Psst, music lovers and media fanatics: The authors of Spreadable Media will be presenting at SXSW in Austin, Texas! More details here. (For a list of all author events, visit spreadablemedia.org/events.)
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Frank Rose (author of The Art of Immersion and longtime Wired contributing editor) shares a 2-part interview with Henry Jenkins on his blog, Deep Media. Jenkins chats about Spreadable Media, why fans rule, and how The Walking Dead takes on a life of its own.
BONUS! Rose calls Spreadable Media “an essential read for anyone who wants to understand how media works today.”
Read the first part of the interview here, and look for part two next Monday.
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On January 11, 2013, Henry Jenkins spoke at Concordia University about Spreadable Media. Below is a recap of the talk by Jessica Rose Marcotte.
A few days ago, Concordia University welcomed media studies researcher and author Henry Jenkins to a room that was soon filled to capacity. In his opening remarks, Charles Acland (of the Screen Culture Research Group) listed some of Jenkins’s (impressive) accomplishments, finishing off by reminding the crowd that Jenkins was, first and foremost, “a writer, looking to expand the vocabulary we use to describe media.”
Indeed, much of the introduction to Mr. Jenkins’ new book, Spreadable Media, is concerned with vocabulary, and these concerns were also addressed at his talk yesterday, as well as at the more intimate discussion period that he hosted today. Jenkins emphasizes that the vocabulary that we start with necessarily frames further discourse, and often determines not only how we talk about certain subjects, but even how we implement policy and make other important decisions.
A favourite example both in the talks and in the introduction is the concept of something “going viral” and the problem with the vocabulary of infection and inoculation, especially as it regards personal agency. A virus, Jenkins argues, is something that is beyond our control, whereas this is not the case with media. While it may be beyond the control of the original creator, it is the individual decision to share or not share that determines how far something like a video or an article will spread. Jenkins’ answer to this problem of a language of infection is the term Spreadable Media, which he coined while giving another talk a few years ago.
“If it doesn’t spread, it’s dead,” said Jenkins. “I thought that was kind of catchy.”
Over the next hour and during the question period, Jenkins dealt primarily with questions of spreadability on the internet and the public’s ability to shape media. Participatory culture, which is one way of describing this phenomena, is what happens as the public gains more and more access to the means of production, enabled by tools that may not always be used in the ways that they were originally intended. As Jenkins was quick to point out, “YouTube functions in participatory culture but isn’t itself a participatory culture” and the same is true of other platforms. The Occupy Movement, for example, could use YouTube to political effect, but that doesn’t mean YouTube is in the business of promoting democracy.
Given the nature of the internet, the topics of the talk were equally broad-reaching, from the Occupy Movement to Invisible Children and Kony 2012, to Mitt Romney’s Binders Full of Women, to the Harry Potter Alliance, to education and media literacy. Another quality of Jenkins’ seems to be a good deal of optimism about the future of bottom-up spreadability and what enough people getting together on the internet and offline have the power to do. About the Harry Potter Alliance, for example: Henry Jenkins’ predicts that we will be hearing more soon about Warner Bros. and the chocolate that they use for Harry Potter products, which the HPA claims is not fair-trade.
During the question period, Jenkins addressed a variety of topics, including:
Whether fans in the Harry Potter Alliance are being manipulated by “big name fan” Andrew Slack, or if he is a genuine Harry Potter fan. (The answer, by the way, is that Henry Jenkins is reasonably sure that Andrew Slack is a sincere fan).
Whether participatory culture dumbs down issues. (We tend to dig deeper about the things that we care about, but really it’s a matter of opening up discussion and raising awareness.)
How Piracy can create value for the original product (as in the case of fansubbed anime, which some might say paved the way for the Western anime market).
How games can be mobilized for social change. (Jenkins thinks that games absolutely can be tools for social change, but is wary of gamification – assigning points’ scales in order to alter people’s thinking.)
This morning, a smaller group of people who had been given the opportunity to read the introduction to Spreadable Mediagathered to discuss it at the Loyola Campus. Jenkins welcomed questions and potential criticisms for about an hour and a half. Since Jenkins demonstrates such a concern about language and vocabulary, it was unsurprising to see his readers take up those concerns. Jenkins was asked about the cultural economy of neologisms and whether there is a danger of neologisms simply becoming a way of branding ideas. Jenkins admitted that the term transmedia had taken off this way, and that many places now offer job positions with “transmedia” in the title, but with a lack of clarity about what the term originally meant. When asked about his apparent avoidance of the term “ideology” in a discussion that seemed to call for it, Jenkins said that one of the goals of Spreadable Media was to reach beyond an academic audience and open up a dialogue with industries. This may account for the overall positive outlook of the book as well. He didn’t want the word ideology to “be a buzzkill.”
Amongst other topics, Jenkins discussed the potential future of print as a medium. He pointed out that the time between writing a book and having it published can be quite long: “print’s sluggishness is enormously frustrating” because certain references that were current at the time have already become obsolete, “but there’s an advantage there to the permanence of print.” Print also makes, he admitted, for slow conversation between academics. His previous book, Convergence Culture, was written in 2004 and published in 2006. There are responses to that book coming out now which were probably written in 2008 or 2009, which he may be able to respond to by 2015. However, he expects that copies of his books will be kicking around university libraries long after the associated articles have disappeared from the internet. Another problem with the digital is that it can be edited. People tend to remove things that make them look bad, as in the case brought up by TAG’s own Kalervo Sinervo about an old flame war between Penny Arcade creators and Scott McLeod.
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Ted Lehmann, a retired English professor and bluegrass enthusiast, explores how our spreadable media culture benefits bluegrass music. You can read more of Ted’s writing on his blog.
We live in a rapidly changing media environment that has nothing but good in it for bluegrass music, in all its forms, while at the same time standing as a harbinger for change that many of us will find difficult to integrate into our way of consuming media. As the CD seems to be dying as a means of disseminating music, after a run of more than a generation at a price that has never been sustainable, and bluegrass festivals, while highly enjoyable for those who attend for various reasons, are not expensive enough to pay performers anything approaching a living wage, we see change in delivery and presentation in every direction. In Spreadable Media, a new book to be published next month, and on an interactive web site of the same name, Henry Jackson, Sam Ford, and Joshua Green lay out a picture of this new media world, based on the Internet and YouTube, that has huge importance for both creators, producers, and consumers of bluegrass music. While the book is written by and for “media professionals,” its importance for bluegrass is so large that it deserves wide and thoughtful consideration in our community.
Bluegrass Music is a form of music which has been maintained, treasured, and spread by its fans. The music is unusual in that a large proportion of those who love the music also play it regularly and, and some level, for pay. The lines between full scale professional, talented semi-professional, able amatuer, and fan are undefined at best and unclear in many cases. People gather to play, sing, and listen to bluegrass wherever it is played: at festivals, in local bluegrass associations, at pickin’ parties, before concerts, at conventions, and in many other formal and informal settings. In effect, this range of places where bluegrass is played and enjoyed serves to keep the songs of the Bill Monroe, Flatt & Scruggs, the Stanley Brothers and other early practitioners of bluegrass alive and in the standard repertory. It also places the stamp of approval on new songs and performances as they migrate from the stage and the recording studio to the jam circle at varying levels of accomplishment. The arrival of a fairly recent songs first performed by The Lonesome River Band, IIIrd Tyme Out, Balsam Range, or the Gibson Brothers, by their mere inclusion in regular jams, identifies the song as now a part of the classic repertoire. This movement is facilitated by the existence of YouTube, where thousands of performances by the first generation greats are available either in studio recordings, television kinescopes, or amateur videos, made available for study and slavish copying by devoted adherents. These can also be adapted and changed to meet contemporary standards, alter the original, or add new wrinkles to it. Thus YouTube serves to both uphold tradition and encourage innovation. How The Infamous Stringdusters interpret Jimmy Martin upholds the Stringdusters’ reputation as a bluegrass band and alters our understanding of the relevance of The King of Bluegrass.
Copyright has been hurt by the availability and transportability provided by the new media. While I must confess to not being as knowledgeable as I’d like to be (or planning to become in the next few months) about this important issue, I’m certainly aware that copyright and its enforcement affects performers, corporations, and performance videos as so-called Performance Rights Organizations scramble to help collect royalties and residuals for song writers, performers, and recording companies from all the people who perform the music in all its various forms and venues. Brought up in academic settings, I’m well aware of the requirements to give credit to those who originated material and stand to benefit from its use. I seek, on my own YouTube channel to identify the writer of each song I post as well as the names of all the performers. When requested by a copyright holder (rare) I immediately remove the video from my site, although I have no control over those who have shared it in the interim. It strikes me that living in the spreadable media world we have created thrusts an arrow in the heart of copyright holders, making it increasingly difficult to collect and distribute royalties and residuals to performers and writers. The current environment empowers fans, adapters, and alternative communities to spread material across the world without even acknowleging, let alone paying, the original creator. How to make rational providing recompense to those who create the performance is a matter of continuing concern.
Many performers are finding it effective to bypass the traditional publishing and recording methods for self-publishing content and merchandise through web sites or at merchandise tables at concerts and festivals. The example of rock band RadioHead’s self publishing of a digital album which netted several million dollars is alive for all performers. Where this is headed is still very much up in the air, but it is clear that there’s going to be change as well as winners and losers. One can only hope that the winners will not be solely those with deep pockets and access to expemsive legal advice. It’s also worth noting that the existance of copyright goes to making production more expensive and does nothing to guarantee excellence. Neither, however, does a completely open and unfettered market of ideas, which by definition will include more bad product along with the inevitable jewels which never would have seen light of day had they been required to copyright their material and gain the notice of a label.
The line between fan and audience or producer has inevitably become blurred as fans can combine into motivated interest groups to affect the decisions of producers. Fans are, therefore, the key to both the maintanence of tradition and the support and spread of change. By seeking to narrow the definition of bluegrass they can keep the genre from growing and encouraging artistic experiement. By rewarding the best of the new and different, they encourage people to innovate. By subjecting the music to continuing re-evaluation and re-hearing based upon the increasingly large availability of choices, they make the world, whether it be the world of art, film, or music both more difficult to navigate and more suscpetible to change. Finally, only the test of time will determine what remains, what changes, and what enters the awareness of the audience. Now is perhaps the most challenging and exciting time to be in bluegrass since Flatt & Scruggs stepped on the Stage of the Grand Old Opry in 1945. Have a good time.
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[To] be appreciated, content must be seen. Methods of distribution are various. Sam Ford, co-author with Henry Jenkins and Joshua Green of a new book coming out January 21 called Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture, looks at self-distribution from known creators (example, the Seinfeld episodes) as one of many new experiments being sown across the Internet. “They [personalities like Seinfeld, Nike, et al.] are a trusted commodity,” says Ford. “And their audience is enthusiastic and perhaps willing to enter uncharted waters in pursuit of their content. But these experiments are laying the groundwork for business models to come.”
An entire chapter of Spreadable Media looks at independent creators building new models around online circulation. “From animator Nina Paley to science fiction author Cory Doctorow to videogame makers to indy bands,” says Ford, “producers are creating content that couldn’t have been made in a traditional business world and creating new models to make profit from it. From indy bands allowing content to circulate freely and then building tour dates and marketing plans based on where the content becomes popular to relying on word-of-mouth practices and donations from enthusiasts to circulate media content to new audiences, these groundbreaking creators have been—for the past several years—experimenting with new models that will likely be picked up and incorporated by bigger media companies over time, as they try to work out what they will do in the online space.”
Sam Ford’s latest article for Fast Company examines the concept of “residual value” of content from the past. It originally appeared here.
After the atrocity in Newtown, Connecticut, earlier this month, many found solace, comfort, and guidance in a voice from the past—a voice many of us grew up with: Fred Rogers. The group 170 Million for Public Broadcasting posted the following words from Mr. Rogers in the wake of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary:
When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers—so many caring people in this world.
The quote came from a video from Mr. Rogers to parents about how to talk with children about scary events in the news. In his career, Rogers (who was also a Presbyterian minister), had been called on to talk to parents about dealing with tragedies from the Robert Kennedy assassination to the 2001 U.S. terrorist attacks.
So, perhaps it isn’t surprising that parents, children, online communities, and news organizations all seemed to quickly seek out—and spread—Rogers’ words. On Dec. 18, PBS NewsHourreported that Mr. Rogers had “gone viral,” with that post having been shared more than 90,000 times across the Internet. As Mackenzie Carpenter reported in The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, these words from Mr. Rogers were picked up by Meet the Press, The Washington Post, and elsewhere.
PBS might describe this as Mr. Rogers “going viral,” but it wasn’t the content forcing parents, friends, and journalists to share it. Rather, it was the collective action of thousands of individuals and communities, action from people who read in Mr. Rogers’ words a meaning that spoke to them today, and that—through sharing it—felt they could connect to others dealing with a tragedy that has impacted the whole nation.
But Carpenter’s piece also pointed toward an issue Rogers’ legacy now faces. While PBS still has web resources dedicated to Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, the program is no longer in their regular lineup.
It’s a problem I’ve encountered as a parent. Back in 2010, I wrote an article called “5 Marketing Lessons from Mr. Rogers” after rediscovering my nostalgia for the program. At the time, I didn’t see it in the television lineup. I couldn’t find it in video-on-demand. I wrote that I hadn’t gotten my one-year-old daughter DVDs of the show because little content was available in commercial circulation, and I linked to a petition that was circulating at that time with 2,000 signatures to get more DVDs released. And I was afraid Mr. Rogers’ work might eventually disappear into historical footnotes.
My daughter’s now three. Some months back, we stumbled on some Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood clips people had circulated via YouTube. And his ability to talk frankly and respectfully to kids spoke to her. Eventually, we even found that the local PBS affiliate does air Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood at 5 a.m. on Saturday mornings. I was interested in finding more but didn’t really know where to look.
In my forthcoming book with Henry Jenkins and Joshua Green called Spreadable Media, we borrow from Raymond Williams’ writings to talk about the “residual value” of content from the past—and the public’s ability to rediscover and apply new meanings to that content, pushing it back to a more central place in the culture.
It was the unofficial circulation of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood content on YouTube that reconnected me to my desire for my daughters to experience lessons from Mr. Rogers—lessons I felt would resonate, even if some of his decor and some of the technology featured in the show is dated. Further, it was only after this widespread grassroots circulation of Mr. Rogers’ words in the past couple of weeks that I discovered—since I last checked in 2010—that quite a few DVDs are now available of his show, and they are also now accessible through Amazon Instant Video and iTunes.
Here, we have a perfect example of how “retro” content finds new meanings. A generation who grew up with and have great nostalgia for Mr. Rogers are now reconnecting with the program as parents, realizing how the show might enrich our children’s lives. After hearing Mr. Rogers’ advice regarding how to cope with tragedy, there is likely renewed interest on his insights on other timely issues.
It remains to be seen if PBS and The Fred Rogers Company find new ways to make audiences aware of how to connect with Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood via online platforms, or to get the content back in more widespread distribution (and into airing times when we actually want our kids to be awake). But it will be interesting to see if they are able to listen to, and capitalize on, this moment when the grassroots circulation and interest in Rogers’ work has renewed interest in the program’s decades of material.
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1. “The Ethics and Politics of Curation in a Spreadable Media World.”
Joshua Green had a one-on-one conversation with Brain Pickings’ Maria Popova about “The Ethics and Politics of Curation in a Spreadable Media World.”
2. “Rethinking Copyright.”
Henry Jenkins joined USC Annenberg Innovation Lab Director Jon Taplin and musician, songwriter, and producer T Bone Burnett to talk about “Rethinking Copyright.”
3. “Listening and Empathy: Making Companies More Human.”
Sam Ford led a discussion with Culturematic author Grant McCracken, The Responsible Business author Carol Sanford, Your Call Is (Not That) Important to Us author Emily Yellin, and Continuum Chief Innovation Officer Lara Lee on “Listening and Empathy: Making Companies More Human.”
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