Welcome to the final edition of the C3 Weekly Update for the 2008 - 2009 academic year. Plenty to talk about, so let's dive right in:
The C3 Team is racing towards completion of the C3 Research White Papers. You will all receive an announcement next week regarding access (through the C3 website) to the research papers.
- Also next week, you will begin to see the next level of information regarding the future of the Consortium. The input from the Consortium membership since the retreat has been invaluable.
- Conclusions and recommendations have emerged from the C3 Advisory Board Meeting (held the Thursday morning before the retreat), the Consulting Researchers Meeting (held Saturday morning after the retreat) and a recent review meeting with Prof. Jenkins for his final approval of certain directions and ideas.
- We realize some of you are already planning for the 2009-2010 academic year - and our sponsor company Consortium members are beginning to feel the pull of late Q2/early Q3 strategy, planning and budgeting meetings for the next fiscal year. As a result, information will be released interatively over the course of July to Consortium members for your planning purposes.
- The gradual information you will receive via e-mail in July will culminate in a final set of documents entitled Restructuring the Consortium (document format: ppt and a summary review doc) no later than Tuesday, August 4, 2009.
Now that we have covered this time sensitive Consortium management and operations information, let's get to what is always most vital about this newsletter: ideas and perspectives from the C3 Consulting Researchers.
In the Opening Note, C3 consulting researcher Nancy Baym takes us on a journey to Sweden. As Baym notes, Sweden is a place where spreadability has been embraced not only as a business strategy - but as a "call to action" within the Swedish music community. Baym contextualizes in a clear and compelling fashion how (in the Swedish Model) spreadability is used as a tool in a return to the fundamentals (subcultural status and notions of identity) which have always informed fan participation in the business aspects and product dimensions of the communities which form around music.
Our second piece is by Australian media scholar John Banks, who explores spreadability from an organizational perspective. Case studies within the gaming community inform a discussion of how co-creative spreadable media activities (and the networks which emerge from these activities) challenge traditional heirarchical structures, innovation systems and management within the creative industries.
This issue of the C3 Weekly Update was prepared by Daniel Pereira. If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to e-mail Daniel at: firstname.lastname@example.org
In This Issue
Opening Note: Nancy Baym on Spreadability and Swedish Music
Glancing at the C3
Closing Note: Dr. John Banks on Spreadable Media Creative Practices
Reclaiming Music: Spreadability and the Swedish Model
Sweden is a small country, yet it has one of the world’s biggest and best-selling music scenes. You might think ABBA, and you wouldn’t be wrong, but they’re just the best-known starting point of a very long tail with thousands of bands spanning every genre and degree of success. Sweden is also home to The Pirate Bay, the world’s top peer-to-peer torrenting site, which ABBA songwriter Bjorn Ulvaeus has decried as made by and for those who are lazy, stingy, and don’t understand that if creators can’t anticipate payment they will never release music (The Local, 2009). Since the advent of recording in the early twentieth century, recorded music has been the central economic good of the music business. Hence, it is no wonder that the mainstream industry has been so vociferous in its efforts to demonsize and sue uploaders and to enact national policies that limit the ability of listeners to spread music.
Further down the tail, though, Sweden is home to many artists and labels trying to forge a new way through this thicket, one which rejects the notions that certain payment is a precondition for artistic expression or that file sharing detracts from the economics of their business. The attitudes and actions of The Swedish Model, a consortium of seven independent labels committed to a more optimistic dialogue on music’s future, and other Swedish labels and musicians, put spreadability at the center of their hopes for the future of the music business. The tiny label Songs I Wish I Had Written, headed by Martin Thörnkvist, who also heads The Swedish Model, shared an office with a Pirate Bay co-founder and Thörnkvist uploads his label’s catalogue in the highest quality to Pirate Bay. Labrador, another Swedish independent label, gives away annual samplers through Pirate Bay and posts all their singles for free download on their website.
These enterpreneurs have taken to heart that if their music doesn’t spread, it may as well be dead. The logic goes like this: We are small and have minimal budgets. There are few mainstream venues that will promote our music, so few people will have the opportunity to hear it through mass media. The more people who hear it, the larger the audience will become. Even if most of that audience does not pay for CDs or mp3s, the slice that does will be bigger than the entire audience would otherwise have been. And the slice that doesn’t may pay to buy music may well pay for other things. As Thörnkvist put it when addressing the music industry audience at MIDEMNet (2009), “I’d rather have one million listeners and one hundred buyers than one hundred listeners and one hundred buyers.”
This alternative perspective is not unique to Sweden, but the Swedes have worked it particularly well and with great success, gaining international audiences that far surpass those of much larger countries. The free flow of music in this scene, as in many others, is facilitated by a host of fan activities. Labels begin the process by uploading the music to peer-to-peer trading sites, music streaming sites such as Spotify and Last.fm, social networks such as MySpace, and their own and the bands’ websites. They reach out to fans through these sites, through Twitter, and through mailing lists. Fans upload the music they love to P2P sites. Third party sites like Last.fm and iLike allow fans to chart their listens, showing the world and their peers which bands they love, and to make and export widgets placing songs and playlists on their own social network profiles and web pages. They forward the bands’ messages and send their own social networks to bands’ and labels’ sites. The most enthusiastic write mp3 blogs in which they draw attention to songs they find compelling. Some, such as Absolute Noise in France and Swedesplease in the United States focus exclusively on Swedish music.
The result is not the death of Swedish music but a successful synergy in which the needs of small artists and labels to reach an expanded audience without spending money meets the needs of fans to make music listening a collective activity (Condry, 2004) and to incorporate music into their own online identities. For labels and bands, the strategy has worked well. Labels Labrador and Hybris tell me that anywhere from half to two-thirds of their sales of CDs and mp3s are outside of Sweden, the odd band has achieved hits (“Young Folks” by Peter Björn and John is one example), and several bands have found themselves able to live off revenues from international licensing and touring in countries including Indonesia and Brazil where they never would have had audiences before. The expanded audience has also allowed them to earn money selling scarce goods. One Swedish band, The Embassy, created a limited edition single with only three copies, which they auctioned off on Ebay. Another, Moto Boy, gave his single away as an mp3, but sold a nicely-packaged wind-up music box that played the song. Both activities generated considerably publicity amongst the fans and those covering the digital music industry.
This embrace of spreadability has worked well for fans as well. My interviews with the most active fans (Baym & Burnett, in press) show that their engagement as proselytizers has costs, but brings many more benefits. They gain new relationships with other fans and with musicians, they discover more music, and they gain subcultural status (Thornton, 1996) which they are sometimes able to convert into paying positions. The less-engaged fans benefit from being able to explicitly mark themselves as fans in constructing their online identities by embedding and passing along the songs they love.
Even without the cries of those whose careers are displaced and disempowered by this model, it is not without problems. The Swedish Model could easily be accused of utopianism. It’s not clear how songwriters get paid if they’re not in the band, no one’s likely to get rich, many of these musicians and enterpreneurs are still working other jobs to earn a living, and fans may come to feel disillusioned if the free labor they provide replacing publicists and journalists is not adequately respected nor rewarded. The balances between everyone’s costs and rewards and the principles to govern the fairness of those exchanges are murky and in process. There’s much room for exploitation, bitterness and disappointment. But then, this has always been true in the music business.
Still, it’s hard not to admire the world they are after. These musicians and labels are seeking to transform the one-way producer-consumer relationship into a collaborative culture of equals. Music is not first and foremost a way to make a living, but a way to “gather like-minded individuals” as one musician and label-owner told me, a way to celebrate common values so that, as another label enterpreneur put it, “the whole culture benefits.” They are happy to sacrifice their own power to empower their audience, and they trust that in a moral economy, they will reap just rewards. “Let’s stop the exploitation of music,” a musician wrote to me, “Let’s stop thinking of music as export business merchandise products. Let’s stop the people who try hard to infiltrate music scene just because they see money potential in it. Let’s socialize. Start a band. Put up some songs. Let’s discuss, let’s agree and disagree. Listen to songs, read thoughts, think, feel, be inspired, be saved. Reclaim music.”
Baym, N. & Burnett, R. (in press). Amateur Experts: International fan labor in Swedish independent music. International Journal of Cultural Studies.
Condry, I. (2004) Cultures of music piracy: An ethnographic comparison of the US and Japan. International Journal of Cultural Studies 7(3): 343-363.
The Local (17 February, 2009), Abba star blasts 'stingy' file sharers. http://www.thelocal.se/17654/20090217/
Thornton, S. (1996). Club Cultures: Music Media, and Subcultural Capital. Hannover, NH: Wesleyan University.
Nancy Baym is a consulting researcher with the Convergence Culture Consortium and is an Associate Professor of Communication Studies at the University of Kansas, where she teaches about communication technology, interpersonal communication and qualitative research methods. She pioneered the study of online community and fandom in the early 1990s, writing about how soap opera fans built relationships with one another while transforming television viewing into a collaborative endeavor. Her book Tune In, Log On: Soaps, Fandom and Online Community (Sage, 2000) synthesizes that work. Her recent publications include "The New Shape of Online Community: The Case of Swedish Independent Music Fandom" in First Monday, as well as articles in New Media & Society, The Handbook of New Media, and The Information Society. With Annette Markham, she is co-editor of Internet Inquiry: Conversation about Method (forthcoming from Sage), a book examining how exemplary qualitative researchers manage the challenges raised when studying the internet. She is currently studying the "friend" relationship in the music-oriented social network site Last.fm and writing a book, Personal Connections in a Digital Age, about digitally-mediated community, relationships and social networks for Polity Press. She was a co-founder of the Association of Internet Researchers and served as its President. She blogs at OnlineFandom.com.
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Videogames as Spreadable Media: Co-Creative Expertise
Gamers increasingly participate in the process of making and circulating game content. Games such as Maxis’s The Sims franchise, for example, are routinely cited as exemplary sites of user-created content. Games scholar T. L. Taylor comments that players are co-creative “productive agents” and asserts that we need “more progressive models’” for understanding and integrating players’ creative contribution to the making of these game products and cultures. (2006b: 159-60; also see 2006a). Significant economic and cultural value is generated through these spreadable media activities. But in all of this the work of making spreadable media practices work can be black-boxed. The usual phrases such as user-created content and user-led innovation can overlook the work of designers, programmers and graphic artists as they make the tools, platforms and interfaces that gamers use for creating and sharing content. Attention should also be paid to the work of producers, marketing managers and community relations managers as they grapple with how best to manage and co-ordinate these co-creative relations that define and shape spreadable media practice.
The recent commercial success of the Maxis developed and Electronic Arts published Spore thrives on user-created content. Players use 3D editors to design creatures and other in-game content, guide their creatures through stages of evolution and then share their creations with other players. Since Spore’s release in September 2008 over 90,000,000 player created creatures have been uploaded to the online Sporepedia repository. Players can also upload directly from within their game videos of their creatures to the Spore YouTube channel. Spreading content is a core feature of Spore to the extent that the game is perhaps best understood as a social network generated from player creativity. And this spreadability is not just about content as the players are also sharing ideas, skills and media literacies as they discuss and debate these emerging media practices. The puzzle-platformer LittleBigPlanet, developed by MediaMolecule and released in October 2008 for the PlayStation3 console, also relies heavily on user-created content. Players use editor tools embedded throughout the game to create and edit new levels and objects, and to generally customise their characters and game environment. They then can share these creations with other gamers through the Playstation Network online service. LittleBig workshop, the game’s official online community website, also allows players to share their level designs and in-game videos. The site provides video tutorials that help players as they learn to use the level editors and create their own levels. The particular significance of titles such as Spore and LittleBig Planet is that they now integrate the practice of spreadability as a core part of the gaming experience and the videogame business. LittleBig Planet’s tag “Play, Create, Share” foregrounds the centrality of this spreadability.
The concept of spreadability emphasizes the agency of consumers but we need to keep in mind that this agency is often experienced and negotiated in relation to the work and identities of media professionals: designers, producers, graphic artists, programmers, community managers, marketers and so on. In short, we also need better understandings of how these spreadable media practices play out at the everyday, grass-roots level of media industry workplaces.
Spreadable media is increasingly part of the environment in which media professionals such as game developers do their traditional production work. Their daily work practices and routines are unsettled and challenged by the need to involve increasingly demanding and unruly users in the process of making and circulating media content. In the case of Spore, for example, controversy flared about Electronic Arts’s use of Digital Rights Management (DRM) technology. After gamers complained loudly on various forums and the issue attracted considerable online press coverage, EA relented by releasing an update that removed and modified many of the more contentious elements of this particular implementation of DRM. LittleBigPlanet players also objected on the Sony LittleBig Workshop forums to the publisher’s decision to remove user submitted levels. The developer and publisher were concerned that some of the uploaded content infringed intellectual property rights by including the brands and trademarks of other companies. Players complained that content had been deleted which in their opinion had not infringed copyright or trademarks. Sony has since clarified their content moderation guidelines and provided more transparent information on their reasons for removing content. Game developers increasingly need to take into account the activism of highly literate fan communities that form around games such as Spore and Little Big Planet.
Spreadable media networks blur the professional-amateur divide and foreground the increasingly interdependent relationships between ‘producers’ and users. This re-engineering of producer-consumer relations unsettles the paradigm of professional expertise and the associated claims to authority and control that have dominated the organization of media production throughout the industrial era (Jenkins 2007: 54; Hartley 2009: 131-35). Innovation and creativity are attributable not just to firms’ professional developers alone, but also to the distributed expertise and co-creative practices of socially networked citizen-consumers. The very identity of professional media workers is therefore at stake in these co-creative media networks (see especially Deuze 2007). The professionals involved do not always wholeheartedly embrace spreadable media practices. Producers, designers, programmers, artists, community relations managers and CEOs often have very different and at times competing assessments of the risks and opportunities of these emerging co-creative relations (Banks 2009). They also have different understandings of how these spreadable media practices should be realised. Moreover, these emerging spreadable media practices do not play-out comfortably within the standard frame of hierarchical organisation in a firm. Instead, they disrupt traditional industrial closed innovation systems and thereby pose significant management challenges. The success of media enterprises such as games developers may rely on effectively combining and coordinating the various forms of expertise possessed by both professional games developers and creative gamers, not displacing one with the other. This requires games developers and publishers to recognise and respect the contribution of gamers’ expertise in the context of a co-creative relationship for mutual benefit. The challenge of spreadability here is to develop frameworks and models of co-creative expertise that situate and co-ordinate the expertise of gamers in proper perspective alongside professional creatives’ expertise (Banks 2009). We also need to recognise and refine forms of expertise and skills that are specifically about making spreadable media practices work.
Banks, John (2009) “Co-creative expertise: Auran Games and Fury – A case study” Media International Australia No 130, February: 77-89
Deuze, Mark (2007) Media Work. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Hartley, John (2009) The uses of digital literacy. St Lucia, Queensland: University of Queensland Press.
Jenkins, Henry (2006) Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. New York: New York University Press.
Taylor, T.L. (2006a). “Beyond management: Considering participatory design and governance in player culture” First Monday special issue number 7 (September 2006), URL (accessed 25 August 2008) >http://www.firstmonday.org/issues/special11_9/taylor/>
Taylor, T.L. (2006b). Play Between Worlds: Exploring Online Game Culture. The Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.
Dr. John Banks is a postdoctoral research fellow in the Federation Fellowship program at the The ARC Centre of Excellence in Creative Industries and Innovation. His research interests focus on user-led innovation and consumer co-creation in participatory culture networks. He has a particular interest in videogames. From 2000-2005 John worked in the videogames industry for Brisbane-based Auran Games (www.auran.com) as an online community manager, focusing on the development of user-led content creation networks within the context of game development projects; he has published widely on research grounded in this industry background. John’s current research continues to work at the interface of game developers and gamers as they negotiate emerging co-creation relations. Throughout 2007 he undertook ethnographic research with Auran Games on social network strategies for their massively multiplayer online game, Fury (http://www.unleashthefury.com).