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Digital Publishing in an Age of Convergence Series: Setting the Stage

The digital information economy is about the transition from analogue to digital where mass-produced becomes niche-consumed. This study examines the profound shift in the publishing paradigm, as different actors respond to innovative devices and interactive content.

Editor’s Note: Welcome to the start of another series here on GreenBook Blog. In a slight departure from our usual market research specific content, this series broadens the scope to look at changes and opportunities from a marketing perspective around digital publishing. This series comes from the brilliant Lauren Sozio and it has a tremendous amount of “meaty” information that I think will be beneficial to regular GreenBook blog readers.

Throughout my career of managing and/or building businesses one key area of interest for me has been marketing; specifically content marketing. This interest has grown even stronger in recent years as I’ve immersed myself in social media and deepened my relationship with GreenBook, a media company that is embracing the digital marketing revolution.  I find myself in the unique position to think about these issues as a researcher, a marketer, a publisher, and a business executive. It’s through that kaleidoscopic lens that I view the shift to digital publishing and it’s related impact on all things marketing related (especially content strategies). The bottom line for me is that we live in the Social Content Age, and that shift is fueled by the convergence of digital publishing, social media, and mobility. This shift impacts consumers, brands, marketers, and researchers in a variety of profound ways, of which we are just beginning to understand. And understand it we must, because digital content is rapidly eclipsing all other channels as the dominant model  for  information consumption.

I share that with you so that you’ll understand why when Lauren Sozio approached me about serializing her thesis on digital publishing, I was intrigued. Not only is this an important topic for marketers and publishers, but I think it’s important for everyone, especially researchers. MR needs to learn to leverage these tools to generate awareness of the value and impact delivered by insight organizations, while also figuring out how this shift changes the marketing landscape and the tactics brands need to use to engage with their target audiences. I think Lauren has done a fantastic job laying out these ideas and I am positive that you’ll get a lot of it.

Today we have the introduction to her paper, and each week after we’ll publish a new section exploring various aspects of the digital convergence shift. Enjoy!

By Lauren Sozio

The point is not to be married to your presuppositions. Not to think that you’re operating in a world of immutable laws. And to realize that trying to hold back the future is a losing proposition…It’s about all the things the old guard wants to prevent, to hold back. But you can’t hold back the future. Especially when it’s better than the past. 

The Lefsetz Letter, May 5, 2010

The digital information economy is about the transition from analogue to digital where mass-produced becomes niche-consumed. Content is no longer transmitted linearly, but disseminated via collaborative, networked communities. This study examines the profound shift in the publishing paradigm, as different actors respond to innovative devices and interactive content. Following closely behind music and video, literary digitization has shaken traditional business models. Keeping these parallel fields in mind, this study attempts to paint a picture of the new publishing ecology in all of its turbulence and magnificent disorganization.

After presenting an analysis of convergence, innovation, and transmedia theory, and conducting nearly two-dozen, semi-structured interviews with both old and new members of the publishing ecosystem, it remains to be seen whether traditional publishing houses will continue to dominate the industry, whether digital platforms will usurp their revered position, or whether a hybrid agreement exists. To fully participate in the digital economy, the top-down publisher-writer-reader model must be dismantled in favor of networked collaboration among users and firms.

Adapting to eBook innovation depends on convergence on macro, structural levels (collaboration between traditional and digital actors) and on micro, contextual levels (the absorption of hardback into digital device, the integration of hyperlinked and plain text). It also means the acceptance of a “remixable” (Lessig, 2008) culture, one in which text imitates software, subject to frequent upgrading, data mining, and open-editing. Intellectual Property laws in turn must quickly adapt to serve this fluctuating economy, as the traditional notion of an author becomes diluted. Within this fluctuating ecology, one meme holds true: content is king. Premium content, whether “enhanced” or flat, curated by editors or fostered by virtual communities, is paramount in the industry and critical to the preservation of books.

The transition into this digital landscape is difficult, as it contends with the central tension that emerges in each interview: the desire to preserve the integrity of the old structure while embracing innovations that challenge the very essence of reading. This investigation is a step toward illuminating some of the key actors and issues in a field facing major disruption, and will hopefully inspire similar studies as the publishing industry’s curated products merge with developers’ innovative devices.

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