The State of Publishing (ARTS 2090 Essay-in-lieu-of-examination)

Question: The history of publishing has been irrevocably changed due to the creation of digital publishing. This is made possible by the advent of an online landscape eliminating many of the core institutions of publishing, now replaced under a digital format. However, traditional modes of publishing are still utilised by the public (e.g. newspapers, paper books) but are being systematically replaced by new modes of publishing. 

Publishing refers to the production of information, text, literature or music that is disseminated to the general public.  This process traditionally involves a range of industries printing on paper via a printing press and distributing these final products through intermediaries such as retailers or booksellers who would sell to the public. However, in recent years, this process has been significantly affected by the advancement of digital media technology creating an interrelated global network media. An alteration of traditional forms of archival content e.g. (newspapers and books) have been largely replaced by new new modes of publishing under the innovation of an online landscape. This has ushered the shift from ink to digital formatting which has become commonplace within society. The advent of social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Bebo have also helped facilitated the shift to digital publishing by reaching the public with ease and capturing the reader’s attention. Therefore, this eliminates the “difficulty, complexity and expense” of the publishing industry, and re-defines the relation between public and private spheres (Shirky 2009).

The implications of the digital/technological climate of today is most prominent within the newspaper industry. Major newspaper companies initiating a “digital facelift” of core business practices and processes (Shirky 2009). While many news companies still implement the traditional method of printing presses, most have made the move towards digital publishing. This has systematically altered the business and financial models of these companies, and brought forth the dematerialisation of its resources. This has improved the efficiency of its product by replacing most of its industrial production with online formatting. Newspaper companies are re-directing their strategies towards an online audience due to the significant loss in aggregate advertising sales and to tap into the potential that various modes of publishing offer within an open online landscape. Traditionally, newspaper companies were limited to a “geographic or demographic segmentation”, or maintaining a monopoly on the “local mainstream audience” e.g. (‘The Guardian’ being exclusive to only a UK audience) (Shirky 2009). However, it is now under an international framework where newspaper companies need to compete with an increasing number of digital representatives. These not only include other news companies that have turned to digital distribution but social media agencies, major search engines such as Google or Yahoo, and even local bloggers/webmasters. Even though business advertising representatives still value news companies and the strong brands they represent, the changed landscape in which they operate in not only  yields strong competition, but “the commons” involved within a digital landscape have irrevocably changed (Walljasper 2010).

Ideas and trends are now being redefined with the “collection, (re) distribution and attention” being significantly altered due to transformation within the commons movement (Walljasper 2010). In accordance with this change, newspaper companies are continuously increasing their involvement within this immense technological and social innovation in hope of attracting younger and more diversified audiences (Mutter 2012). Newspaper companies have tried to access this market by offering digital versions of its news correspondence, making it accessible online, and/or providing the option for online subscription. This is done in order to increase its influence, relevance, readership and most importantly its revenue. Overall, newspaper companies have conducted a “feeble” attempt  in achieving this goal, within an already diverse and dynamic landscape where archives are limitless and access to news coverage is almost instantaneous (Mutter 2012). This real-time publication utilised within social media websites such as Twitter or Facebook offer increased interactivity, thereby increasing the awareness and involvement of today’s public self. The notion of “self-publication” is also exhibited within these social media networks, where grabbing the users “attention” through the use of marketing and slogans making the notion of the publishing industry and in particular, the newspaper company, largely irrelevant with there being no separation between publisher and distributer, instead are now simultaneous (Dodson 2009)  (Kinsley 2010). As a result, this has also caused the public to question the efficacy and integrity of journalism within an online landscape. With the elimination of intermediaries such as “proof” or final checking done by a credited publisher, many of these newspaper companies  now rely on amateurs as “researchers and writers”. These amateurs may provide falsified and/or unconfirmed reports to the public, hindering journalistic integrity. On the other hand, this information provided under self-publishing eliminates the traditional filtration of the media, providing a transparent form of reporting or what Kamdar has labelled as, “Cyborg Journalism” (Kamdar 2012).

With revenue being an incredibly important aspect of any company, digital advertising for newspaper companies is now one of the main mechanisms in serving this purpose. Integrated within newspaper websites, marketing messages are used to capture the attention of the user and attract customers. This is delivered in the form of banner ads and/or pop-ups shown alongside news articles or informational content, as demonstrated by the following images.

(Source: Daily Telegraph 2012) The Daily Telegraph’s website prominently features three advertisements at the top of its homepage.

(Source: The Guardian 2012) The Guardian’s homepage is festooned with a large HTC Titan 4G banner ad, instantly drawing the attention of the consumer.

These advertisements are also architected for “multichannel media” including mobile devices or Kindle e-books. This source of revenue can be measured by  “cost per click” and/or “Cost per Acquisition” or purchase. However, this form of advertising can be expensive and time-consuming due to constant monitoring and need to test sites, placement or targeting strategies and developing new advertisements. Therefore, it can be extremely difficult to generate immediate results, with most newspaper companies still opting to invest in the traditional form of print advertising within newspapers while experiencing sharp decline in newspaper sales, it is still considered a main source of fulfilling marketing goals. As a result, many newspaper companies will rely on sponsorships or grants.

Another key component in generating revenue, comes in the form of “paywalls” (Gilmor 2011). This system prohibits the public from viewing informational content without paying for an online subscription. Companies like the ‘Financial Times’ and the ‘The Wall Street Journal’ implement paywalls, depriving the viewer of content if not payed for. This method relies heavily on the exclusivity of the company’s brand name and image, promoting the idea that it is only right to pay for something worth value. Conversely, the ‘NY Times’ provides free access to its content, proving to be beneficial towards attracting more readers and promoting the pleasure of viewing its content. The editor in chief, Alan Rusbridger of The Guardian, also shares this sentiment, ensuring that paywalls are an “unnecessary solution” (Busfield 2010). He describes revenue being generated from paywalls as simply a “hunch”, and is adamant on only charging for “specialised content” (e.g. mobile users who access their newspaper.) (Busfield 2010). This way it provides a landscape where the pleasure of reading its trusted content is promoted within an environment that already offers free viewable content.

For the public to have the capacity to instantly access free content can prove to be excessive and have a negative impact on the user. From what was traditionally seen as a privately consumed medium is now largely being consumed in public, redefining the relationship between the public and private spheres. This is expressed within John Naughton’s case where he describes his relationship with a digitalised version of “The Economist” as having experienced a loss of “intimacy” and “weekly routine”, depriving him of his undivided attention (Naughton 2010). This constant viewing can affect social and long-term memory of an individual and cause addictive behaviour or “archive fever” in which the individuals constant desire to engage within these digital practices under a “conscious” decision (Derrida 1997) (Ogle 2010).

The implications of the shift from publishing industries to digital publishing is also seen extensively within the book industry. The traditional process with the author publishing the book and distributors sending the books to retailers of which are then sold to the general public has been replaced. This process has been significantly affected by digital publishing, with the foreclosure of bookstores such as Borders and Dymocks and a number of independent book retailers around the world, proving that the traditional intermediaries  are being replaced by an online format.

With this digital transformation comes the proliferation of digital text replacing printed books, most prominently  in the form of e-books. This conversion of traditional archival content has affected an individual’s experience and perception which is now largely accessed through electronic versions of books that can be viewed through the computer, mobile phones or more recently, ebook readers with devices such as the Apple Ipad and Amazon Kindle.  These electronic books can be purchased directly via the internet, along with an aggregation of information being provided including, self-published opinions, reviews and comments regarding the electronic book, thus extending the influence on the consumer’s decision. This allows for an increased convenience not only in purchasing content but storage of archives. Digital publishing and the advent of ebooks has allowed  a permanent record and archive of electronic books and online publishing (e.g. blogs, providing an unlimited shelf-space for the publisher and also the ability to carry any number of electronic books.) The storage of texts, literature and articles are also made possible on these devices with the advent of “bookmarking applications” such as Read it Later and Instagram altering the “time shifts” of public and private consumption due to a flexible and efficient reading online (Schonfeld 2011). These mobile devices have replaced routine and constrained timelines restricted under traditional paper books.

However, there has been much scrutiny under  the innovation of digital publishing, with such technology prohibiting an “understanding for perception” as a result of the display of underlined and highlighted words may become accustomed to an individual and subsequently develop a “mindless clarity” (Jonah 2010).  These issues have also permeated the schooling system. While students are now  offered an extensive list of academic material and instant news updates increasing initiative and knowledge, they have matched unwillingness to engage in and comprehend complex texts due to the exaggerated ease-of-use. (e.g. adjustable font size or “shimmering” text) (Jonah 2010). This is the result of a new form of meta-attention, “infotention”, developed within the technological era, involving an individual making  a conscious perception when interacting with an online format by categorising input, yet, decreasing our attention as a whole (demonstrated by the following image) (O’Malley 2010).

(Source: Tech F5) The Kindle Fire allows users to change the font size, line spacing and text/background colour of any text.

Within this online landscape, there are legal constraints that prohibit the infringement of copyright online, unauthorised media use and unlicensed distribution under digital rights management technologies. Although these technologies attempt to keep consumers and businesses safe, it ultimately inhibits our freedom of rights (Naughton 2010). While traditional paper books allowed for the circulation of a copy of a book without legal constraint, expressed by Naughton’s example of his original paper book copy of ‘Nineteen Eighty Four’ by Orson Wells where he pronounces his loss fulfilment of being unable to legally rent and distribute digital copy of this ebook, thus losing the freedom of the owner’s content within the heavily regulated digital landscape (Naughton 2010).

While digital publishing and ebooks are in high demand, print books are still largely utilised within the public. Primarily exhibited within older generations having a strong connection with traditional paper books and may not be technologically savvy. Many impoverished and developing companies also do not utilise ebooks or electronic versions of books as they do not have the resources or education, with the commons differing significantly amongst communities within low and high socio-economic backgrounds. These limitations are faced by the South African people whose low bandwidth and inferior “data cables” decrease speed and increase cost of provider (Bhaskar 2009). South Africa is also incapable of attaining e-reading devices as Amazon has no presence within its nation. In a country with more than eleven official languages and a history of division amongst communities, it would be difficult to cater to all regional languages and dialects (Bhaskar 2009).

The shift to digital publishing has for the most part replaced the processes and products of traditional publishing, making the notion of the publishing industry largely irrelevant within today’s modern technological society. The online landscape is now largely the aggregation of digital news and electronic books, even though  there are still users of print newspaper and books. The Digital landscape has permeated a multitude of modern societal practices, and in the long term only further eliminates the relationship between the private and public self. New generations adopting this digital landscape will cause the further stagnation of traditional printing, for the most part eliminating core publishing institutions.


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Busfield, S. 2010, Guardian editor hits back at paywalls, The Guardian, January 25,             <> Last     accessed 7 June 2012.

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