Sunday, February 24, 2013

Mitchell's Suggested Approach to the eBook/Seminar

Rather than stick with one type of approach for the six subjects to cover in the eBook and the next six weeks of the seminar, I propose we try a broader path, hitting highlights of methodology and media while finishing with a case study. Doing so would allow us to examine how to approach the issue of the future of print, then look at the key areas to be affected by the developments in electronic publishing, before finally applying what we have learned to an important example of an entity grappling with the complicated issues associated with this transitional time for the media.

For purposes of the book and seminar, I would limit the idea of "print" to printed works that are the primary product meant for readers to consume for information or entertainment. That means, newspapers, magazines, newsletters, consumer books and academic books would be included, but, with all due respect to the HP documentary we watched, labels on cappuccino machines, product packages and other incidental printed materials would not. Nor would material produced by consumer printers.

My suggestion is more about the structure than the individual topics selected for each subject, but I will put forth what I think may be good topics to cover. With that in mind, here are my six proposed subjects:

- Subject One: State of the Field. What is the status of print today? How much has electronic publishing encroached on the traditional print field? Are there specific print spaces that have been especially threatened by the digital revolution? Have there been areas that have been more immune? It seems to me that any publication, electronic or print, seeking to assess an industry should start with an examination of where we are now, before we can talk about the past or the future.

- Subject Two: Methodology I, History. How have historians of print gone about their work? What kinds of histories have been done? What do they tell us about how we should look at the future of print? We have looked at some of this literature, but it might be helpful to more fully look at how scholars have studied print. We can devote time here to other methodologies, too, such as a sociological look at print.

- Subject Three: Methodology II, Economics. For print or electronic media to exist in any form, there needs to be a viable economic model to sustain them. When discussing the future of news, one of the weaknesses I often find in theoretical work is a lack of attention to the economics of how a predicted future will work. So understanding the economics of print and electronic publishing is necessary to understanding the future of print.

- Subject Four: Books. With an assessment of the field and an overview of two key methodologies in place, we can now move on to the actual objects that are being transformed by electronic publishing. Books would seem to be an obvious choice to go first, given the long history of the physical book. How are books--trade, business and academic--making the transition (or not) to electronic publishing?

- Subject Five: Newspapers and Magazines. Newspapers have existed on an advertising-based model since the introduction of the penny press in the 1830s. But a number of factors, including the loss of revenue streams (like classified ads) to the Internet, declining circulation and increased debt from corporate acquisitions, have undermined the model that lasted for nearly 200 years. What does the future hold for newspapers and magazines? This is an important question, as dissemination of information is vital to allow citizens to function in a democratic system.

- Subject Six: Case Study. Putting the tools to work we covered in the first five subjects, we will choose a case to examine closely. Depending on the interests of the class, two possibilities come to mind. If books are the paradigmatic example of a print product, then it might be useful to look at Amazon. The Kindle is the most successful dedicated e-reader, and Amazon's policies, especially on pricing, have wide-ranging effects on the publishing industry. Another option is the New York Times, which had a registration system, then dropped it for many years, and then went back to a pay-wall approach two years ago. As a national brand, the experience of the New York Times may not tell us much about how metro daily newspapers will adapt to the unbundling of the last decade and a half. But as a major provider of information for the larger news ecology, understanding how the New York Times manages to find a sustainable economic model would be important.

I think pursuing an approach like this one would not only make for a cohesive eBook, but would also provide the students with a solid overview of the key areas in play when thinking about the future of print.

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