‘It makes increasingly less sense even to talk about a publishing industry, because the core problem publishing solves—the incredible difficulty, complexity, and expense of making something available to the public—has stopped being a problem.’ (Clay Shirky,‘Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable’,http://www.shirky.com/weblog/2009/03/newspapers-and-thinking-the-unthinkable/). Are digital and networked media dismantling the “publishing industry”? Is it being replaced? If so, what is replacing it? If not, what is the publishing industry becoming, and how is it doing so? Are there new difficulties and complexities or expenses involved?

The 21st century has seen the advancement of digital and networked media, somewhat dismantling the “publishing industry.”  Published work such as books, newspapers, magazines and academic material are slowly being replaced into digitised formats which promotes convenience, speed and a greater expansion of information. However, not all individuals have converted to digitisation yet, with underlying flaws such as ambiguity in validity as well as personal preferences to hard-copy publishing. This essay will consider how digital and networked media has been integrated into current lives and how this has altered opinions on publishing as well as what is preferred amongst individuals. Firstly, the Kindle e-book will be examined; how digitised books affects not only how individuals are now able to read but how it affects reading on a larger social scale. McLuhan’s ‘The Gutenberg Galaxy’ will be addressed. Then, digitised versions of printed material such as PDF files and academic resources will be examined, reflecting upon the concept of ‘Digital Incunabula.’

The 21st century has seen the rapid advancement of digitalised and networked media, an evident futuristic dismantle of the publishing industry. As Brannon describes, to children of the digital age, “print is the verb for the end process, the out put of their computers” (Brannon, 2007). The most evident transitions from physical publishing to digitalisation are books to e-books and paper newspapers to now online journalism. The average reader has been given the option to modernise their reading experience with an e-reader. E-readers first became prominent through online store Amazon, who decided to sell their book products in digitised forms, available to read on e-books named ‘Amazon Kindle’ (Wagner, 2011). It was released on November 17th 2007 and sold out all available units in 5.5 hours (Patel, 2007), highlighting the digitised society that is the 21st century.   The appeal of an e-reader is based mainly on its convenience; any book you want to read on-the-go, depending on the e-reader you owned, public domains are emulated; you are able to download popular classics for free, eco-friendly and compatible; less paper and printing is used, all that is needed for the book to be published is digital (Dremer, 2012).  ‘Kindles’ are not only a ‘digitised book’, but also enables digital functions such as inbuilt dictionaries that can define any word that is highlighted (ibid, 2012). Furthermore, there are ‘comments’ applications, where you can add notes and thoughts to sections of the book (ibid, 2012). The Kindle has shown great potential for digital texts; it’s never been easier to buy books, read books, or read about books that you might want to buy (Lehrer, 2010). E-books have given publishers and authors a wider gate way to distribute titles proving to be beneficial for consumers. According to Mike Shatzkin of The Shatzkin Files, it is something more than 30 times of the 10,000 titles published traditionally, with a multiple of that number being self-published onto e-reader format (Shatzkin, 2012). In an economical and business view, the publishing of more titles assures a positive return of funding. Kindles further enable for books to remain, a book. Bookstores are rapidly declining; 17 of 26 Borders stores closed in 2011 (Rintoul, 2011) due to the Kindle advancement. With bookstore shelf space rapidly declining, Kindle enables for books to remain unlost. Although the Kindle heavily reflects upon the fast digital advancement the 21st century has seen, many prefer reading the physical book, proving that the publishing industry has not completely been wiped out yet.

Digitisation of the published book have many positives however, faces difficulty and expenses on a social and mental level. Socially, books are considered as an instrument for converging differing social groups within a ‘public sphere.’  This reflects upon Marshal McLuhan’s ‘The Gutenberg Galaxy,’ in which he considers that printed books “created the public.” (McLuhan, 1962).  The ‘Gutenberg Galaxy’ which can be considered as an accumulation of human works of art and knowledge, books, are thought to bring the public together in convergence (ibid, 1962), which a Kindle fails to achieve. McLuhan argues that technologies, such as the Kindle, are not inventions that people employ but are the means in which people are re-invented (ibid, 1962). He further states that the printing press led to the creation of “uniformism”; people are able to congregate together socially in regards to the events of a book. An example which exemplifies McLuhan’s theories can be seen within a coffee shop, where both individuals and groups are brought together within a ‘public sphere’ by publication; through differing novels and political uses of media such as newspapers. This idea is supported by Gary Wasdin, the executive director of the Omaha Public Library, who recounts a situation where he conversed with a lady at Starbucks in line who happened to have the same book as him (Wasdin, 2012). He describes the conversation as “simple and brief, but it was a nice connection.” This event reflects the idea of ‘convergence’; a cultural shift as consumers are encouraged to seek out new information and make connections among dispersed media content (Jenkins, 2006).  However, this loses the mental interaction one has with published work. As Jonah Lehrer describes, consumer technology moves in a single direction constantly making it easier for us to perceive the content. The difficulty that is involved within a Kindle is that perception overtakes understanding, “the words will shimmer on the screen, but the sentences will be quickly forgotten” (Lehrer, 2010).

Jonah Lehrer considers a book a “time-tested technology,” because it has been published, it has the ability to endure. Lehrer refers to Stanislas Deheane’s research, a neuroscientist at the College de France in Paris who has studied the neural anatomy of reading. In order to read, words goes through two distinct pathways for any of the information to make sense, activating different contexts (ibid, 2010). Even fluent adults are forced to make sense of texts, conscious of the words on the page. This information suggests that the act of reading observes a “gradient of awareness.” When printed on lucid e-ink screens, it enables the reader to absorb quickly and effortlessly whereas unusual sentences with printed page features such as smudged ink tends to require more conscious effort, leading to the activation in the dorsal pathway. This activation causes a slight cognitive frisson of having to decode what is written, waking the brain up (ibid, 2010).  Kindles eliminates the complexity of reading and absorbing information, every sentence will become easier to read.

Not only are printed books being transitioned onto an electronic platform but the Internet has digitalised the printing press, however not completely replaced.  It is an understatement to say that the computer, in the current 21st century, is a central aspect of our daily digital lives (Brannon, 2007).  Digital processing saw its prominence by 1990, where digital processing was everywhere (ibid, 2007). This prompted the ‘desktop generation,’ where all industries and commercial firms, such as book, magazine and newspaper publishers had replaced publishing with an ‘electronic’ standard (ibid, 2007). The advantages of such flexibility were easily integrated into the work force; search ability of text, capability of linking related information, ability to copy, paste and edit seamlessly and the ability to output the same data in different forms or in different locations according to the particular need (ibid, 2007). Though the laser printer cannot be solely credited with launching the information age, it was the single invention that transformed several emerging technologies into a new way of thinking about printing, publishing, books and ultimately the ways in which people interact with written language (Brannon, 2007). This electronic capability allows for ‘Print on Demand’ (POD) to happen; printing multiple copies of a publishing after an order is received (Higgins, 2004). Whether it is a book, magazine or newspaper, without being able to POD, information would not be ‘published’ fast enough. POD also integrates digital formats such as PDF files (ibid, 2004) which are then printed quickly as soon as possible by means of a laser printer. The enforcement of digital files into a regular reading regime reflects John Tolva’s concept of ‘digital incunabula.’ A comprehensive study by Tufts University considers ‘digital libraries,’ how digitalising information affects its content (Crane, Bamman, Cerrato, Jones, Mimno, Packel, Sculley, Weaver, 2006). The study considers the generation of new information through digitalisation using books with multiple editions as an example. “Print libraries cannot learn about their holdings and generate new content on their own. Information retrieval systems, which reindex libraries as they grow, constitute only a partial step in this direction for they do not cycle over and over generating new knowledge by earning from their collections and from their users” (ibid, 2006).  Continuing with the ‘digital incunabula,’ PDF files give access to extensions of knowledge and information. Digital libraries promote constant learning and intelligence by bibliographic references and new secondary sources promoting constant, autonomous communication with such digital libraries (the internet) (ibid, 2006). An example of this lies within Wikipedia; a free online encyclopaedia which contains a collaboration of information from any registered user (Nagelbush, Juettemeyer, 2013). However, there is ambiguity on the author or editor’s expertise level (ibid, 2013) as well as accuracy on the pending information. A recent study of relational statements in Wikipedia demonstrated that 97.22% of basic propositional statements and 99.47% of disambiguating links prove to be correct (Weaver, Strickland, Jones, Craine, 2006). Thus, even if we reject the expository style of Wikipedia for bias, the proposals within Wikipedia demonstrate that decentralised communities will accumulate highly accurate propositional data (Lesk, 2005).  However, the increase of digitalised publications also increases the ambiguity of valid information.

A difficulty that digitalised publications face is the ambiguity of collaborative information, reducing the validity of any information on the internet. John Tolva points to the confusion of digital “text” which is derived from the Latin noun “textus,” “web” or “weave.” How is one to judge the credibility of such disparate information? Eisenstein refers to the increased confidence in information that resulted from the first printing evolution however, the digital environment caused instability of information leading readers to treat such with increased scepticism (Brannon, 2007).  As internet users now know, the content of digital sources can change unexpectedly and imperceptibly. Texts can be deliberately or mistakably modified, either with bias or unbiased, salutary or destructive, are not evident in the previous version (ibid, 2007). When information on the internet is modified, what was previously modified is unable to be seen, thus is considered valid. Brannon draws upon the newspaper as an example; “the digital information they used in yesterday’s paper may not even exist tomorrow; a website may be cited, never again to be sighted if its links become out-dated, it’s server fails or it’s host removes or changes it (Brannon,2007). Due to such textual corruption, the importance of authors, publishers and the place of publication cease to matter much and all digitised information become factual (ibid, 2007).  The ignorance of those who contribute information makes anonymity a power, becoming problematic as evidenced by spam and internet imposters (ibid, 2007). This idea is exacerbated within the New Yorker cartoon by Peter Steiner published in 1993 (Fleishman, 2010), again reprinted in 2011.

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(Peter Steiner, The New Yorker)

The cartoon symbolises an interpretation of internet privacy; the internet promotes general anonymity. Lawrence Lessig suggests that “no one knows” because digitised internet protocols do not force users to identify themselves (Lessig, 2006). Thus, the digitisation of information increases ambiguity and validity of information, considerable as ‘facts.’

This essay has examined the affects of digitisation on the publishing industry and the flaws that are currently present. I believe that as the digital world expands, it will bring more opportunities to obtain information however will continue to bring ambiguities between what is fact and fiction.

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