1. ‘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, ‘Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable’,http://www.shirky.com/weblog/2009/03/newspapers-and-thinking-the-unthinkable/). 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?
Throughout the course of human existence the act of publishing has been an extremely important and powerful tool used to benefit the development and growth of society. Joost Van Loon writes in ‘Network’ that “the network has been highly conducive to theorising phenomena and processes such as globalisation, digital media (Internet), speed, symbiosis and complexity.” [http://tcs.sagepub.com.wwwproxy0.library.unsw.edu.au/content/23/2-3/307] If we analyse these elements that have attributed to the growth of networks and communities we can see that they are all linked to the notion of publishing, growth and communication. Publishing is essentially a platform for the distribution of information to the greater community, the term ‘publishing’ stemming from the the notion to “make something public or generally well known.”
Clay Shirky explains in his article ‘Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable,’ “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” [http://www.shirky.com/weblog/2009/03/newspapers-and-thinking-the-unthinkable/]. The writer ultimately warns the reader about the dangers of naivety and oversight for those loyal to print media. Shirky makes an interesting observation, comparing the printing revolution, inherently understood as an result of Gutenberg’s Printing Press, to the “revolution” we are experiencing now, as more and more physical content is being replaced with digital information. What is interesting about Shirky’s comparison, is that in both circumstances there was and is an uncertainty as to how these revolutions or changes were and are affecting society and in what direction these advancements in technology will take us.
The key quote illuminated in the assessment question, focuses on whether, “it makes increasingly less sense even to talk about a publishing industry, because of the core problem publishing solves.” What Shirky is alluding to in this quote is the notion that, due to the immediacy and availability of digital content the publishing industry, once an extremely powerful and influential enterprise is becoming redundant. Caroline Basset explains in ‘Digital Media’ that, “divisions between traditionally complementary approaches, based on a division between the sphere of the literary and the sphere of life itself, may need to be rethought” [http://ywcct.oxfordjournals.org/content/18/1/138.full]. Both Basset and Shirky seem to stress the importance of change and adaptation, regarding traditionalism and loyalty to print media as simply unrealistic and a form of idealism.
In the era prior to the “movable type,” literacy rates were low and education was restricted to members of the aristocracy and members of the Catholic Church. Based on earlier screw presses the German Johannes Gutenberg, designed a model that could print around three and a half thousand pages per work day as opposed around forty hand written pages. This was undeniably a far more effective method, not only for printing information, but later for receiving and understanding content. During the 1500’s literacy rates boomed, Shirky explaining how as “books became cheaper, more portable, and therefore more desirable, they expanded the market for all publishers, heightening the value of literacy still further.” Aldus Manutius, Venetian printer and publisher, benefitted the printing industry greatly with the invention of the ‘octavo’ volume,’ as well as italic type, redefining both the size and portability of what we now perceive as the everyday book.
Phil Kurz explains ‘Broadcast Engineering,’ that “the Web is an unlimited opportunity to expand the idea of localism to the umpteenth degree” [http://web.ebscohost.com/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=7eb5179a-0ce3-4d1d-a350-6d151e072002%40sessionmgr13&vid=2&hid=19%5D. Shirky conclusively contributes the decline of the printing press to the expense of its processes. The writer acknowledges the notion that “for a long time, longer than anyone in the newspaper business has been alive in fact, print journalism has been intertwined with these economics.” Prior to any form of digitisation, the newspaper was essentially the only media outlet, meaning that a handful of newspapers in specific areas were able to create a complete oligopoly within the media market. Though the process of printing was an extremely costly and labour intensive process, newspapers had little in the way of modes of competitors in other meaning that information was extremely difficult to plagiarise and share information.
What Shirky deems to be the main downfall of the newspaper was the print corporations failure to accept and even comprehend the worse possible scenario. Shirky explains that, “the problem newspapers face isn’t that they didn’t see the internet coming,” merely that they could not fathom the extent that the internet would revolutionise the sharing and freedom of information. While television expanded and popularised the idea of visually stimulating media, the web 2.0 created an immediacy and non-linear format for information content to move around. Most of all the internet gave to generations following the notion that information and all data should be free.
Michael Erard writes in, ‘A short Manifesto on the Future of Our Attention,’ how political scientist Herbert Simon in 1971 believed that, “the more information, the less attention, and the need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it,” [http://observatory.designobserver.com/entry.html?entry=10297]. This immediacy or ability for information to move in a lucid and almost live manner completely revolutionised how we interact with media content. Shirky tells how, “the unthinkable scenario unfolded something like this: The ability to share content wouldn’t shrink, it would grow. Walled gardens would prove unpopular. Digital advertising would reduce inefficiencies, and therefore profits. Old habits of advertisers and readers would not transfer online. Even ferocious litigation would be inadequate to constrain massive, sustained law-breaking.” Ultimately what the internet provided, was a borderless space for content to grow and move within, triggering an unimaginable boom within the digital network.
If we go back to the definition of ‘publishing’ we can see that it isn’t restricted to purely print media. While the term builds connotations or stigmas about physically printing, the idea of “making something public or generally well known,” extends past the boundaries of the physical. In answer to the question of whether the internet is deteriorating and dismantling the publishing industry my personal conclusion is no, simply due to the reason that digital media if anything is making information more widely available and received to the general public in an endless array of formats. What digital media is dissolving though is print media, and one of the reasons, as Erard explains is that “making something ‘free’ is obviously an allocation strategy. ‘Free’ attracts attention. Making things brief is an allocation strategy as well.”
Erard’s insite leads into the question of what the publishing industry is becoming, and how the idea of ‘free’ information is affecting standards of journalism. Shirky writes how “the relationship between advertisers, publishers, and journalists has been ratified by a century of cultural practice doesn’t make it any less accidental.” Though the newspaper industry had complete control over the media market for almost two centuries, their practices had developed to the point where a professional standard was expected of all newspapers, and any libel or falsities would lead to legal disputes and prosecutions. The closure of the ‘News of the World’ on the July 10 2011, ended 168 years of publication. The closure was entirely due to misconduct by certain journalists at the paper, illuminating how people engage with journalism and hold a certain expectation for the standards of it. One could question whether the expectation of paper sales triggered the desperation to provide interesting content at any cost.
So what has been newspapers response to the digital revolution? While many have attempted to appropriate the newspaper and simply adapt it to the form of an online journal, the digital paper in many ways has failed to succeed due to the immediacy and availability of information on the web. Shirky poses the question “If the old model is broken, what will work in its place?” answering his own question with the idea that “nothing will work. There is no general model for newspapers to replace the one the internet just broke.” While Shirky’s idea of the future of journalism is a fairly bleak and cynical, Johnah Lehrer writes in ‘The Future of Reading,’ “I also recognize the astonishing potential of digital texts and e-readers. For me, the most salient fact is this: It’s never been easier to buy books, read books, or read about books you might want to buy. How can that not be good?”
Unfortunately the speed that is expected from media websites is almost unimaginable and at times unmanageable, which in some ways has turned reporting into more of a race or competition. This has in many ways has lowered the quality of journalism as sources and stories are copied and often not double-checked. While this is an extremely negative side-effect of the digitalisation of journalism, the need for quality journalism is still present and possibly even more relevant in this day and age. Shirky explains how, “now is the time for experiments, lots and lots of experiments, each of which will seem as minor at launch as craigslist did, as Wikipedia did, as octavo volumes did.” Erard writes how he imagines “attention-based pricing, in which prices of information commodities are inversely adjusted to the cognitive investment of consuming them.” Though media platforms are being reshaped and are evolving, the appreciation and willingness people have to invest in quality journalism may just be the saving grace for the industry.
The popularity of the Apple ‘Ipad’ and Amazon’s ‘Kindle’ at the very least gives hope to journalists and media enthusiasts that there still is a platform for publishing news and information. According to Shaw Wu of Sterne Agee, ‘Ipad’ sales for the year of 2012 should reach upwards of 55 million. The hard question Eisenstein’s book asks is “How did we get from the world before the printing press to the world after it? What was the revolutionitself like?” If books and printing improved literacy rates in the 1500’s then surely the opportunity to gain greater exposure of information in the 21st century will improve our thirst for information and knowledge in relation to good journalism. In many ways we should be grateful that the publishing industry has lost it’s bureaucratic threshold, as it has created numerous opportunities for smaller agencies and entrepreneurs. Shirky explains how, “many of these models will rely on excitable 14 year olds distributing the results. Many of these models will fail. No one experiment is going to replace what we are now losing with the demise of news on paper, but over time, the collection of new experiments that do work might give us the journalism we need.”
Shirky vindicates the notion that, “society doesn’t need newspapers. What we need is journalism. For a century, the imperatives to strengthen journalism and to strengthen newspapers have been so tightly wound as to be indistinguishable.” What is becoming ostensible is the notion that there will always be some form of quality journalism in the digital age. While there is still some hope for print media Shirky writes, “what works today isn’t the same as what used to work.” Ultimately we should use this time to experiment with new ideas and methods of publishing, while at the same time keeping in mind the importance for truthful and well written journalism and with this the “publishing industry” shall not be lost.