How much do digital and networked media dismantle the “publishing industry”? Is it being replaced? If so, what is replacing it? If not, what is surviving of the older publishing industry, and how is it doing so?
“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.” (Clay Shirky, 2009)
The world of Publishing is in the midst of continuous transitional changes ever since new-media forms were introduced, and the world shifted from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0. The “Publishing Industry”, built on the production and dissemination of literature, information and data, has traditionally solved the problem of making something available to the public (Wikipedia 2011). Yet, as new-media and Web 2.0 have created new platforms for people to engage with, and allowed more people to be more open and social by creating their own
content, the “incredible difficulty, complexity, and expense” of distributing content to the public is lessening as a “problem” (Shirky 2009). The “publishing industry”, both as a whole, and through its industry divisions, has been dismantled in many ways by digital and networked media, influencing the transition from traditional print publishing to online digital publishing. However, the dismantling of the publishing industry is not marking the end of traditional publishing, but rather taking it to another level.
By breaking down and extracting the processes involved in publishing content, digital and networked media is allowing for more content to be published than ever before. So, as digital and networked media dismantle the publishing industry to allow for more publishing, how exactly is the “traditional” being dismantled? To exemplify this, we can focus on one of the subdivisions well in the middle of a digital revolution – the print-journalism publishing industry. Along with the transition to online journalism, the way in which digital and network media are dismantling the “traditional” can be explored both specifically, and in general. So is the traditional publishing industry being replaced entirely? What aspects are being replaced? What aspects of the older publishing industry are surviving, and how?
Dismantling & Replacing The Print-Journalism Publishing Industry
The production and distribution processes of the Print-Journalism publishing industry are being effectively dismantled by digital and networked media as the transition from print to online continues. The industry itself can be perceived as a “Publishing Assemblage” – networks of publishing and distribution fuelled by how publics influence publishing, the technologies used, and the forms in which content can be published. Resonating from the dismantling of this publishing assemblage, is the notion of getting rid of the “middlemen” involved in the process of publishing content. A greater emphasis is placed on the amount of news content that can be produced and distributed, along with the speed in which these processes can be completed. Ultimately, there is always the aim of reducing costs.
The prevailing theme being reflected by the evolving publishing world – in particular relation to traditional book publishing and print journalism – is that print is dying, and in the near future, newspapers, magazines and books will cease to be produced. This is a direct effect of digital and networked media breaking down and extracting the production and distribution processes. So why is online and digital journalism growing, and traditional print journalism stalling?
Journalism, be it print or online, strives on the production of journalistic content which aims to fulfil the role of the media as the “fourth estate – to inform the public, ignite debate, act as a check on power, and empower citizens. Articles themselves are usually sub-edited by editors, thus the opportunity to change the way a sentence or paragraph is written, phrased or even omitted highlights the control over producing articles. Essentially, this is how traditional journalism works, more so in terms of print journalism. This are an example of the production processes that aided the solution to the problem of making news available to the public. Yet since the introduction of new-media platforms and Web 2.0, these assemblages of processes are being dismantled, and as such, there is no longer a problem.
Internet Technologies writer Clay Shirky explains that:
“If you want to know why newspapers are in such trouble, the most salient fact is this: Printing presses are terrifically expensive to set up and to run” (Shirky 2009).
Production costs to produce a newspaper or magazine greatly impact how content is produced, distributed, and ultimately published. Significantly, production costs are integral to the traditional publishing industry solving the problem of making content available to the public. To make something public, it costs money. Production costs to produce a newspaper or magazine significantly impact how content is produced, distributed, and ultimately published. Yet, production costs have changed, as now the need for paper to print an article on isn’t required to produce and article online. For those disseminating their own journalistic content, as a result of being freelance or citizen journalists, their production costs aren’t necessarily monetary, they revolve around internet data usage and time. It may be very expensive to set up and run a printing press, but it is virtually free to set up a WordPress blog.
Websites, blogs and online communities have given rise to the production of news and media content by anyone, for example, citizen journalists, as opposed to entirely receiving information from professional journalists or media experts. As such, the authorship and ownership aspects of the ‘traditional’, have been dismantled by digital and networked media. Blogs, websites, social-networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook, are allowing news-content to flow and disseminate at greater speeds. Therefore, the print industry is transitioning into both a print and online-digital industry, and this allows more content to be published. Yet, despite the pros of creating more content, the ability to copy and share information on the internet is challenging copyright and ownership of digital content, despite the fact that individuals on the web generally link content when they share it.
In terms of distribution, print journalism requires delivery costs for distributing magazines and newspapers. Depending on the new-media form, distribution costs are diminished. The cost to distribute a news article online, whether via a professional news organisation, or a citizen or freelance journalist, are considerably less than costs of physical distribution of printed versions. Who distributes the content is also dismantled, as digital and networked media allow content producers to also be the distributors. Channels of distribution expand, and thus access to journalistic content is not limited to the geographic proximity of where the newspaper or magazine is based in, but opened to a greater, global audience online.
As a result, the dismantling of the traditional processes is in fact allowing for more publishing to take place.
Is Everything Being Entirely Replaced? What Is Surviving Of The Older Industry?
The way in which print journalism has evolved and transitioned to the online and digital platforms, highlights a paradoxical relationship. While online, digital journalism compliments traditional print journalism, the two forms of publishing also compete with each other. As digital and networked media provide opportunities for the publishing industry to grow, aspects of the ‘traditional’ are being replaced, while other aspects are surviving. These aspects, similarly prominent in the shift in print book publishing to digital book publishing, reflect the ongoing evolution of the publishing industry as a whole.
Newspapers and magazines are not extinct, they are surviving through routine publication, purchase, and regular reading. Yet whilst the print form is surviving, their digital counterparts are becoming more popular, and thus print circulation decreases. As opposed to a physical publication, online publications of newspapers, news content, or magazines gather increasing hits as news stories continuously emerge online, access to content becomes easier, and links to articles are shared via social networking media. In addition to online access, articles and entire publications can be digitally accessed on iPads, a hybrid model of a physical-digital medium. What this means is that while the content is digitally formatted, it is accessed via a handheld, physical device, thus merging the digital and physical in essence. As opposed to turning physical pages, news items can be accessed at the click or flick of a finger. Furthermore, whilst newspapers may have accompanying photographs to stories, it is digital versions that have more accessible multimedia content, such as videos, external links, webfeeds, and live-updating of stories.
What is also somewhat being replaced by digital and networked media is the traditional prioritising of newsworthy stories, and what should be “front-page” news. This is the effect of digital design and layout. On the topic of eBook publishing, Judy Sims argues that print publishers attempting to design the layout for an electronic newspaper as a physical copy would be designed would be the incorrect approach to transitioning from print to digital (Sims 2010). The same notion can be applied to digital and online journalism. Print designers should not influence the way digital versions are designed, as the digital version can offer readers so much more at once, and make accessibility easier through a homepage and other navigational tools. Through personal qualitative research examining the differences between a print newspaper and an online website of the same newspaper, stories are prioritised and emphasised differently, and online, more stories can be accessed at any given time.
Engagement with news and journalistic content is increasing as a result of dismantling the “traditional”. The level of engagement one has with a traditional print newspaper or magazine is not entirely being replaced by digital and networked media, but it is close to it, in particular through the physical-digital iPad. For example, engagement with the magazine ‘The Economist’ on an iPad results in the physical copies of the magazine piling up on the table, as Guardian journalist John Naughton expresses:
“Every Thursday, the “Read” button changes to “Download” and suddenly your iPad acquires the entire content of the current edition – in seconds. The second surprise is that it’s easier and more pleasant to read than its printed counterpart and much nicer than the Kindle edition of the magazine. The iPad has delivered a genuinely “immersive” reading experience” (Naughton 2010)
Thus, in relation to publishing as a whole, new publics and jobs are being created as a result of dismantling the traditional industry, as developers, designers and product managers are required. As such, through digital and networked media, print journalism is being both complimented and competed against in terms of the actual published product.
A major theme resonating in the world of publishing is how the nature of the internet, which strives on the open sharing of information, is being challenged by the introduction of “Paywalls”. Paywall subscription services work effectively for different types of publishing, and as such, the traditional method of paying for print publications is transitioning to online content, and thus looking to survive in a digital world. As Clay Shirky writes, newspapers (in America) had prepared for the coming of the digital age, including introducing paywalls:
“One [idea] was to partner with companies like America Online, a fast-growing subscription service that was less chaotic than the open internet… New payment models such as micropayments were proposed” (Shirky 2009)
Yet, what they didn’t prepare for was that:
”Walled gardens would prove unpopular. Digital advertising would reduce inefficiencies, and therefore profits. Dislike of micropayments would prevent widespread use” (Shirky 2009)
Information and data is flowing constantly, and publishing facilitates this. However, hiding content behind paywalls disrupts this flow. Editor-in-chief of The Guardian Newspaper Alan Rusbridger, speaking on the topic of news-website paywalls says that :
“If you erect a universal pay wall around your content then it follows you are turning away from a world of openly shared content” – (Busfield 2010)
As the transition from print to digital allows news articles and journalistic content to reach wider audiences than the regular demographic, proximity and scope that print circulation reaches, hiding content behind a paywall would deter readership. Regular readers may accept a paywall, but non-regular readers would seek out other newspaper websites for news. Yet paywalls continue to emerge, and are, for example, a big part of Rupert Murdoch’s “Digital Dynasty”, as the Times online has now implemented a subscription service, and in Australia, ‘The Australian’ is said to follow suit:
“Content is not just king. It is the emperor of all things electronic. We are on the cusp of a digital dynasty”- Rupert Murdoch. (The Australian, 5 August 2010)
There are two emerging trends that relate specifically to the practice of journalism, that has been affected by digital and networked media, resulting in replacing occurring both negatively, and positively. The first revolves around speed of production and distribution. The modern day journalist has to adhere to the paradoxical standards of speed and depth when writing news reports. “Almost by definition, speed and depth can’t coexist” (Meyer 2010).
As Phillips (2010) explains, organisational goals, editorial requirements, and increased competition between news firms place greater pressures on journalists to meet deadlines. As a result of online news websites hastily disseminating news to its readers, journalists are foregoing source verification. News organisations aim to be the first in delivering news stories, and the instantaneous nature of the internet creates this opportunity. Yet Meyer (2010) claims that:
“If a premium is put on speed, getting it first, the opportunity for in-depth reporting is lost”. An increasing emphasis on speed hinders in-depth and thorough reporting”.
Therefore, a combination of dismantling the writing process, along with the greater emphasis on organisational goals, means that source-verification is being replaced by a lack thereof. This hints at the issue of copyright in publishing, for as it is so easy to copy and paste information, ownership and source verification is challenged.
The second “replacing” trend, a positive one, in both print and digital journalism as a result of digital and networked media is ‘transparency’. As the role of the media is to inform the public, media organisations, in particular Wikileaks, has the aim to make information known and visible to the world, not hidden by governments and those in power.
“Publishing improves transparency, and this transparency creates a better society for all people”. (Wikileaks 2011)
As journalist shield laws protect sources, and the Freedom of Information Act allows information to be obtained, transparency is improved, and checks on power can be properly conducted. While print still achieves the 4th Estate role, the transition to the online, digital platform means that the role of the 4th Estate is being conducted more proficiently.
Thus, what is being replaced, and what is surviving in journalism, and publishing in general, not only involves production and distribution, but the traditions and norms of the practices themselves.
What Is The Future Of The Publishing Industry
Essentially, as digital and networked media dismantle traditional publishing industries, like the print journalism industry and its transition to the digital-online platform, more publishing is allowed to occur, as more opportunities to become active creators as opposed to consumers, are made. Not only are processes changing, but the practices themselves are evolving, and things are changing, both for the positive, and for the negative. Traditional print journalism is still necessary, be it to some extents. As such, the dismantling of the traditional by digital and networked media is challenging the traditional for the better.
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