Sunday, February 24, 2013

My Six Things

I am actually of two minds about how best to organize our project. The first of these is to structure it around six categories loosely derived from the Darnton communications circuit. Each node on the circuit has its own somewhat unique history and has been affected in sometimes differing ways by new technologies and shifts in the culture of reading and consumption. I think it could be helpful to include all of these as a way of thinking broadly about the full range of implications of our new digital world. The six, as I see them, are (and not necessarily in this order):

(1)  The future of print for authors: This chapter would focus on the changing nature of authorship, the breaking down of gatekeeper barriers to publishing, the phenomenon of self-publishing, blogging, tweeting, etc. but also the question of what it means to be an author today. This chapter would probably focus some on the “convergence” of media, the melding of video and images and audio and text, and the increasingly collaborative nature of multimedia digital authorship. But it would also consider the range of skills typically required today to be a professional author as more and more of the functions of other parts of the communications circuit are transferred to authors themselves. 
(2)  The future of print for publishers: As individuals and teams of individuals harness the new media tools of self-publishing and promotion and strive to develop business models to support it, the role of traditional publishers (both for books and newspapers) remains in flux. Although some of the middleman functions publishers once performed may no longer be quite so necessarily, in other ways, the imprimatur associated with a publisher’s brand may be more important than ever in terms of conferring a certain kind of prestige and status to authored works. As readers and consumers are increasingly inundated with information, this function publishers provide is nontrivial.
(3)  The future of print for manufacturers: Here we focus on both the technological innovations of e-ink, Nooks, Kindles, iPads, and whatever’s next, but also the implications for the way technology is changing old fashioned print production: new efficiencies associated with paper production, typesetting, printing on demand, distribution, etc. The labor and environmental consequences of all of these changes ought to be considered and assessed in terms of sustainability.
(4)  The future of print for wholesalers and retailers: This chapter will explore the changing nature of distribution, battles over digital rights management, the future of bookstores (digital and bricks and mortar), and evolving business models to sustain other pieces of the circuit. I suppose this is also where advertising comes in.
(5)  The future of print for libraries, curators, search engines, and aggregators: Not sure what to call this chapter except it seems like a hugely important area of concern about the future of print (and something we keep coming back to in seminar): how we find what to read, what gets recommended to us, and the tools we have at our disposal (or will have in the future or should have in the future) for browsing and seeking information.
(6)  The future of print for readers: This brings us around full circle to a discussion about how we read in the digital age and the need for different kinds of “print” for different kinds of reading. This chapter will also focus on new pathways for reader engagement and influence over authors and publishers, etc.

As much as I like the breadth of these six categories, I wonder if it may be overly ambitious to try to cover all of them. So my second framework for organizing this project is a bit narrower and more forward-looking and also maybe more fun—emphasizing the future part of the Future of Print by thinking through six areas for what we imagine the future of print ought to look like. In other words, we could produce a sort of time capsule that takes stock of where we imagine the future to be at this moment in time. The six areas I came up with using this kind of organizing framework were:

(1)  The reading devices of the future: will anyone care about Kindles and iPads in two decades? Will future e-books look more like print books or something else entirely? What’s being developed right now and what can we imagine that nobody is yet working to create that maybe they should be?
(2)  The newspapers and magazines of the future: Will they exist and in what form? How do we envision news organizations adapting and establishing business models to sustain costly reporting, investigative and international coverage, in a digital age? Is there a limit to total disaggregation? Are long-form “singles” the answer? Will nonprofits and academia fill the void in some way? What does the printed product look like if it continues to exist and what will be its relationship with its digital cousin?
(3)  The word processing of the future: we all probably take Microsoft Word for granted at this point, but things are changing and maybe there are better ways to write and publish printed materials. What does this future look like? Probably more multimedia, better integration of text and audio and video, etc. We haven’t talked much about this area yet, but maybe we should.
(4)  The copyright of the future: can we (or do we?) envision a future in which concerns over rights and ownership take a different form? Can a better balance be struck between the need to properly compensate authors and producers and the consumer side demand to share materials as easily as the technology seems to allow.
(5)  The textbooks of the future: There’s probably a ton we could say about how textbooks will or ought to look in the future, and some of this relates to changes in academia in the coming decades. Will future textbooks include digital lectures, multimedia presentations, and will they be instantly updated as the world changes and new knowledge is incorporated? 
(6)  The card catalogues of the future: Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information, but what do they and other companies have in store for us in terms of changes to how we find and seek out printed materials? There are of course benefits and drawbacks for highly personalized algorithms and recommendation engines. What do we want this future to look like?

Some of these questions/areas could be folded into my first proposal and vice versa, so perhaps these six and the other six aren’t mutually exclusive. But I thought I’d post both versions since I was torn between them myself.

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