ASSIGNMENT 3 – FINAL ESSAY: Is the Publishing Industry being dismantled by digital and networked media?

In response to Q.1 of the ARTS2090 Final Assignment

It is often thought that the publishing industry is in the midst of a revolution or, to say it more crudely, on the way to its demise, as new media – the networked and the digital – gains popularity and dominance within society. However, this essay will argue that although the view that discussions about a ‘publishing industry’ is no longer relevant as the core problems that it solves is no longer an issue in today’s society has some merit, it is not entirely true. The publishing industry continues to exist however it must adjust to new forms and structures as it now faces new and unique challenges in a world of increasingly digital and networked media. It is important to note that when considering a publishing industry, this essay has print, particularly, newspapers and book publishing in mind. The essay will explore the main issues by considering how news media corporations, while still holding the authority, must now expand their traditional distribution of news to online services. Secondly, the notion that newspaper publishers must explore new business models in order to draw revenue in a highly digital and networked world will also be considered. Finally, the idea that book publishers must now find creative ways to distribute their media will also be discussed.

Graphics created by: Khansanisa Vinandar

Graphics created by: Khansanisa Vinandar

Contrary to somewhat popular belief, the publishing industry is not being completely dismantled; instead news corporations must now extend distribution of their content to digital and networked platforms. Some perceives that the new media’s ability to erase the complexity and difficulty of making something public, which the publishing industry once solved means, “there is no general model for newspapers to replace the one the Internet just broke”, especially, when digital and networked media are the cheaper, simpler option (Shirky 2009). While it is conceded that writers and amateur journalist can essentially bypass traditional publishing methods by posting their piece on blogs or social media pages, and while news dissemination is, indeed, no longer in the sole hands of a monolithic news corporation, it can be said that this simply “pushes [the industry] to construct new forms of broadcasting information” which compliment the traditional (Guillaud 2010). For example, news corporations encourages their journalists to have a social media presence, to allow them to reach a greater audience such as young people, whom perhaps, would not turn to the traditional, print publishing world for their news fix. Regardless of this, it should be noted that “despite the instant gratification of social media…people returned to traditional, trusted media – the TV and radio news bulletins, and [be it] news websites – in search for the truth” as could be seen by the 2013 Boston Bombing misinformation, social media debacle (Wilkinson 2013). The traditional news publishing industry, though has extended their services to digital and networked platforms, is still heralded for “measured, fact-checked, considered truth” in a world of j-bloggers and continues to hold much of the authority (Wilkinson 2013).

However, it cannot be said that news and magazine corporations does not face new challenges, such as increasing competition, by extending their services online. Sivek and Townsend (2014, p.1) notes that while society’s shift to networked and digital platforms allows diversification of magazine publishing to the independent as a “response to digital culture… [of the] DIY movement”, the news corporations’ online forms still continue to hold dominance. This simply highlights the proposition that authority and power of the publishing industry is not dismantled simply by the ease in which things can be made public; news corporations still continue to command attention (Guillaud 2010). It extends the notion that in a world of endless archives of DIY projects, “the nature of an archive is to be both authoritarianly transparent and authoritatively concealed” and here, while authority has spread to the everyday, the mainstream publishing industry still holds a lot of attention (Enzer 2008). Nevertheless, just because they continue to hold the authority and is not being replaced, it cannot be said that the publishing industry’s extension is not without new difficulties, complexities and expenses. An issue arises where publishers struggle with what Shannon and Weaver considers as ‘noise’, which here, would be the over-abundance of other published work available online, which was once absent in the traditional publishing world (Striphas 2012). Additionally, and as will be further explored, there is the issue of news corporations having to distribute their content online, but at what cost. Methods including online paywalls as adopted by The Times of London and metered models adopted by The New York Times has made it obvious that “the range of alternative outlets for free information [means]…consumers do not always use what they prefer. And they are not always willing to pay for what they use” (Chyi & Lee 2013, p.197). Therefore, the publishing industry’s extension of their service online means that they cannot simply rely on a “digital facelift” and meets the challenge of having to “experiment to find a new model to suit” (Shirky 2009).

Graphics created by: Khansanisa Vinandar

As could be seen, the publishing industry is not irrelevant in today’s society, however, given the shift to the digital and the networked media, they must explore new business models in order to draw in revenue. Shirky (2009) noted that those who herald the traditional publishing industry in its print form must now face the “unthinkable scenario” where “the ability to share content wouldn’t shrink” but grows instead. According to Shirky, this means that “walled gardens prove unpopular”, encapsulating the challenges faced by the publishing industry as it shifts to the digital and networked platforms (Shirky 2009). It has been observed that newspapers are facing an “existential crisis” as paywalls are insufficiently compensating for the losses of the print format (Pickard & Williams 2013, p.208). It is suggested that this is because digital ads decreases inefficiencies thus, print advertising revenue continues to plummet, micropayments of newspapers prevents widespread use and the realisation that “old habits of advertisers and readers would not transfer online” (Shriky 2009; Pickard & Williams 2013, p.208). However, it is interesting to note that while the newspaper publishing industry are struggling to draw in revenue through a paywall business model, the film industry, with the advent of Netflix, shows a success of the subscription-based model where payment equates to a service rather than a product and subscription as a way to gain access rather than a method of purchase (Small 2012).

Nevertheless, at least for the newspaper publishing industry, some argue that paid-subscription methods represent a “turning away from a world of openly shared content” and thus, the industry must find a method in which they are not perceived to do so (Busfield 2010). Scholars have argued that the “newspapers had to be part of this web, not simply ‘on’ it” and even stating that the “subscription model [is] a final test for newspaper’s viability” (Busfield 2010). However, some successes with paywalls have been noted. For example, in 2012 The Australian reported that digital-only subscription has brought 0.67% of News Limited’s annual publishing income, even heralding it as an “important new phase” (Myllylathi 2013, p.188). However as Beadon notes, “paywalls are, at best, a temporary way of extracting a little bit [of revenue] at the expense of long term relevance” (Beadon in Myllylathi 2013). Nevertheless, despite the fact that the newspaper publishing industry’s expansion to the digital and networked world has proved challenging, “democracy still requires journalism” and as such, this simply means that this challenge would, hopefully, “fuel a period of experimentation with new [publishing] models” (Pickard & Williams 2013, p.209). Thus, the publishing industry is neither completely dismantled nor replaced, instead the shift to the digital and networked platforms provides them with a challenge to find an appropriate, sustainable business model, which the industry has yet to secure.

Graphics created by: Khansanisa Vinandar

Graphics created by: Khansanisa Vinandar

Despite the negative challenges posed to the publishing industry by the society’s shift to digital and networked platforms, it also encourages them to find creative ways in which to distribute their media, as has been done by the book publishing industry. It is often argued that once publishing’s “most salient feature is the high barriers to entry” but in today’s society, “digital publishing removes those barriers” and instead, open the “floodgates indiscriminately to every aspiring writing” (Filloux 2012). This proposition is often supported by the idea that aspiring writers and established writers alike can, with the click of a button, publish their work through various online platforms such as e-books or fan-fiction websites and make these work known through their social media platforms. However, while Litchenberg denotes that publishing is in the midst of a “’phase shift’ from the scarcity model of print”, he also highlights that it is transforming into “a complex, new world of digital abundance” and thus, the publishing industry cannot be deemed as dismantled but instead, it must now reformulate to meet increasing competition, competing to gain attention (Litchenberg 2011, p.101). This can be seen by the publishing industry’s move from physical book formats found in bookstores, which continue to exist, but are also distributed in digital e-book formats. As such, the book publishing industry still exists but it presents an exciting challenge in which new formats arise for publishers to take advantage of.

Furthermore, the challenges posed by the digital and networked world has also motivated an increase in dynamic ways of publishing books, meaning that the publishing industry is not being dismantled. Salinas (2012) suggest that book publishers are positioned, though some contests this, to take advantage of changing formats, suggesting that partnering with new kinds of media or gaming companies as an untapped potential. The “phase shift” noted has also fostered interesting platforms to distribute books such as Audible, an iPhone and Android based audio-book application. Thus, the “public embrace of tablets and e-readers that provide instant access to a burgeoning archive of book content” leads to “The Golden Age of Publishing”, turning the misconception that the publishing industry is history, on its head (Litchenberg 2011, p.103). Of course, as noted, this evolving second coming is not without its difficulties, with the over-burgeoning number of content being created and the concern that “the new book publishing business will look more and more like the software industry” as opposed to what it actually is (Filloux 2012). As such, it is important that publishers adapt and find ways to efficiently utilise digital and netowrked media for publishing books; what is made apparent through this is that the industry, with the presence of e-books and other digital publishing methods, still faces difficulties, complexities and expenses although these old problems are of a different nature in the new media world.

Therefore, while it is often argued that the view that discussions about a publishing industry is no longer relevant in today’s society, as the core problems it solves is no longer an issue, it is not entirely true. This is explored by the way which news publishing must now extend the distribution of their product to digital and networked platforms to compete with the burgeoning of content online. The new challenges faced by the digital and networked newspaper publishing industry in finding a new business model to suit has also been discussed. Finally, despite some challenges, the successes of the book publishing industry in finding a new way to distribute their media was also explored, noting Audible and e-books as the primary example. As such the publishing industry continues to exist but it must now adjust to new forms and structures as it faces new and unique challenges in a world of increasingly digital and networked media.

Word Count: 1930

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Busfield, S 2010, ‘Guardian Editor Hits Back at Paywalls’, The Guardian, 26 January, viewed 28 October 2014, < http://www.theguardian.com/media/2010/jan/25/guardian-editor-paywalls >

Chyi, H.I. & Lee, A.M. 2013, ‘Online News Consumption’, Digital Journalism, vol. 1, no. 2, pp. 194-211.

Enzer, J 2008, ‘Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression by Jacques Derrida’, Julie R Enzer, viewed October 27 2014 < http://julierenszer.blogspot.com.au/2008/11/archive-fever-freudian-impression-by.html >

Filloux, F 2012, ‘The Same Challenge Facing e-books and apps’, The Guardian, 5 March, viewed 28 October 2014 < http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2012/mar/05/ebooks-apps >

Guillaud, H 2010, ‘What Is Implied by Living in a World of Flow’, Truthout, 24 January, viewed 26 October 2014 < http://truth-out.org/archive/component/k2/item/87704:what-is-implied-by-living-in-a-world-of-flow >

Litchenberg, J 2011, ‘In from the Edge: The Progressive Evolution of Publishing in the Age of Digital Abundance’, Publishing Research Quarterly, vol. 27, no, 2, pp.101-112

Myllylathi, M 2013, ‘Newspaper Paywalls – the Hype and the Reality’, Digital Journalism, vol. 2, no. 2, pp.179-194.

Pickard, V. & Williams, A.T. 2013, ‘Salvation or Folly’, Digital Journalism, vol. 2, no. 2, pp. 195-213.

Salinas, E 2012, ‘Turning a page on books: Inside the evolving publishing industry’, Financial Post, 10 December, viewed 28 October, < http://business.financialpost.com/2012/12/10/turning-a-page-on-books-inside-the-evolving-publishing-industry/ >

Shirky, C 2009, Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable, Clay Shirky, viewed 25 October 2014, < http://www.shirky.com/weblog/2009/03/newspapers-and-thinking-the-unthinkable/ >

Sivek, S.C. & Townsend, A 2014, ‘Opportunities and Constraints for Independent Digital Magazine Publishing’, Journal of Magazine & New Media Research, vol. 15, no. 1, pp.1-20.

Small, O 2012, ‘Reshaping the Music Distribution Model: An ITunes Opportunity’, Journal of Media Business Studies, vol. 9, no. 4, pp. 41-68.

Striphas, T 2012, The Shannon and Weaver Model, The Late Age of Print, viewed 27th October 2014 < http://www.thelateageofprint.org/2012/02/20/the-shannon-and-weaver-model/ >

Wilkinson, L 2013, Address to the Andrew Ollle Media Lecture, online text, viewed 25 October 2014, < http://www.abc.net.au/local/stories/2013/10/25/3876439.htm >

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s