Can UK consumer titles be effectively served through the utilization of new digital form of publishing?
Part One. Introduction
The potential for UK consumer titles to be effectively served through the utilization of new digital forms of publishing can be approached under three broad categories – readership, technology and content. Firstly, if a transition to digital media is to be possible then traditional models of readership must change. Models based on the media producer sending out a text to be consumed, or in some way negotiated, by media audiences, must shift, and this shift must achieve enough mainstream success to make the transition effective. Secondly, developments in technology must be able to provide effective modes of digital publishing, which can develop or create emerging forms of readership in a coherent and creative way. Thirdly, content must change, adapting to a digital model and digital structures. I will address all of these categories and key points of intersection, with specific examples, in my reviews.
Firstly, my Industry Review focuses on content in relation to technology. In terms of content there are two main issues at stake – firstly, the incorporation of different modes of content made possible by digital publishing, and secondly, shifts in the whole structure of content delivery. In order to explore this I have chosen to focus on the sector of Contemporary Visual Arts magazines. This seems an interesting sector to explore as it could be described as in a state of crisis. On one hand, a move towards glossy celebrity-style coverage in print magazines has alienated some readers, Guardian art journalist Jonathan Jones for example as well as sharing his distaste at “the slick, ugly new breed of mags that feed off art’s perceived glamour” (Jones 2009), also points out their increasing irrelevance as providers of information in the face of new-media competition, “I’m relieved I haven’t needed to fork out more than I need on magazines…Google goes a long way” (Jones 2009). On the other hand however, modes of digital publishing seem to offer potentially new and exciting modes of relating to diverse visual material, and of reflecting shifts in media in art practice itself. While art magazine circulation is falling, and more titles are disappearing completely (Szanto 2009), Technorati reports a huge rise in the number of online art blogs, criticism and journalism (Szanto 2009), leading Andras Szanto to raise important questions such as what directions this coverage will take, and who will pay for it (Szanto 2009). Flicking through a contemporary art magazine such as Frieze, it is clear how much space is given, and revenue is made, from advertising, as well as how, effectively the whole magazine operates as a form of publicity, marketing and advertising for galleries, institutions and events. As Eugenia Bell points out, “Art magazines have, of course, always been dependent on advertising revenue…Publishers have oft been criticized for being open to the influence of advertisers…but [it] contributes to the literary and design style of a magazine while keeping rates affordable” (Bell 2006). While this may well be true of print art magazines, this must change greatly in digital publishing. I have therefore decided to focus my Industry Review mainly on shifts in advertising content between print and digital formats, considering issues such as the possible effectiveness of models such as targeted advertising imported from social networking sites.
All of this then, has to be underpinned with theoretical research on the reformulation of theories of readership. In my Literature Review I focus mainly on this issue, considering the theoretical history of technological convergence, and what impact this can have on contemporary modes of digital readership. I am interested here in what Henry Jenkins has defined as ‘convergence culture’, suggesting a different mode of engaging with content, based on among other things, increased user interaction. I also consider here the effects of developments in technology. The issues of content, readership and technology can not of course be separated, but interact and resonate with one another at multiple levels. How these interactions can be understood is key to considering the effectiveness of digital modes of publishing.
Part Two: Industry Review
I will approach a review of the industry by first of all taking an example of an existing print contemporary art magazine, the September Issue of Frieze, as a case-study. Moving from this, I focus on areas of the digital industry, which I see as innovative, such as the Art Review Project Space and Tank.TV. The issues I focus on here are the relation of shifts in art media to digital publishing, the role of advertising in digital formats, and modes of combining critical writing with effective revenue production.
2.2. Art Media, Content and Structure
Traditional modes of art publishing may seem to lend themselves to the reproduction of certain art media. Glossy A4 reproductions of paintings or photographs for example are common and seductive images in the September 2009 issue of Frieze magazine (Frieze 2009: 1,2,3,4,5). These function most commonly as advertising for commercial gallery exhibitions. The first few pages of the issue for example, provide advertising for, among others, Marian Goodman Gallery in New York, Hauser & Wirth Gallery in Zurich, and Victoria Miro Gallery in London, suggesting that galleries are well served by the magazine format. The first element that stands out is the sheer quantity of advertising space. In this issue, there are 75 full-page adverts, taking up approximately half of the magazine’s 152 page content. The rest of the content, while not always being presented directly as advertising, usually functions as advertising, publicity or marketing for particular galleries, publications or events through short, glossily illustrated articles, which read like press releases. Secondly, the style of this advertising – heavily visual, using modern design styles and representations of artist’s work becomes, as Eugenia Bell has pointed out, an important part of the magazine’s design style (Bell 2009). This situation, where the content and design of the magazine is heavily dependent on advertiser’s style, contrasts directly with the Frieze website where gallery advertising is placed minimally on the right of the page, with no images other than gallery logos, taking up less than a fifth of the page, which is instead dominated by text-content, listings and images used to illustrate articles (FriezeWeb 2009). On one hand, this shift in balance suggests, as Szanto points out (Szanto 2009), that advertising revenue may be lost if more emphasis is placed on digital publishing, as galleries would be less likely to pay large fees for smaller online advertising space. On the other hand however, it may offer potential for galleries to develop new modes of advertising incorporating developments in digital technologies, readership and delivery. Indeed this central opposition stands as a general point in relation to the adoption of digital strategies – the loss of old models but space of potential to develop new. If it is to succeed then innovation is required.
If print magazines lend themselves well to some art media they are particularly ill-suited to others. It is difficult to get much sense of the work from reproductions of video or sound work for example. In the September Issue of Frieze, the photograph of an art-school seminar (Frieze 2009: 103), the review of a Warp Records box set (Frieze 2009: 41), and the Focus article on a video artist Kerry Tribe (Frieze 2009: 120-1) could all be made more engaging to readers through the use of digital video or sound formats. In relation to these newer media, modes of digital distribution seem more appropriate, and digital publishing is merely a mode of the magazine sector keeping up with developments in the technologies of its subject matter. There are many cases, for example, of publications, which exist in an online format, as this is seen as the best mode of presenting new-media work. www.tank.tv for example, while originally operating as an off-shoot of Tank magazine, now functions as an autonomous web-based space showing artist’s film and video work (Tank 2009). However, utilizing digital publishing as a more effective way of reproducing work being written about is still a limiting use of the technology, maintaining the same one-way structure of producer (writer) / audience (reader). Some magazines have been more innovative in their incorporation of artist’s work. Art Review for example, has established a specialist ‘project space’ where artists are commissioned to make work specifically to be shown online as part of the online magazine content. This allows artists to work within the parameters, expectations and limitations of online publishing in a media-specific way, rather than having their work simply imported from a gallery context to images on a webpage. Current work online for example, by Jack Strange, utilizes the specific aspect ratio format of the digital exhibition screen to make a split-screen work. Others such as Doug Fishbone, who draws on imagery thrown up by Google image search, use the project space to explore the internet itself as media for their work. Each online exhibition lasts for a fixed duration before moving to an archive space. The page then contains links to an artist interview, and as a whole, operates as a semi-autonomous space linked from the main magazine site. (Project Space 2009). This combination of print publishing techniques with media-specific exhibition strategies suggests an effective mode of digital art publishing.
While this structure may give the represented artist more space, it does little however to change the relation to readers. The reader, reconfigured as ‘user’ may pause, rewind or fast forward the video, but this is a limited mode of control, analogous really to the ability to shuffle between pages of a magazine. Other sites have adopted more radical strategies in reconfiguring the relationship between reader/user and magazine content. Saatchi Online for example operates as part of the Saatchi art franchise, including The Saatchi Gallery and The Saatchi Gallery Magazine. The online space however, rather than recreating gallery work or magazine articles adopts web 2.0 strategies to allow far greater user generated content and interaction. The opening page provides a space for an artist member of the public to upload their work, along with links to other sites such as Twitter where they may be contacted, (Saatchi 2009). Users of this site are reconfigured as creators of its content, rather than passive readers, staff writers acting more as organizers of content. This model has many consequences. In one sense it empowers, or at least offers a sense of empowerment to readers, who may be encouraged by their increased interactivity to engage with other articles and features on the site. It can be read in this sense as a mode of shifting institutional relations. Here, in contrast with the curated project space on Art Review, someone with no institutional art education or relation to gallery institutions is offered a space to display art work. Exposure moves away from the hands of selectors to the random algorithms of a search engine. On one hand, this suggests the democratizing potential of digital media publishing. On the other hand however, with supposedly no quality control, it could seem to represent a lowering of the quality of content – a particularly important issue in the contemporary art magazine sector where well-informed and critical magazines have traditionally been useful in distinguishing work. Taking this point further it removes the element of ‘criticism’ from the magazine, something traditionally vital in art journalism. Thirdly, it could also be seen as a cynical attempt to gain more users, exploiting their desires to be published in order to direct potentially lucrative web traffic. In this case, this raises further questions of associations with existing brands. Tank.TV has become independent enough from the Tank magazine to become its own brand, operating in a different context. The Art Review Project Space effectively uses the main magazine brand to confer legitimacy on the screened projects. At the same time however, it is difficult to assume that something with the Saatchi brand would operate entirely altruistically with no commercial interests. Digital publishing offers the potential, not only of developing new content and new modes of relation to content, but also of developing or re-branding existing print magazine brands.
2.3. New Approaches to Advertising
There are also other modes of interaction developing which attempt to find more creative interplay between producer and reader at the level of content. Google for example is offering ‘personalised publishing’, a system where users can adopt a ‘cut n paste’ strategy to select material and create a ‘personal’ magazine or e-zine. According to the blogger ‘Dave’, users would not only select articles but also be sold related advertising, (HuoMah 2007), suggesting a way for publishers to increasingly target advertising in a way not possible in traditional print media. Such ‘targeting’ of advertising is a specifically digital development. Social networking sites, such as Facebook for example, trawl through keywords and available personal data to build consumer profiles of their users, and then ‘personalise’ advertising according to this data. (Everingham 2009). This may offer the suggestion of a possible answer to the lack of advertising revenue I proposed above. Advertising would become, while less widespread, potentially more effective by being increasingly targeted, based on consumer profiling strategies.
Some bloggers seem enthusiastic about the potential of targeted advertising being developed alongside ‘choose your own content’ strategies. “It’s a great idea that might just turn the whole publishing industry on its head” suggests Arun Radhakrishnan. (Radhakrishnan 2007). “We even get to pick our own ads?? Sounds like fun to me” claims ‘Dave’ (HuoMah 2007). Unfortunately, most responses have been less enthusiastic. There are concerns first of all over privacy and data protection, Duncan Riley for example describing it as an “Orwellian development” (Riley 2007), capturing the sense of invasion people feel at having their subjectivity colonized for the maximization of corporate profit. Others have pointed out the potential for identity fraud, Sara Everingham for example criticizing the possibilities it opens for “social phishing” (Everingham 2009). Others simply express intuitive distaste and paranoia at the strangeness of a system designed to infiltrate your desires even before you have recognized those desires yourself, “Facebook can’t know I was planning to get married abroad – can it ?!?!?!” (Mell 2009). From the perspective of the industry, problems have also been pointed out with the ineffectiveness of the model. Emma Barnett for example points to research carried out by LinkShare, which suggests that “adverts on social networking sites fail to engage 96 percent of users” (Barnett 2009). On the other hand, the research suggests the increasing popularity of online targeted marketing as more brands opt in. This suggests an interesting imbalance in online marketing trends – more companies adopting its strategies, with little evidence of user response, and generally negative user feedback.
2.4. Conclusion: Criticism and Revenue
While this may offer one direction for the development of revenue through digital marketing strategies, it may not be the most effective for the contemporary art sector. As readership is quite specialist already, the consumer profile strategies adopted by sites with a far less specialist audience (such as Facebook) may not be as effective for, say, Frieze, or Art Review. There are ways it could be implemented however, allowing for example gallery advertising to be targeted at exhibitions in the same location as the user, or based on the preferences of types of artwork in their user history. Other modes of digital revenue have been adopted in the sector. On way of avoiding completely free access to content is the limited access or pay-subscription. Visitors to the Frieze website for example can access some areas of the site, but others are limited to paid subscribers only. Szanto however argues that this has also been ineffective:
[Art] Publishers have tried every game in the book to monetize content on the web – from charging online subscriptions, to fencing off ‘walled gardens’ of premium content, to surrounding journalism with clever advertising. Lately some executives have been pinning their hopes on an iTunes style micro-payment scheme…But so far nothing has worked. (Szanto 2009)
His analysis suggests that while arts readership is rising, “thanks to the web” (Szanto 2009), what is being produced is a proliferation of individual blogs making it difficult for magazines to make any money from digital publishing. What this proliferation of voices does suggest however, is that if, as Jonathon Jones argued, and I referred to in my introduction, print art magazines are becoming increasingly glossy documents of social events, more like Hello than spaces for critical debate, then there does exist a lively space of critical debate already on the web. Artsjournal .com is one example of many sites that collate blogs and news stories into easily navigatable form. The question for art magazines then becomes how they can harness this space, in order to provide quality critical journalism in digital formats, while operating as profit-making companies. The answer lies potentially in forms of hybridization. While Saatchi’s site seems too dominated by public access uploads of dubious quality, and other such as Frieze import top-down hierarchical models from print traditions, there exists the possibility of more interplay. The Guardian newspaper for example, adopts a ‘layer-cake’ model where editorially supervised staff journalists provide one tier of content. A second tier contains blogs by staff and freelance writers, and below this a vast ‘commentosphere’ of readers. This is not a perfect solution – it is still hierarchical, and lends itself to a multitude of meaningless posts questioning writer’s grammar and such like. However, some form of hybridization, effectively managed, and combined with the new media opportunities of digital could make transition more effective. Modes of hybridization, in the form of convergence, I now go on to explore in my Literature Review.
Part Three: Literature Review
If UK consumer titles are to be effectively served through the utilization of new digital forms of publishing, then two important initial considerations follow. Firstly, there must be an understanding of how old and new media technologies could effectively converge, and what impact this could have. Secondly, new forms of readership must emerge to replace traditional models. I would argue that these points are closely linked, as it is the convergence of technologies that is enabling new forms of readership. In this section, first of all I will focus on how readership has changed specifically in relation to convergence. I argue that convergence has become so widespread that forms of readership necessary for digital publishing are quickly entering mainstream culture, suggesting the potential effectiveness and user-readiness for the transition to digital. In order to do this I will first consider how convergence has been defined, what effects it has had, and how these could be relevant in a magazine publishing context. Secondly, I will focus on changes in technology in relation to mobility. As I mentioned in the Introduction, the three main areas to be investigated – readership, content and technology all intersect at various points, and mobility is another key point of intersection. Technological developments affect not only media content and modes of readership but also impact upon cultural theory and cultural generally.
3.2. Convergence Culture and Readership
The concept of convergence has traditionally been understood in technological terms. According to this view, it can be understood as a mode of bringing together different media functions in a single device. An iPhone for example, by operating as a web browser and MP3 player as well as a phone would offer a good example of convergence understood in this way. Rayner, Wall and Kruger offer an expression of this view, defining convergence as “the coming together of different communication technologies such as the telephone, the computer and the internet” (Rayner et al. 2004: 351). Gracie-Lawson Borders summarises definitions as “the blending of technological capabilities to deliver content” (Lawson-Borders 2006: 4). Brian Winston similarly defines it as “the idea that all the machinery of communications is coming together” but adds, “with profound effect” (Winston 2003: 134), in order to give a sense that convergence is not generally used as a neutral description but with the assumption that the coming together of technologies will have an important effect. While maintaining the original definition, he is critical of this ‘profound effect’, suggesting instead that as technological change has always been based on such processes there is no need to, as he expresses it, get caught up in convergence ‘hype’ (Winston 2003: 134). Others have had a more enthusiastic reaction. Nicholas Negroponte for example, argued that increased convergence was going to make media companies so powerful that tighter regulation was necessary, “what will happen to broadcast television over the next five years is so phenomenal it is difficult to comprehend” (Negroponte 1995: 57). While Winston’s anti-revolutionary approach to technological history may provide a useful counterbalance to Negroponte’s sense of rapid inassimilable change (and vice versa), they both offer essentially negative reactionary views – either that convergence is nothing new, or that it is something new and disturbing. This negativity is not very useful in starting to think what positive effects modes of convergence could have on a specific industry such as magazine publishing.
Henry Jenkins, on the other hand, by moving away from purely technological definitions starts to offer suggestions of potentially positive effects of media convergence:
Instead [of understanding it primarily as a technological process], convergence represents a cultural shift as consumers are encouraged to seek out new information and make connections amongst dispersed media content. (Jenkins 2008: 3)
His move away from the single focus on technology allows him to develop a focus on how modes of spectatorship (or readership) have been affected by shifts in digital technology. His definition then is based not only on “the flow of content across media platforms” (Jenkins 2008: 2), similar to Winston’s definition, but also, “the migratory behaviour of media audiences who will go almost anywhere in search of the kinds of entertainment experiences they want” (Jenkins 2008: 3). This combination of audience/ readership, technology and media content allows Jenkins to introduce the broader term of ‘convergence culture’, which he defines as the space where:
Old and new media collide, where grassroots and corporate media intersect, where the power of the media producer and the power of the media consumer interact in unpredictable ways (Jenkins 2008: 2).
Convergence then, according to this definition, plays out not only a shift in technology but also a shift in power. Rather than a traditional ‘top-down’ model of media producer creating and publishing content to be consumed by audiences, a vital part of Jenkins’ ‘convergence culture’ is the shift to increased interaction, and therefore increased power, of media audiences or readers. Similarly, Lawson-Borders defines convergence as a “realm of possibilities” (Lawson-Borders 2006: 6), suggesting that, rather than simply increasing the power of media companies, it can operate as a force for readers to redefine their relation to texts.
In some contexts, the shifts in power suggested by Jenkins or Lawson-Borders analysis are obvious and embedded in oppositional politics. The recent Climate Camp in London for example started with a workshop in ‘citizen journalism’ teaching protestors how to take advantage of developments in digital technology in order to reclaim control over news reporting:
Mobile phones, laptops, digital cameras and camcorders were laid out on bails of hay – a display of weaponry at the heart of the UK’s increasingly technological protest movement. (Lewis 2009: 1)
Media convergence – through for example, the ability to quickly shoot and upload content on a lightweight phone, and immediately upload the content to an internet distribution platform such as YouTube has increasingly become a vital part of global protest movements. Protestors at the G20 Summit in London in April 2009 for example captured many cases of alleged police brutality, which were quickly broadcast around the world (Lewis 2009: 3). In another case, strategies enabled by media convergence allowed news stories of protests in the wake of elections in Iran to be seen around the world, within the context of a far tighter regulated media. As pointed out on The Guardian blog “Twitter users are providing vital updates on the situation at a time when foreign journalists are facing severe restrictions” (Weaver & Nasaw 2009: 8AM). The converegence in this case of mobile phones operating as internet browsers, and the internet platform Twitter, allowed instant global coverage of what was allegedly happening in Iran, against the wishes and powers of state-controlled media.
Both of these examples show how the convergence of digital technologies has been used in the construction of new modes of active readership. It could be argued that Jenkins account of ‘convergence culture’ is utopian in its focus on self-organised power, or that it has little relevance to consumer culture, including magazine culture, as a whole. I would argue however that examples of citizen journalism show how important convergence has become in culture generally, and that it will necessarily have a powerful effect on all modes of readership, including the magazine sector.
These effects have been most commonly broadcast in relation to the politics of reclaiming the media. The web-based platform Indymedia for example prides itself on “offering grassroots, non-corporate, non-commercial, coverage of important social and political issues.” (indymedia.org.uk). However, while shifts to digital publishing may have been driven by politically motivated oppositions to institutional forms, it is interesting how its formats, assumptions and styles (if not its politics) are increasingly part of mainstream culture. Recent advertising for T-Mobile phones for example shows a supposedly self-organised flasmob style event at Liverpool St. Station, where people record their surroundings on telephones to pass on information to friends. The structure of citizen journalism is retained but, in this sense, to represent the assertion of individuality that is part of T-Mobile’s campaign. The prevalence of such imagery in contemporary advertising suggests that strategies of digital publishing made possible by media convergence operate not only in a specialist niche market, but are part of mainstream expressions of belonging in capitalist society.
Several elements emerge from my examples. Firstly, digitally converged technologies have been particularly useful in situations where traditional media forms, for whatever reason, have no access. Secondly, it has offered consumers the possibility of rejecting particular political, ideological or corporate allegiances in the self-generation of content. Thirdly, it has led to a much more rapid globalization of information than traditional media, breaking down traditional barriers of culture and national law. Fourthly, as personal accounts become more common, notions of the authority and truth of the media become more fluid, and truth becomes pluralized, subjectified and scattered. Fifthly, the mobility of digital media has led to shifts in definitions of location and identity. Sixthly, a generation of people are becoming increasingly adapted to forms of digital publishing, leading to negative associations for old media forms.
Taking these points individually in relation to digital art magazine publishing, the first point could have interesting ramifications. While conventionally, print art magazines have focused on specific galleries or other established institutional events such as biennials or art fairs, digital modes of publishing may allow more reflection on or analysis of sites which they may not previously have considered or had access to, effecting a possible shift away from existing institutional art centres. This is developed in the second point, which emphasizes how user-generated content offers a way of potentially escaping ideological biases in magazine content, and therefore the possibility of the incorporation of more diverse and critical opinions. The third point is especially relevant to readers who may have been excluded from art magazine readership, whether due to cost, geographical location, or lack of exposure to specialist outlets. The fourth point may have important critical and theoretical consequences for art publishing, and the increased fluidity of interpretation inevitable with the shift to user interaction, is something that can affect the discourse of art itself. The fifth point could be developed in various ways, including for example, more accounting for mobility in readership through the use of locational softwares and mobile technology. Mobile phone applications for example, could provide instant reviews of exhibitions near to where the user is located at any time. The sixth point is perhaps one of the most important from the perspective of the producers. As the cultural shift which Jenkins defines as convergence culture continues at speed, then user demand will ensure further decline of print magazine circulation figures, and the necessity of digital publishing strategies.
Overall then, an analysis of convergence culture reveals many important factors in the transition to digital in art magazine publishing. It is not one-way traffic but a constant negotiation between users and the mobilization of its codes in relation to the marketing discourse of institutions. The reformulation of producer / audience has allowed for the potential of more control and freedom for readers (or users). As Jenkins has described, audiences become “migratory” (Jenkins 2008: 3) seeking out content across a range of media forms. Care must be taken however to avoid binary oppositions between old and dated traditional institutional media forms, and entirely subjective user-generated replacements. It is rather the ‘clash’ that is interesting, as institutions adapt to shifts in readership, and readers adapt to shifts in the possibilities of interaction. Jenkins describes this clash as having “unpredictable effects” (Jenkins 2008: 3) but from the perspective of media producers, the task must be to allow for the spontaneity of unpredictability, while also, to an extent, managing and controlling it.
3.3. Technology and Mobility
I have outlined developments in digital culture creating a shift whereby notions of readership become more interactive, as ‘users’ are potentially more interactive with magazine content then in passive reader models. Another shift is the mobility of information made possible with developments in digital technology. This can be interpreted in different ways. The ‘migratory’ experience described by Jenkins alludes to the lack of control for single providers, as users can move freely between different sources, a range of magazines for example, applying a cut n paste strategy to their information sources. In another sense, the migration is more literal, as Nicholas Mirzoeff has argued, “the digital is all about space” (Mirzoeff 2002: 164), and changes in digital technology have affected not only modes of interactivity but also personal relations to space and movement around space. An increasingly mobile population using converged devices such as Apple’s iPhone to access internet from outside of home or office locations suggests the possibility of increased interaction between magazine publishing and existing platforms, devices or software such as Apple’s use of locational software to, say, recommend restaurants near to users. In terms of publishing, mobile devices are currently playing an important role in transitions to digital content. Readers such as the Kindle have been vital in digital shifts in book publishing, making over 240,000 titles available in electronic format (PDA 2009). Issues at stake in reading on mobile electronic devices rather than paper formats are not necessarily around interactivity but have generally been around the subtle adapting of readership to a similar experience. In terms of magazines however, the reader relation is different, while a device such as the Kindle may be able to provide an approximation of reading a paper novel, it is ill-equipped to reproduce the seductive use of image, texture and colour in a glossy magazine. New developments have however attempted to address this. The Plastic Logic, currently being developed in the US for example, is a reader aimed specifically at screening newspapers and magazines, as its developer Daren Benzi argues in an interview with journalist Gillian Reagan:
Those palm sized screens [of e-readers such as the Kindle] don’t provide enough room for the visual experiences magazines will need to appeal to readers and advertisers . (Reagan 2009)
There is a sense in the interview that a market exists but is lying in wait for the most appropriate technological development, “Kindle numbers aren’t on fire – yet” (Reagan 2009). Leander Kahney describes how one of the reasons Apple’s ipod became so successful was the way it created an entire culture around digital music, “what’s on it – the music – tells you who you are” (Kahney 2005: 8). Kahney’s writing captures a sense of the cultural shift necessary for transition to digital modes of readership. This is shared by Tara Brabazon:
The surprise of the ipod was that it rejuvenated the dying singles market…Remarkable creativity emerged from this change. The Kindle may refire poetry, short stories, investigative journalism, book reviews and serials (Brabazon 2008: 120).
Her focus on how shifts in mobility effected by mobile devices will produce new modes of writing for those “at the margins of profitability” (Brabazon 2008: 120), through distribution strategies such as podcasts, could suggest the possibility for modes of content which focus more on critical writing, with less emphasis on heavily visual advertising. In this case, technology affects the whole mode of culture around magazine readership, rather than attempting to directly translate current reading experiences to new technologies. An obvious example is the increased focus on audio-visual material rather than static images, but another direction yet to be as developed in art publishing would be hybridisation with other technological cultures – mobile guided tours around museums, or communities base around people near you with shared interests. Some writers have emphasized the potential opened up by shifts in culture away from the traditional media authority. Des Freedman argues for example:
The multiplication of information sources and extension of previously restricted mediated spaces…is the beginning of a thriving and democratic media culture in direct opposition to traditional mass media. (Freedman 2006 :278)
The increased focus on technology however also leads to the inevitable exclusion of some from its possibilities, as Brabazon points out, “opportunities are available to the affluent few and geographically fortunate” (Brabazon 2008: 120). If magazine publishers are to exploit the increased interactivity and mobility offered by digitization of content, then access and affordability of technologies must also be a key issue. Jenkins has outlined key oppositions between media consumers and producers in the shift to digital modes of distribution:
Convergence, as we can see, is both a top-down corporate-driven process and a bottom-up consumer-driven process. Corporate convergence co-exists with grassroots convergence. Media companies are learning to accelerate the flow of media content across delivery channels to expand revenue opportunities. Consumers are learning how to bring these flow of media more under their control and interact with other consumers. (Jenkins 2006: 18)
Technological developments must account for both of these directions by innovation in content. Mobility seems to be one key issue here. While technologies such as Apple’s Tablet are much discussed on the internet, “I never fully belived the Apple Tablet was real beyond dreams…It’s going to have a 10 inch screen like a giant iPhone” (Lam 2009), there doesn’t appear yet to be appropriate technological developments to match shifts in reader desire, whether fuelled by institutional marketing or grassroots cultural shifts, creating an interesting space of potential for new developments.
I have outlined here how shifts in concepts of readership, along with shifts in content and technology are vital for the transition to digital publishing. While concepts of convergence have traditionally been defined in reductively purely technological terms, or in negative terms, theorists such as Jenkins or Lawson-Borders, by focusing on the social effects of technological convergence provide more positive opportunity for theorizing new modes of readership. Important aspects to develop from this are notions of an empowered user, seeking out and making connections across a range of media and the unpredictability of interaction between media producer and media consumer. Through examples in culture generally, I argued that new modes of readership have developed most effectively through political channels, but have now entered mainstream culture enough to suggest the effectiveness of digital magazine publishing. The possibilities for self-generated and location-specific content, changing notions of space, truth and authority, offer great potential for modes of digital publishing. While the increased mobility of digital devices could offer important developments, further research is required in how mobile devices could be effectively distinguished from text-focused readers, and also how content could adapt to the new possibilities and demands of digital mobile readership.
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