By Cindy Royal, Assistant Professor,
Texas State University in San Marcos
The AEJMC conference in Boston offered many of the benefits I always enjoy and appreciate at the annual gathering: seeing old friends, networking with colleagues, meeting people with whom I have been communicating online and learning about research and teaching trends. But, the conference took a different tone this outing, as there was much discussion (both online and offline, in the sessions and in the hallways) of journalism professors being out of touch with the realities of online media and the digital economy (see Guy Berger’s MediaShift post “Two Recent J-Education Conferences Show Resistance to Change”). Criticisms included: questions and issues being addressed in sessions were outdated; research topics were tedious and mired in minutia; some social media applications, like Twitter, were viewed with disdain and condescension; and a general lack of understanding of the challenges and needs of the industries we support. As a profession, we have many big questions to answer, at such a critical time, that it has to be our responsibility as educators to assist in developing innovative solutions and drive the conversation.
It is exceedingly important that journalism as an educational and scholarly discipline embraces the new media environment and helps lead our graduates to enter their chosen fields with a spirit of innovation and the ability to influence direction. We often get wrapped up in the skills we teach. Should students learn HTML, video editing, Flash? Should they use Facebook, Twitter, YouTube?
Perhaps first, we should take a step back and develop an understanding and appreciation of the new environment: what makes these skills relevant, how do these tools and platforms affect the nature of storytelling and what options do we have for business models that embrace and value these features? The digital economy differs significantly from that of legacy media. In talking to conference attendees about this topic, I realized that there were several authors that I had been exposed to over the past few years that have significantly influenced my understanding of the current environment. I now think in terms of concepts like media as a conversation rather than a lecture, marketing to the “long tail” rather than masses, business models that include a “free” component, the importance of motivating a fan/user base to participate and providing a powerful user experience, the realities of a copyright system that potentially limit users’ ability to fully capitalize on those experiences and a targeted ad model that emphasizes keywords and context.
So, here are my recommendations for the five books that every media professor should read (along with online resources, since we are, after all, talking about the digital economy). I have had the distinct pleasure of seeing each of these authors when I have attended the South By Southwest Interactive Festival in Austin. I know many of you have read some of these books, but my sense is that most within our ranks feel that these topics are too technical and outside the realm of media. In actuality, each is an easy and engaging read that provides a unique take on an aspect of digital culture. Taken as a whole, these books provide an excellent introduction to a new way of thinking about the future of media and the power and opportunities of a participatory culture.
1. Chris Anderson – Anderson rates two books on my list. He’s the editor of Wired magazine and has written The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More and most recently Free: The Future of a Radical Price. In The Long Tail, Anderson describes the power to motivate the part of the sales curve that includes the many items sold in small quantities. It applies to just about any industry, and he effectively explains the role that digital technology plays in making this model efficient. Whether it is recommendations on Amazon.com that help drive sales of a book that was previously out of print, or a music company that can distribute mp3′s of a larger range of artists, Anderson explains that it is no longer about only the “hits.” Business models can develop around “misses.” This is relevant in news, when we consider entire news offerings in aggregate, rather than fixating on hits of individual pieces. This allows news sites to cater to valuable niches, which may ultimately lead to the ability to sell higher value, targeted ads.
In Free, Anderson makes the controversial claim that in the digital economy, one can give items away for free, and actually quite a bit of your business can be supported by a free model. Anderson identifies several different free business models, not all of which are new. Media companies are intimately familiar with the advertising model, the original use of “free,” in which advertisers pay and consumers enjoy the resulting content for no charge. Advertisers are buying the attention of consumers on sites that aggregate them. Other free models include what Anderson calls “freemium,” in which most business is free, while a small percent of paid activity supports the entire company. Take Facebook, for example. Most of the activity on the site is free. Facebook continues to build a large community because it opened up its doors and let everyone in for no charge. It does, however, charge for things like virtual gifts. Twitter, which is a completely free service at the moment, is considering charging for higher-end business services that could validate authenticity of accounts or provide advanced analytics.
Probably the most valuable message in Free, is the one that explains the importance of attention. There is value, albeit not always immediately and directly monetary, in creating a large community, generating excitement about your company and motivating consumers to engage with your brand. The challenge is generating business models that capitalize on these aspects once developed and thriving.
- Anderson’s blog – http://www.thelongtail.com/
- Free audio book on iTunes & at http://www.wired.com/techbiz/it/magazine/17-07/mf_freer
- Tech Is Too Cheap to Meter: It’s Time to Manage for Abundance, Not Scarcity – Wired – http://www.wired.com/techbiz/it/magazine/17-07/mf_freer
- Why Free is the Future of Business – Wired - http://www.wired.com/techbiz/it/magazine/16-03/ff_free
- The Long Tail – Wired – http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/12.10/tail.html
- Anderson on Charlie Rose – http://www.charlierose.com/guest/view/386
- Anderson on The Colbert Report – http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/239500/july-22-2009/chris-anderson
- Salon Interview – http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2009/07/28/wired/
- TED Talk – http://www.ted.com/talks/chris_anderson_of_wired_on_tech_s_long_tail.html
- Twitter – @chr1sa
2. Henry Jenkins – Jenkins is a scholar most recently employed at University of Southern California, previously of MIT. He’s written several books, but the one I have found most relevant to my understanding of the value of online communities is Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. Jenkins explains the value of participatory culture and highlights several case studies in which brands, whether on purpose or by accident, have engendered a fan following so passionate that its members were motivated to some level of participation. Whether it is the way that American Idol encourages fans to vote for their favorite contestant or how a distributed group of Survivor fans, using crowd-sourced techniques and advanced technologies, seeks to spoil upcoming episodes with information about locations and winners, Jenkins emphasizes that a passionate fan base is a valuable one. This goes beyond mere exposure to an advertising message. Jenkins holds participatory culture in high regard and encourages media, brands and advertisers to embrace fanatical behavior rather than deride or squelch it.
- Jenkins Web site – http://www.henryjenkins.org/
- Special issue of journal – Convergence – http://con.sagepub.com/current.dtl
- Convergence Culture Consortium – http://www.convergenceculture.org/
- Convergence Culture on Google books http://books.google.com/books?id=RlRVNikT06YC&dq=Henry+Jenkins&printsec=frontcover&source=an&hl=en&ei=1bmAStnOKsGHtge_-PHVCg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=5#v=onepage&q=&f=false
- On YouTube – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SGVfJVde164
- Authors@Google – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FbU6BWHkDYw&feature=related
- SXSW – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kdtg_IL2c_c
- Twitter @henryjenkins
3. Jeff Jarvis – Jarvis is a former journalist turned media consultant who took a close look at arguably the most successful company in the digital economy, Google. In What Would Google Do?, Jarvis describes a company that practices a new way of thinking about media, audiences, content and advertising and whose primary mission is to provide “elegant organization.” He provides 40 clear rules of the new economy, including “the link changes everything,” “do what you do best and link to the rest,” and “your customers are your ad agency.” Many of these rules fly in the face of conventional media wisdom and could be described as counterintuitive, but Jarvis’ descriptions make practical sense, particularly in the context of Google’s growth and success. He closes with examples of how several industries would look if they applied “Googley” practices, including media, advertising, retail, money and others. According to Jarvis’, Google’s lesson is clear: “Make innovation your business.”
- Jarvis’ blog – www.buzzmachine.com
- WWGD page – www.buzzmachine.com/what-would-google-do/
- Jeff Jarvis interview PBS @SXSW – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZAyLyfOWyCA
- YouTube – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cfcWFvkcHVI
- Authors@Google on YouTube – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2lKd8SyGJWA
- Newsweek interview – http://www.newsweek.com/id/181829
- Twitter – @jeffjarvis
4. Lawrence Lessig – Lessig is an attorney and law school professor at Stanford. He argued (albeit unsuccessfully) the 1998 Sonny Bono Copyright Extension Act before the Supreme Court in Eldred vs. Ashcroft. He has written numerous, seminal books on intellectual property in the digital age (Code and other Laws of Cyberspace, The Future of Ideas, Free Culture), and I tell any student that is doing research that deals with copyright to read every word Lessig’s ever written. His most recent book, Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy, provides a look at the way our current copyright system suppresses creativity in a “read-write” culture, one in which users contribute as well as consume. But our legal system turns artists into felons and children into pirates, just because they want to create and communicate with the tools at their avail. He describes a hybrid economy that embraces the realities of the business culture with that of the new sharing economy.
- Web site – lessig.org
- Film: Rip!: A Remix Manifesto – http://www3.nfb.ca/webextension/rip-a-remix-manifesto/ or http://www.ripremix.com/
- Lessig on The Colbert Report – http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/215454/january-08-2009/lawrence-lessig
- Lessig on Charlie Rose – http://www.charlierose.com/view/interview/9618
- Authors@Google – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9xbRE_H5hoU
- Video presentations at http://www.lessig.org/content/av/
- SXSW interview – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=saZjAYkPrdA
- TED Talk – http://www.ted.com/talks/larry_lessig_says_the_law_is_strangling_creativity.html
- Twitter @lessig
And, if you want more, here is a list of several other books/resources I have used in my teaching that are also relevant in understanding the digital economy as it relates to media:
- Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations by Clay Shirky
- The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki
- The Cluetrain Manifesto by Christopher Locke, Doc Searls and David Weinberger
- The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom by Yochai Benkler
- Being Digital by Nicolas Negroponte
- Weaving the Web by Tim Berners-Lee
- Where Wizards Stay Up Late: The Origins of the Internet by Katie Hafner
- We the Media: Grassroots Journalism By the People, For the People by Dan Gillmor
- Video: The Internet: Behind the Web – History Channel
- DVD: Download: The True Story of the Internet – Discovery Channel
My challenge to media professors who have not already been exposed to these authors is to read each of these books (or at least engage some of the online resources) over the next year and see how these concepts change the nature and direction of your research and pedagogy. My hope is that we will gain a fresh perspective and have the ability to better address the important issues and challenges of our time at future gatherings. Our ranks are filled with brilliant and innovative minds. We just need to channel them in a direction that is compatible with the nuances of the digital economy.
Cindy Royal teaches Web design, online journalism and communication technology topics. Prior to doctoral studies, Royal had a career in Marketing at Compaq Computer (now part of Hewlett Packard) in Houston, TX and NCR Corporation in Dayton, OH. Royal hosts a music blog at onthatnote.com, a tech blog at cindytech.wordpress.com and would love it if you followed her at twitter.com/cindyroyal.