fredag 20 november 2009

Participatory culture, social media and business models of the future


Thesis proposal

Points of departure:

- The 20th century industrial (mass media) information economy now has competition from the 21st century networked (Internet/social media) information economy.

- Fans (fan culture) have appropriated mass media cultural products for decades. Nowadays they have better (digital) tools at their disposal for ”borrowing”, manipulating, creating and distributing mass culture-derived user-generated cultural products (fan films, fan fiction, game mods, sampled and remixed music etc.) than ever before.

- This constitutes a threat to the business models of traditional media conglomerates. These companies struggle with questions such as:

- How can the power of participatory culture and user-generated content be unleased?

- How can these forces at the same time be harnessed so as not to hurt or undermine the current business models and the economic results of these companies?

Technological and cultural change will always have its winners and losers. Traditional media companies can have a hard time to adapt to the new media environment while at the same time having much to lose from resisting change, clinging to traditional business models and harassing their most intense fans (who are also their best customers). The track record of the music industry serves as a deterring example.

But change will also bring winners who can navigate the landscape of evolving technologies and a new media landscape. The winners are often smaller, nimble companies that have less invested in the present business models and more to gain from experimenting and adapting new, future-oriented business models.

One example of the latter is the evolving technological, business and fan/participatory activities around Eric Flint’s 1632 book series. The 1632 book series immediately spawned vibrant discussions in internet forums and later also a scene for generating, publishing and making money out of fan fiction. Besides the 10 ”official” books in the 1632 series, the Grantville Gazette fan-generated e-book series have picked up speed at an amazing pace. Since the first Grantville Gazette e-book was published in 2003, no less than 26 e-books have been published (as of November 2009) and the pace is currently one new e-book every second (!) month:

- The Grantville Gazette e-book series is presumably a commercial/business model success as fan-generated, professionally edited, but infinitly reproducible digital books (close to zero marginal cost for each copy) are sold for between 4-6 dollars each. Do note that several books are free downloads (see below)

- The e-book series is also a participatory and creative success. It arose from discussions in internet forums and has allowed more than 60 previously unpublished fans-cum-authors the chance to write and publish fan fiction ”for real” (and a share of the profits).

- The e-book series is also a technological success through showing how Internet technologies can be used to increase the welfare of readers, authors, as well as the bottom line for the publisher.

This thesis proposal opens up many questions regarding Eric Flint’s 1632 book series, and especially the nature of the Grantville Gazette activites. It properly speaking covers not just one, but several possible topics for masters’ theses (plural).

The 1632 example of a more or less ”harmonious” participatory culture spans technolgical, economical and user (readers, fans, amateur author) issues. A thesis could take any of these three factors (or a combination of two of them) as it’s starting point, for example exploring issues such as:

- Technology. What are the roles and functions of specific technologies (e-book formats, e-book readers, web pages, Internet forums, collaborative tools and Internet distribution) in the Grantville Gazette ”production system”? (Perhaps conduct interviews with legal, technology, social science experts?)

- Economy. How did the current economic model evolve? How is money being made today (and how much and by whom)? How could money be made tomorrow? What are the keys to understanding the current business model? (Perhaps conduct interviews with publishing houses, editors, fan authors, business developers?)

- User behavior. What does the ”career” of a 1632 fan/amateur author look like? (Perhaps conduct interviews with the 60+ published fan authors?) How did the current production system evolve from (presumably) looser discussions about and around the books? How does this production system differ from the ”ordinary” publishing industry and from other kinds of fan fiction?

The text above just scratches the surface and enumerate just a few questions that could be posed. Feel free to suggest other questions relating to (business, technology or user issues pertaining to) participatory culture on the Internet. You are also free to suggest fan activities around other media franchises besides Eric Flint’s 1632 series as a basis of a thesis.

For this thesis, suggested reading for getting started is:

- Everything that is linked in the text above (for example

- Flint, Eric (2000), ”1632” (free download available in the following formats: HTML, Ebookwise/Rocket, Mobi/Palm/Kindle, EPUB/Stanza, Microsoft Reader, Sony Digital Reader and RTF)

- Flint, Eric (ed) (2003), ”Grantville Gazette” (free download)

- Benker, Jochai (2006), ”The wealth of networks” (read part 1 about the industrial and the networked information economy, the whole book is available online for free)

- Jenkins, Henry (2006), ”Convergence culture: Where old an new media collide” (on fans and participatory culture)

/Daniel Pargman

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