‘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) 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?
During the passage of time, humanity has gone from verbal story telling, to printed works, and finally, in an era over-run with technology, the transfer of printed works to the digital sphere. While there is overwhelming support for a move considered to be efficient and prospective, one must consider whether the timeless concept of print publishing has been overshadowed by a generation addicted to technology. Before attempting to answer the question of whether the publishing industry is being replaced, the definition of what publishing actually entails needs to be considered. According to Wikipedia (a publishing platform itself), publishing is ‘the activity of making information available to the general public.’ Prior to the digital age, this referred to the distribution of print material, such as books and newspapers; however the extent of publishing has now broadened to include electronic resources, such as e-books, blogs, and more. With these new digital forms of publishing, there are arguments being made that the publishing industry in its traditional form is no longer operative or relevant. However, although the industry is undoubtedly transforming, it is by no means being replaced – conversely, it is expanding to accommodate for the ‘dissemination of information in all possible venues’ (Schisler 2014). In order to support this claim, I will focus on the specific example of newspaper publishing, and how digital and networked media is transforming the industry by enhancing it.
EXPANDING TO A GLOBAL AUDIENCE
As Schisler writes, ‘publishing has become more democratic and less aristocratic: it is not in the hands of a few decision makers anymore’. When looking at the newspaper industry, the source of profits – originally primarily advertisements – is undoubtedly changing. There is no longer a need for companies to utilise newspaper advertising to make their services visible. Nonetheless, as Satell (2014) argues, the reason why publishing businesses, including newspaper ones, continue to run, is because they’re ‘selling a product that people want and need. As long as people want to be informed, entertained, and inspired, there will be profitable opportunities in publishing.’ Ironically, although digital media is seen to be the primary reason for the diminution of the publishing industry, it is one of the ways in which such opportunities arise – primarily through the ability of infrastructural globalism. For example, British newspaper The Daily Mail started as a broadsheet newspaper circulating only nationally, but by expanding to an online platform has developed into one of the biggest newspaper websites in the world, with pages designed specifically for Australia, the US and even a specific section for women. This is just one example that demonstrates the way in which the print industry is being enhanced – the Daily Mail has not stopped distributing its papers, but has now also reached a global audience and thus legitimised its status as a viable corporation. The ‘aristocracy’ is being abrogated by breaking down the obstacles that once needed to be overcome.
POTENTIAL DIFFICULTIES FACING THE INDUSTRY
However, one of the main concerns that digital media raises – unseen when media such as radio and television were introduced – is the power of user-generated content, creating a commons through practices such as j-blogging and podcasting. Although this is, as previously mentioned, beneficial in shifting from an aristocratic to a democratic form of publishing, it means there are new difficulties and expenses that need to be considered. Pattabhiramaiah et al. (2014, p. 14) comment that the increasing availability of alternative sources of news, especially free content provided on newspaper websites and by news aggregators (e.g. Google) has made paying for the print newspaper less attractive to readers. Consumers are now changing from passive to active participants of content creation and distribution, in turn raising new challenges for the once hierarchal publishing industry. Therefore, in one sense, as digital and networked media increasingly affect the future of the publishing industry, there will be decreases in profits made from advertising and sales. However, on the other hand, going online means that it is still possible to generate profits through paywalls, subscriptions and other content barriers, while massively reducing the cost of printing and distribution. Further, by utilising the power of user-generated content and integrating into their content, the publishing industry and particularly the newspaper industry can prove to have a beneficial outcome. However, although all of these changes will likely lead to a decrease in the total profitability of publishers, it is certainly not dismantling the publishing industry – the industry just needs to find effective ways to adjust to these technological changes. As Critchlow highlights, ‘the printing and publishing industry is undergoing technological change characterised by increasing employment, rising production, growing capital investment, intensified research and development, predomination of small firms, and strong craft unions’ (p. 3). Focusing on the example of The Wall Street Journal as their case study, Johnson and Gutierrez (2010, p. 70) argue that publishing companies can avoid the destruction of the ‘old business model’ by continuously identifying, investing and creating new resources. The introduction of the Wall Street Journal Interactive Edition (the ‘Interactive Journal’), has led the company to have a profitable e-business model that effectively complements its printed works. This is just one example of how the publishing industry can and have the ability to transform to better adapt to the changing nature of content dissemination.
LONG-FORM CONTENT AND AN ATTENTIONS-BASED ECONOMY
Another way in which the publishing industry is transforming, but certainly not dying, is through long-form content. Hyrkin (2014) states: ‘long-form content is experiencing a resurgence thanks to new technologies that create new monetization opportunities for the publishers.’ For example, Palmer and Eriksen (1999, p. 33) argue that digital newspapers can replicate traditional print papers, but additionally offer ‘multimedia content tailored to the individual consumer in a manner radically different from that of traditional newspapers’ (p. 34). They further note that the industry is driven by three key elements: content, delivery and advertising. This means that the publishing industry, by moving to a networked age, is transferring emphasis from delivery to focus on how content can be created and framed to target individuals. This is directly related to the notion of economy of attention; that is that the flow of attention anticipates the flow of money (Goldhaber 1997). Although technology is now dictating where readers’ attention – or lack thereof – lies, the newspaper industry is transforming to adapt to this by utilising and integrating various forms of publishing to create a more interactive and attentions-based economy. There is now the possibility of including a better design, videos, multiple images and external links to stories, without having to work around restrictions of space, deadlines or localised audiences. Palmer and Erikson (1999, p. 37-38) state that ‘the convergence of audio and video forms has the potential to generate substantially different products from the text and photographs of the paper version and to stimulate increased consumer interest’. Further, having this form of digital data enables information to be more easily ‘stored, accessed, manipulated, consolidated and transmitted’ (p. 36).
THE CHANGING NATURE OF ARCHIVING IN THE INDUSTRY
As a consequence of these new forms of data manipulation that the publishing and newspaper industry can now utilise, the way in which archives are formed is also transforming. Archive fever, as Derrida (1995) states, involves determining what is inside and outside our culture. His discussion revolves around the impact of electronic media and the threat it produces to transform both public and private space. Shirky (2009) notes that the ‘organisational forms perfected for industrial production have to be replaced with structures optimized for digital data’. As previously mentioned, the changing nature of data retention in the publishing industry is resulting in the publishing industry becoming more online-based, with now both the creation and dissemination of data being done digitally. Therefore, Shirky’s statement that ‘the core problem publishing solves—the incredible difficulty, complexity, and expense of making something available to the public—has stopped being a problem’ is true to the extent that this public collection of information has moved online and thus is easier, cheaper and simpler to maintain. However, this does not make the publishing industry irrelevant: taking the example of newspapers once again, companies are now able to publish material digitally that is able to be searched, saved, and archived online. Palmer and Eriksen’s research found that over 80% of newspapers maintain archives, with many digital newspapers continuously expanding their archives, while others may only keep material for a limited period of time. Some newspapers (10% in their research) even charge readers for access to the archive through charging per article, per time session, or periodic use. This effect of archiving on the publishing industry is important in that it changes the nature of how content is not only created but also retained, something that was not a practical possibility before the digital era.
THE EFFECTS OF CONVERGENCE
Convergence is yet another factor in determining whether the publishing, and particularly the newspaper industry is being dismantled by digital media. Lawson-Borders (2009, p. 92) defines convergence as the blending of old media, (e.g. traditional media) with new media (computers and the Internet) to deliver content. Despite Shirky’s contention that there is no longer any reason to have regard for the publishing industry, as they no longer have a practical function, convergence has proved to be a benefit for publishers to extend their reach. This is due to the fact that ‘changing demographics and competing messages have made the Internet particularly attractive to traditional print and broadcast media who have sought to protect brand name and their historical specialty of gathering and disseminating news, information, and entertainment’ (Lawson-Borders 2009, p. 91). For example, Sydney Morning Herald launched their online website in 1995, but simultaneously built a printing press to accommodate for wider and faster circulation of their print papers. This demonstrates that digital and print media do not have to be mutually exclusive, and although new media is becoming the dominant publishing platform, through convergence print media and the publishing industry are still relevant today. Nonetheless, the publishing industry is becoming a web of cross-promotion that still needs to find an effective way to sustain profits through new and technological means. Gilbert and Ure note: ‘too many newspapers are focused on where their online and print businesses overlap and are not capturing all the growth opportunities created by disruption’ (2005, p. 6).
The transforming nature of the publishing industry is not a new phenomena – in fact, and particularly in relation to newspapers, the industry has been in a constant transformative state. Even as early as 1945, it has been argued that ‘the number of daily newspapers have declined rather persistently… and have been siphoned off by competing media’ (Kinter 1945, p. 43). Thus, there has been and always be different forms of emerging media that will challenge the validity of the publishing – particularly the newspaper – industry. Thus, the industry is not dismantling: there is merely a shift in focus. Whereas previously, digital material complemented print material, now it is vice versa. So what can publishers do to take advantage of this? Some recommendations include: subscription fees, enhancing distribution channels, customised product development, charging for access to archives, and becoming a market-maker (Palmer and Eriksen 1999, p. 39). The future of content undeniably lies online, however, print material is still alive and breathing to supplement it. As Satell (2014) succinctly states:
There is no intrinsic problem with publishing. There is still enormous value in uncovering stories and telling them well. That publishers need to innovate their business models just puts them in the same place as every other industry.
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