Friday, February 22, 2013

A Proposition (from Andrew)

Here are my suggestions of 6 topics that we could possibly pursue. I don't have an overarching theme that's guiding these choices, though they do mostly relate to ideas about the reading public/audience, amateur/independent/self-publishing and user-generated content, and trying to interrogate the construction of firm distinctions between authors and readers (or producers/consumers, etc.).

In this way, all of these topics speak in some way to issues of access and control and many also connect with the emergence of new technologies that enable more decentralized print production, distribution, and consumption. And therefore, there's a good bit of correspondence here with Ambar's earlier suggestions.

Readers & Reading Choice: In general, I'm interested in reception and what it actually means to read a book (or newspaper, magazine, webpage, etc.). But for our purposes here, I'd be curious to explore more closely questions about how readers choose what to read and reading as a social activity (and attendant issues of taste, class, gender, et al). Janice Radway's work on female readers of romance novels and also on book-of-the-month clubs could be informative here, as could Ted Striphas' more recent work on Oprah's Book Club. As for the "future of print," some further exploration of online recommendation engines (Amazon, online library catalogs), in addition to user reviews/comments, might be one direction to take.

Print Distribution & Retailing: Similarly, I'd be interested in more closely examining recent and ongoing changes in the distribution and selling of physical print formats. Possible areas to consider here would be big box store booksellers, as well as niche online retailers. There's generally a lot of cynicism and doom-and-gloom about how the big box stores killed off independent booksellers (and rightfully so), but less considered is the role these cheap, affordable books might've made in popularizing reading and making books available to a wider public. (Historically, there are certainly some connections to be made here to the introduction of the mass-market paperback in the mid-20th century.)

The Afterlife of Print: Something of a tangent here, though it relates to both of the first two points. I'm also really interested in used books and book resale, including eBay, Amazon's merchant partners, other online book marketplaces like AbeBooks, and even library book sales. There's still a thriving market for used books, and it goes beyond just textbooks. But it is rarely mentioned; any discussion of bookselling is typically focused on first-sale only. If resale gets mentioned at all, it's usually in terms of being a nuisance to authors/publishers and an intellectual property concern. This also brings up questions of materiality (tied to some of Jordan's suggestions), as well as obsolescence.

Independent, Amateur & Self-Publishing: Obviously, we could talk here about digital platforms and services like iBooks that offer alternatives to traditional publishers and retailers (including alternative retail outlets like Smashwords). But I'd also be interested in examining traditions of the alternative press, from alt-weeklies and zines to independent or "underground" publishers and distributors that operate well outside the traditional commercial publishing industry. Stephen Duncombe's work on zines or Chris Atton's work on alternative media could be starting points. Many of these alternative newspapers, magazines, and books have transitioned to the Web in the form of websites, especially blogs. Too often, I think, blogs get denigrated as merely amateur content (or poachers of professional content), but I'd be curious to look at the range of publishing that falls under the "blog" category. Or to put it another way, to question the very distinction made between amateur/professional production.

Intellectual Property & Piracy: Obviously, one of the publishing industries' major concerns over the Web has been piracy, from news aggregators and websites like HuffPo that either redistribute or "repurpose" newspaper and magazine content to digital file-sharing and straight up pirated e-book editions. There's no shortage of commentary available on copyright issues. But what's less considered is the perspective of the copyright pirates - both the individuals who knowingly acquire pirated content and the actual producers/sellers of that pirated content. Adrian Johns has produced some really interesting historical work about copyright pirates. Part of this topic would be to look at the rhetoric of piracy, and what it means to call someone a "pirate" (or thief) and how/why pirates justify their actions.

DRM & Access Control: This last topic is closely related to the previous one about intellectual property. Striphas discusses DRM toward the end of the chapter we read, but it's a relatively brief treatment. But many content producers are looking beyond copyright protections and instead trying to use digital rights management technologies (e.g. watermarks, locks, authentication devices) to directly control what users can and can't do with their media and hardware. Electronic media over the past half-century has tended to grant more flexibility and control to users (e.g. audiotape, videotape, photocopying), but rather abruptly that long-term trend is being reversed toward technologies that favor more and more restrictive uses. These developments risk undermining users' sense of agency with their own technologies, and thus drastically alter the experience of reading.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.