This week's C3 Weekly Update features an Opening
Note from C3 Consulting Researcher Aswin Punathambekar. Aswin, who will
be speaking at our upcoming C3 Spring Retreat for partners and
consulting researchers that we're hosting here at MIT, writes the
concept of "unimaginable audiences" in relation to ethnic
audiences/communities in particular. Aswin's interest here is in
creating a dialogue about audiences in preparation for the session on
understanding media audiences as communities he will be a part of at
the retreat. Aswin will also be leading a breakout group in discussing
global media flow and the changing concept of media audiences and media
production internationally in the contemporary media landscape.
The Closing Note is the latest in the series of
short essays written for the C3 Weekly Update entitled "Divergences,"
by C3 alum and current reasearcher for the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game
Lab here at the Program in Comparative Media Studies, Geoffrey Long.
Long writes about a change in the pay structure for compensating
authors at HarperCollins, as well as shifts in delivery methods, and
what it means for the future of the publishing industries. Geoffrey
will be joining C3 Consulting Researcher and fellow GAMBIT researcher
Doris Rusch to lead the breakout session on video games at the retreat
Also, tonight, as is referenced in the Weekly
Update's calendar, Henry will be moderating a conversation on digital
culture here at MIT as part of the Program in Comparative Media
Studies' MIT Communications Forum. The event, entitled "Our World
Digitized: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly," will feature Yochai Benkler,
author of The Wealth of Networks ad professor at the Berkman
Center at Harvard, and Cass Sunstein, professor at the University of
Chicago and author of Republic.com 2.0 and Infotopia: How
Many Minds Produce Knowledge. For more information on the event,
MIT Communications Forum site and The
Weekly Dig. We hope to see some of you there. For those who
can't join us, the event's audio and video will be made available in
the coming weeks.
We're staying busy here at the Consortium. C3
Research Manager Joshua Green has been busy putting together further
analysis of the YouTube project we have immersed ourselves in this
academic year, while Principal Investigator Henry Jenkins has been
working with our graduate student researchers on projects on online
video promotion and the concepts of "viral" and "spreadable media" that
will all be presented at next month's retreat.
Speaking of the retreat, we're going to be sending
out a special e-mail
later this week to the newsletter's subscription list, giving all the
details about our C3 Spring Retreat for partners and consulting
researchers that we're hosting here at MIT on Thursday, May 08, and
Friday, May 09. In preparation for planning catering and the breakout
sessions which will involve the participation of all those in
attendance, we need everyone who plans to attend to RSVP. All the
details on the lineup will be provided in the invitation, and we'll
continue to give updates between now and the event here in the C3
Weekly Update. For our partner companies, please keep in mind that
anyone who is a member of
your organization is invited to attend, so please feel free to forward
that invitation on to others
who may not subscribe to the MIT C3 Weekly Update. There is no
attendance fee for the C3 Spring Retreat.
Also, again note that Futures of Entertainment 3
set for Nov. 21 and Nov. 22 at the Wong Auditorium in the Tang Center
here at MIT.
If you have any questions or comments or would
like to request prior issues of the Update, direct them to Sam Ford,
editor of the C3 Weekly Update, at email@example.com.
In This Issue
Opening Note: Aswin Punathambekar on Audiences and
the Concept of Unimaginable Communities
Glancing at the C3
Closing Note: Geoffrey Long's Divergences:
Licensed to Read
Thursday, April 10, 5-7 p.m.
MIT Communications Forum: Our World Digitized: The
Good, the Bad, the Ugly
Featuring Yochai Benkler and Cass Sunstein: Bartos Theater, Wiesner
Building, MIT Media Lab
Co-sponsored by the MIT Center for Future Civic Media
Thursday, April 24, 5-7 p.m.
MIT Communications Forum: Youth and Civic
Featuring Lance Bennett, Ian V. Rowe: Bartos Theater, Wiesner Building,
MIT Media Lab
Co-sponsored by the MIT Center for Future Civic Media
Friday, April 25
Passions 2008 Conference
C3 Project Manager Sam Ford presents "Outside the Target Demographic"
as part of the Gendered Fan Labor in New Media and Old panel.
Thursday, May 08, and Friday, May 09
C3's Spring Retreat
Thursday, May 22 to Monday, May 26
for Social Impact, Conference of the
Interntional Communication Association
C3 Research Manager Joshua Green will make two presentations at this
Montreal event. Details forthcoming.
Thurs., June 19, to Sunday, June 22
Culture Theory Conference 2008
C3 Director Henry Jenkins, C3 Research Manager Joshua Green, and C3
Project Manager Sam Ford are going to be panelists for a plenary
this Suffolk University event here in Boston. More information
Friday, Nov. 21, and Saturday, Nov. 22
MIT Futures of Entertainment 3.
The Consortium's annual public conference is scheduled
for the weekend before Thanksgiving. We look forward to seeing a
variety of our partners at the event and will have more information
forthcoming after our Spring Retreat.
Media scholar Shanti Kumar developed the notion of
"unimaginable communities" to explain how media globalization has made
it increasingly difficult to draw boundaries around audiences. At the
very moment we define audiences – in terms of nation, language,
race/ethnicity; in medium specific ways (film or television); in varied
demographic clusters (family, youth, fans, etc.) – our definition
New media technologies, changing patterns of
consumption, increasing global connectivity, and ongoing transitions in
industry logics have made audiences "unimaginable." This, in and of
itself, is not exactly news – from different vantage points, all of us
at C3 have been grappling with this question of imagining and
understanding audiences-as-communities in new ways.
But I think this notion of "unimaginable communities"
can, in fact, be highly productive and not just a gloomy diagnostic
term. During the upcoming retreat – the Audiences as Community panel in
particular – would it be useful for participants researching different
audiences communities to talk about what has become "unimaginable?" For
instance, does thinking about "consumer tribes" allow us to break free
of established definitions of community? What about trans-national
online fan communities that cohere around music?
In what follows, I focus on the domain of "ethnic
(audience) communities" to ask why they seem unimaginable and, more
importantly, how we can re-imagine them.
I look forward to discussing this further at the retreat
and, of course, feedback from partners and consulting researchers.
Transcultural, not Ethnic
Late in January 2008, Comcast programming executives
announced that AZN – the Network for Asian America – was no longer
viable. Performance reviews revealed that there was very little
advertising interest and that potential for distribution growth was low
as well. ImaginAsian, another well-known venture that targets the
Asian-American community, is also struggling and is currently reaching
about 4 million homes. And all of us are familiar with MTV Networks'
decision to pull the plug on MTV World.
At first glance, the problem seems rather
straightforward. In each case – AZN, ImaginAsian, and MTV World – it is
easy enough to point to the fact that the actual number of
Asian-Americans is low: 4.3% of the U.S. population (about 12 million),
and once we begin to segment this by Chinese-Americans and South
Asian-Americans and so on, it should not come as a surprise that media
ventures targeting these groups are not able to generate adequate
advertising interest. The hype surrounding Asian-American purchasing
power does not, in the end, translate into anything tangible.
Everyone seems to agree: while worth striving for,
television designed for Asian-American audiences is an economic
impossibility. But is this all we have learned from such wonderful
experiments as MTV-Desi? Are asian-american communities unimaginable?
What if we set aside the question of economics and instead, rethink the
notion of "community" – in this case, the idea of an "ethnic (audience)
And where this particular notion of "community" is
concerned, let us not forget the larger context: immigrants arriving
after 2005, and their children and grandchildren, will account for 82%
of the population growth in the U.S. between 2005 and 2050 (Pew
Research Center). It is abundantly clear that media corporations will
have to respond creatively to socio-cultural changes that such
demographic shifts engender.
So what can we learn from the AZN, ImaginAsian, and MTV
World experiments? I would argue that the only way forward is to take a
close look at how migration and media globalization work to produce
"trans-cultural," not "ethnic," communities.
Here, then, are three broad ideas/challenges to work
1. Trans-cultural, not bi-cultural
MTV World correctly recognized that satellite TV
(various packages on Dish and DirecTV) channels were serving the needs
of first-generation migrants, and focused their efforts on
Asian-American youth. However, MTV World defined these youth cultures
as being "bi-cultural," that asian-american youth culture is defined by
close ties to a "homeland."
But even a cursory look at an artist like DJ Rekha in
NYC tells us that ties to "home" do not necessarily imply one specific
country. DJ Rekha, of Basement Bhangra fame, is influenced by music and
artists not only from India but also from Britain and the U.S.
Contemporary Asian-American life is decidedly trans-cultural and cannot
be defined in national terms.
2. Trans-cultural: Everyone's invited
DJ Rekha's Bhangra events are certainly a space for
Asian-American youth, but they are by no means exclusive. Distributing
MTV-Desi via a DirecTV package or branding AZN as a network for Asian
America reveals the limits of thinking along "ethnic" lines. To be
sure, numbers play the most important role in distribution-related
decisions, but such decisions also assume that no one else is likely to
We need to recognize the limits of niche-TV as a space
for building and sustaining transcultural communities. Perhaps TV is
the wrong place to start.
3. Trans-cultural: media without borders
Contemporary Asian-American media culture is an
astonishing mix of content that cuts across multiple national borders.
And "spreadability" (as Joshua Green and others at C3 define it) lies
at the heart of trans-cultural communities. "Spreading" is what defines
media consumption patterns among Asian-Americans and understanding how
exactly "spreading" operates will constitute an important first step in
devising programming and distribution strategies.
professor of international and comparative media at the University of
Michigan-Ann Arbor's Department of Communication Studies and is an
alumnus of the Comparative Media Studies program here at MIT, in
addition to being a Convergence Culture Consortium consulting
researcher. He is co-editor of the 2007 Bollywood Reader from NYU Press
and also writes at BollySpace
Glancing at the C3 Blog
Social Network for Youth Basketball. Sam Ford writes about the
decision by the major professional and college basketball organiations
in the U.S. to launch an online social network to help support local
youth basketball movements across the U.S., reacting to his quote in a
recent Chronicle of Higher Education story.
Criti-Fan Who's Yearning for the World as It Was. Henry Jenkins
shares a recent essay from longtime soap opera fan and former Soap
Opera Weekly contributor Lynn Liccardo about her engagement with
U.S. soap operas, Sam Ford's class at MIT on contemporary U.S. soaps,
and changes in the soap opera genre, cross-posted from his Confessions
of an Aca/Fan blog.
Academics Should Blog. Henry Jenkins writes about his recently
being featured in The Chronicle of Higher Education on how CMS,
including the Consortium, interfaces with various audiences through
their academic work.
Other Soap Opera Presentations. Sam Ford wraps up his look at the
PCA/ACA conference by writing about projects on the future of the U.S.
soap opera, soap opera parodies, and the role of mass media in
co-creating gender and gendered identifications through storytelling.
Marsha Ducey on FCC Complaints; Other Soap Projects. Sam Ford
writes about Marsha Ducey's recent project on FCC complaints directed
at soap operas from 2004 until January 2008, as well as projects on
developing long-term legacies in soap operas, the history of the
telenovela, and the transformation of characters over time in U.S.
The Soap Opera Area and Suzanne Frentz. In the first of three posts
about the soap opera area at the PCA/ACA, Sam Ford writes about the
area as a whole and the contributions of Suzanne Frentz and the legacy
of her leadership at this event.
Clayton Childress on Daytime Television and Pro-Anorexic Groups Online.
Sam Ford writes about an academic from the University of
California-Santa Barbara that he has come into contact with over the
past several months who is doing projects on better understanding
digital culture and the evolution of daytime television.
Louis Bosshart, Sports, and Celebrity Culture. Sam Ford writes
about a longtime contact of his from Switzerland, Louis Bosshart, and
Louis' recent projects on understanding how the mediation of sports
changes the "rules of the game," as well as the construction of
celebrity culture through a case study of Swiss beauty queens.
Bryce McNeil and Shane Toepfer on Wrestling Morality and Fandom.
Sam Ford writes about an interesting new project on pro wrestling
fandom and the ways in which storylines are affected by the interplay
between fan roles as spectators and as critics.
Bob Lochte and Sue Clerc. Sam Ford writes about a coffee with two
scholars he knows from completely different realms and the promise of
having conversations stretch across disciplinary boundaries, as well as
the dangers of becoming too specialized in your own interests within
the study of the media industries.
Michael Duffy and Regionally Digital Filmmaking. Sam Ford writes
about his meeting with Michael Duffy at the PCA/ACA conference and
Michael's work on visual effects and regional filmmaking in a digital
age by looking at filmmaking in New Zealand and particularly the work
of Peter Jackson.
from the PCA/ACA National Conference: An Introduction. Sam Ford
writes about his recent trip to San Francisco for the PCA/ACA
conference and the unique culture of that annual event, as well as his
history of presenting at the PCA.
Follow the Blog
Don't forget – you can always post, read, and
online conversations with the C3 team at our blog.
Divergences: Licensed to Read
Last week, an announcement was made that sent chills
running down literary spines everywhere, if you'll pardon the pun:
HarperCollins is launching a new imprint that will focus on shorter,
cheaper books and pay radically lower author advances, if any at all.
That set the writers' circles abuzz, and the booksellers are twittering
over the imprint's also abolishing the option to return unsold books
for a refund.
From a publisher's point of view, these changes make
sense. The publisher absorbs the most risk in our current publishing
model: not only do they pony up ever-higher author advances, but they
also pay to make the books (including the production of the physical
objects, the marketing materials, the shipping, the promotion, and so
on) and cover the returns of unsold copies (currently near a whopping
40%). This is why publishers have tended to offer such meager royalties
on book sales after the author's advance has sold through: the author
may have written the book, but they're not the ones left holding the
bag if it doesn't sell. As with any investment, publication is a game
of managing risks, and when book sales are down the publishers are left
with much lass margin for error. And, as anyone will tell you, them
books ain't flyin' off the shelves the way they used to.
This new publication model isn't completely
self-serving, however. Heading up the new imprint is Robert S. Miller,
who is better known in the publishing industry as the founding
publisher of Hyperion. According to Miller, in exchange for shouldering
a greater amount of the risk authors will receive a greater percentage
of the reward; Miller hopes to offer authors a 50-50 split of the
profits. The new imprint will publish around 25 of these shorter books
a year in hardcover with a pricetag of around $20 apiece.
Of greater interest to us C3 types is how the new
imprint will also make a greater effort to utilize more
forward-thinking delivery methods, including "multiple physical and
digital formats ... with the aim to combine the best practices of trade
publishing while taking full advantage of the Internet for sales,
marketing and distribution". According to The New York Times,
this will extend to e-book and digital audio editions being bundled in
with each book.
In response to this last bit, bestselling author Neil
Gaiman posted the following to his weblog:
...It seems to me that giving away an e-book
with a hardback is an excellent way to grow the e-book world, and
something that a publisher could do at little or no cost. And I like
the idea of essentially having bought a Heart-Shaped Box
license rather than a copy of Heart-Shaped Box -- of course
buying the book would give you the audio and the text, not just the
Gaiman is no stranger to experimental publishing
models; in March HarperCollins posted a limited-time free online
reading copy of Gaiman's novel American Gods as an experiment,
and as a result, weekly sales of the novel went up by 300%. (Suffice it
to say the author considered the results satisfactory.)
The license model is also gaining traction in the film
industry. In January 2008, Fox released Family Guy: Blue Harvest,
the first DVD with the new Digital Copy feature. Owners of the DVD can
pop it into a compatible computer and transfer a digital copy (natch)
of the film onto their computer, iTunes or compatible portable media
player. The compatibility is somewhat limited (no love yet for
Microsoft Zune or Sony PSP users) but a precendent is definitely being
set. It's the same line of reasoning behind 'anywhere-anytime' software
solutions such as TiVoToGo: we members of the Convergence Culture want
our content how we want it, when we want it, and where we want it. The
thrill is seeing the content publishers finally coming around. I am
extremely unlikely to buy an Amazon Kindle if I have to purchase an
additional e-copy of every new book I buy, but if a digital version
comes free with the physical version, a Kindle suddenly becomes a much
more compelling investment.
As for the publishing model, as an up-and-coming
author myself (anyone know a good agent?) I think Miller's new imprint
sounds like a intriguing opportunity. This new imprint combines the
digerati DIY mentality with the marketing and distribution prowess of
an established publishing juggernaut, minus the stigma of a
print-on-demand system or vanity press. The 'shorter works' description
sounds about right, as one personal draw of John Maeda's latest book
SIMPLICITY is its being only 100 pages, and my own first novel
currently weighs in around only 60,000 words. The 'lower price' feature
also sounds about right as $20 for a slim hardcover feels like a fairly
palatable price point, especially when dropped to $12-$14 after the
30%-40% discount usually offered by retailers like Amazon. The license
model also feels like its time has come, and I myself would happily
offer additional content, like additional chapters or multimedia
materials, on my website for licensed users -- which is not entirely
dissimilar from what C3 head honcho Henry Jenkins did with his outtakes
from Convergence Culture.
Further, the license model also makes sense as books
begin to play a more integrated role in transmedia franchises.
Additional content unlocked with a paid license may very well include
additional short stories, maps of the locations described in the books,
biographical content about each of the characters, or timelines that
describe where the events in the book take place in relation to other
installations in the franchise. If authors continue to transition into
roles more akin to transmedia producers, they may take greater
ownership over how each component in the franchise is produced, much
like Joss Whedon is currently doing with the comics-only eighth season
of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
That said, this new model still clearly has a ways to
go before it will be readily accepted by authors. According to one
commenter at the popular blog Making Light:
"The fact that they're talking about a
fifty-fifty split on profits raises enough danger signs to know it's
neither a power grab nor brave new initiative, but most likely some
sort of borderline legal scam."
Also, as another, more historically-minded commenter
points out, this type of business model may sound much more alluring in
the abstract than it would actually be in practice:
The 'new' proposed program at Harper Collins
is exactly how the English publishing industry worked between the
incorporation of the Company of Stationers in 1566 and the final
decision of the House of Lords against the "natural right" theory of
copyright in 1789. It was often the same splits; it was the same
concept of splitting profits rather than proceeds; it included the
absence of an advance; it was based on nonreturnable goods...
...But there is one difference: accounting.
In the early English publishing industry, publishers didn't have the
in-house expertise of Twentieth Century Fox in creatively ensuring that
there will be no (or at least minimal) profits to share. (Remember who
owns Harper Collins.) Neither did publishers have the industry
'tradition' that allows the publisher to hold money for 270 days with
no penalty before giving the author her miserly share; at least in
theory, they paid up every month. The six-month-plus-ninety-days-to-pay
royalty cycle only came into being around the time of the great battle
between Sarjeant and Macauley over extending the copyright term... in
'New.' 'Improved.' And no surprise at all.
Of course, as The Guardian's Jean Hannah
Edelstein points out, many of the authors open to such a scheme aren't
the blockbuster types at all, but the midlist authors who are more
interested in publishing unique and interesting works:
"Accuse me of being Pollyanna-ish if you
like, but it seems to me that these no-frills endeavours are inspired
in large part by editors who would genuinely like to see more
interesting books being published.
In fact, I suspect that the most
old-fashioned thing about publishing in the digital age is regarding it
as an industry in which there's a lot of money to be made. For the
thousands of averagely successful writers who make a pathetic
£4,000 (~US$7867.85 -GL) or so a year from their books, the
reality is that writing books is something nice to do in your spare
time to supplement your income from your actual job. And the other
publishing professionals - editors, agents, and so on - would probably
also be pursuing other careers if they were in it for the cash.
Even if good, solid relationships are established
between the imprint and its authors, it may be the non-returnable
copies that proves untenable. A bookstore might risk ordering numerous
non-returnable copies of a book by a proven author like Neil Gaiman or
Stephen King, but not order more than one or two non-returnable copies
of books by new up-and-comers or niche authors. As any midlist author
will attest, one or two copies are easily misplaced inside
megabookstores like Borders or Barnes and Noble -- and while one might
argue that this new publishing model is meant to sidestep the big-box
sales market and cater to online niche sales, that scenario lends
itself more to print-on-demand services that allow authors to keep a
full 100% of the profits. To be sure, a proven marketing department,
book design department and PR department are worth a big something,
with such a radically narrowed distribution channel it becomes
increasingly difficult to actually quantify how big that something
Regardless of whether or not Mr. Martin and
HarperCollins have struck upon the ultimate answer to these questions,
it will be fascinating to see how this story continues to play out. The
future, after all, is still being written.
Ault, Susanne. Fox Decodes
Apple DRM for DVD Downloadable Copies. Videobusiness.com, January
Carvajal, Doreen. Stephen
King Unleashed; He's back on the best-seller list. But now he wants
more. Much more. The New York Times, November 9, 1998.
Dammann, Guy. No-Frills
Publishing on the Rise. The Guardian, April 4, 2008.
Edelstein, Jean Hannah. Writing,
the No-Money Game. Blogs.guardian.co.uk, April 8, 2008.
Gaiman, Neil. My
Life in Green and Purple. Journal.neilgaiman.com, April 5, 2008.
Gaiman, Neil. Scary
Eyes. Journal.neilgaiman.com, March 25, 2008.
Nielsen Hayden, Patrick. Pity
the Times. Making Light, April 4, 2008.
Rich, Motoko. New
HarperCollins Unit to Try to Cut Writer Advances. The New York
Times, April 4, 2008.
DIVERGENCES is an irregularly
published column by writer, filmmaker, C3 alum and Singapore-MIT GAMBIT
Game Lab Researcher Geoffrey Long, a member of the 2007
Master's class at CMS. For more of his work, please visit