newspaper journalism, as a career, is phasing out, especially with the rising trend of online news platforms. However in defence of journalism, Shirky suggests that quality journalism should not rely or be affected by the slow demise of the print press. Instead, he states, “Society doesn’t need newspapers. What we need is journalism.” (Shirky). Educated, quality journalism can still be read but through other devices. However, one of the main complexities of the shift from print to digital is the need for older generations to become familiar with technology in general. Journalists would also have to learn to adapt to an online audience and the trivial demands that come with getting used to the online platform.

Considering the old phrase, ‘the youth are the future’, it has become evident that young people are more willing to read everything on a screen. In order for many information channels to communicate with teenagers, they will commonly utilise internet strategies to gain attention. This is because teenagers were born when the technological advances had already begun. They have grown up knowing more about computers than their parents and it is likely that they always will because their knowledge will continue to grow with technology. In relation to companies having to adapt to changes and interests of their society, Shirky argues, “When we shift our attention from ‘save newspapers’ to ‘save society’, the imperative changes from ‘preserve the current institutions’ to ‘do whatever works’. And what works today isn’t the same as what used to work.” (Shirky). From this quote, Shirky has highlighted the underlying idea of ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’ and this applies heavily to the forceful transformation book and newspaper publishers are having to make.

The publishing industry clearly illustrates the concept of distribution and aggregation in the most practical way and in this modern society, the fastest way to make a story viral is through the internet. In terms of the revolutionary era that was created by the conception of the internet, Shirky says that, “…people committed to saving newspapers demanding to know “If the old model is broken, what will work in its place?” To which the answer is: Nothing. Nothing will work. There is no general model for newspapers to replace the one the internet just broke.” (Shirky). He continues, “When someone demands to know how we are going to replace newspapers, they are really demanding to be told that we are not living through a revolution.” (Shirky).

Traditionally, the process of publishing a piece in a newspaper or magazine would take up more time than it presently does today. For example, a journalist would have had to go and investigate the facts of a story idea pitched to their editor. Then this story would have to be written up on a typewriter and sent for editing. This would then have to be printed in masses and distributed to the door step of every resident in the area. Though this process has survived today, the online platform offers a much more compact and efficient way of communicating to the masses. In addition, technology goes hand in hand with internet. If any of the devices used today, such as a smartphone, worked without any network coverage from their internet supplier, it would not be as popular or useful as it is with internet. A comparative analogy made by Frank Cost captures this concept, “A production colour digital printing press without the internet is about as useful a Lamborghini in a wilderness rainforest.” (Cost, 2005. pg 224).

Another media that is dismantling the publishing industry is social media and online pieces written by amateur writers. Social media such as Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter has opened up an entirely new arena in making something public without hesitation or editing. Social media allows every day people to share with the world any thought in a single moment. Users of social media are also able to globally share their most private information such as their geographical whereabouts instantly and without much effort. The ability for these users to access these social network sites through their mobile phone also gives credibility to the fact that digital and networked media is not only overcoming the traditional media generation but it somehow attracts much more attention. Tweets and Facebook status updates are often used on television news programs or in celebrity gossip to support claims made against a person or group. “New media are those that enable a dialog between producer and consumer, and where content is determined as a result.” (Cost, 2005. pg 216). The most common forms of “open publishing”, in terms of the transparency of the editing and publishing process are Wikipedia and Wikispaces. The only difference between the two is that Wikipedia focuses more on the public contribution whilst Wikispace allows for individuals within a group to edit or contribute to a more exclusive page.

However, in contrast to the idea that the digital age is defeating the traditional publishing world, Sachin Kamdar in his blog, ‘Why Publishers are about to go Data Crazy’, argues that not only can publishing companies adapt well to change, but also that social networking websites including Twitter and Facebook can work to  publisher’s advantage. Global feedback from these networking channels can indicate to publishers what information will be most appealing to the public. He gives the example, “…emerging technologies, such as Infochimps Social API, are serving publishers by providing data about influence to inform which readers are likely to tip a potentially viral story.” (Kamdar, 2012). By this, Kamdar suggests that by knowing the “trending data” of the current moment, publishers have insight and inspiration to publish the most likely information to sell and considering that the media industry is ultimately still a business, this works very well for publishers. As opposed to the accepted idea that technologically savvy media outlets will have the upper-hand, Kamdar supports his argument that, “Data-driven publishers don’t have a competitive advantage because they’ve adopted new technology first. They have an advantage because they understand the unique nuances of their market better than the competition.” (Kamdar, 2012)

One of the most significant reasons for why digital media is taking over the publishing industry is related to economic dilemmas of publishing houses. “Printing presses are terrifically expensive to set up and to run.” (Shirky). Not only would a traditional newspaper publishing company have to spare the expenses of their employee salaries but also the mechanical expenses needed to run the mass printers, distribution costs, building costs which house the company and machinery and any extra costs that may have to be added to the annual budget such as law suits against certain journalists. Though some of these costs are still relevant to an online news site, the overall cost of running a newspaper publishing house is significantly higher than to run a newspaper website. In terms of books, it is not uncommon that publishers do not profit after spending thousands of dollars on production and distribution costs, which vary. In order for books to make a substantial amount of profit, there is usually marketing involved which can also demand more money.

Ultimately, digital and network media forms are slowing down the more traditional forms of publishing such as newspapers. Newspapers are being replaced by technological advances in society, especially Ipads, smartphones and other portable devices. The central reasons for this shift are based on the rise of social media sites, constant technological advances, the internet revolution and the costs involved with the printing press. Some of the difficulties involved with this shift involve journalists and writers having to adapt to a new way of publishing. This applies especially for senior journalists who are forced to learn about technology when they have become so accustom to the long-established ways of writing. The most important aspect of this gradual replacement in media, is the internet because it is the gateway into distributing information to the public which is the initial problem publishing was invented to solve. One conclusive statement by Shirky which strongly encapsulates this central notion reads, “…for many papers, the unthinkable future is already in the past.” (Shirky). Publishing will never cease to exist, it will simply exist elsewhere.

Reference list:

Shirky, Clay. Newspapers and thinking the unthinkable. WordPress. <http://www.shirky.com/weblog/2009/03/newspapers-and-thinking-the-unthinkable/>

Drew, Michael (2010) ‘2012: The end of the publishing industry as we know it.’  Beneath the Cover. <http://www.beneaththecover.com/2010/09/02/2012-the-end-of-the-publishing-industry-as-we-know-it/>

‘It’s the end of publishing as we know it…and we feel fine, TPC. Oct 12 2011. <http://www.pantheoncollective.com/its-the-end-of-publishing-as-we-know-it-and-we-feel-fine>

The New Medium of Print: Material Communication in the Internet Age. 2005. by Frank Cost, Published by RIT Cary Graphic Arts Press, New York USA.

Kamdar, Sachin (2012) ‘Why Publishers are about to go Data Crazy’, Mediashift: Your Guide to the Digital Revolution, January 17, <http://www.pbs.org/mediashift/2012/01/why-publishers-are-about-to-go-data-crazy017.html>

Shatzkin, Mike (2012) ‘Some things that were true about publishing for decades aren’t true anymore’, The Idea Logical Company, January 12, <http://www.idealog.com/blog/some-things-that-were-trueaboutpublishing-for-decades-arent-true-anymore>

Naughton, John (2010) ‘Publishers take note: the iPad is altering the very concept of a ‘book’ The Guardian, December 19, <http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2010/dec/19/ipad-publishing-kindle-books-apple>

National Public Radio (2010) ‘E-Book Boom Changes Book Selling And Publishing’, December 21, <http://www.npr.org/2010/12/21/132235154/e-book-boom-changes-book-selling-and-publishing

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