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Task Three: Essay-in-lieu-of-examination

June 6, 2012

2. ‘But what’s happening today – the mass ability to communicate with each other, without having to go through a traditional intermediary – is truly transformative.’
(Alan Rusbridger, Editor of The Guardian newspaper, ‘The splintering of the fourth estate’, http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/nov/19/open-collaborative-future-journalism/print .. via http://www.fglaysher.com/Post_Gutenberg_Publishing.html).

How is the diminution of traditional and often hierarchical, “authoritative” intermediaries changing the role of publishing in social life? You should choose one broad area of publishing, such as, for example, journalism or music publishing.

The rise and constant development of technology is changing the role of publishing in social life. Technology, more specifically the World Wide Web, has threatened traditional intermediaries due to its accessibility, convenience and its overall advantage of being inexpensive. Traditional intermediaries are diminishing because the World Wide Web has given people the freedom to publish information online for it to be used by the public. This is especially common with music publishing as various platforms have allowed people to publish large amounts of music. These platforms, along with Web 2.0, have changed the role of music publishing in our social life.

The role that traditional intermediaries play is clearly explained in Bruno Latour and Michael Callon’s Actor-Network Theory. This is the combination of material and semiotic actors which form the basis of a social network. An intermediary is ‘anything passing between actors, which define their relationship between them’ (Callon 1991, p.134). This theory is important as it considers the involvement and role of non actors in the relationship. In relation to music publishing, the traditional intermediaries are the record companies or the retail outlets which are supplying the music to its listeners. Prior to the development of Web 2.0, the music industry relied upon the efforts of record companies to perform functions such as the ‘talent development, production, promotion, and distribution’ (Helium 2011). Nowadays these traditional intermediaries have shifted towards to various music websites such as Soundcloud, Last fm and more recently Spotify. These sites are the new flexible and free-flowing intermediaries which are changing how we publish music in our social life.

Publishing was revolutionized throughout the 1400’s where Johannes Guttenberg’s invention of the printing press sparked the commencement of the publishing industry. Although it was not at this time, but in hindsight, Gutenberg’s invention had also laid down the foundations for the modern music publishing industry (Garofalo 1999, p.320). Post-Gutenberg, publishing was and still is constantly evolving. Yet in its earliest stages, publishing involved hierarchical intermediaries where everything followed a strict structure. These traditional intermediaries placed content as the focus of publishing and how it was distributed and aggregated was to be determined by the industry. Nowadays, it is ‘less and less top down’ as these intermediaries are diminishing due to publishing’s flexibility (Murphie 2012). Publishing’s focus has shifted towards everyone in that we are doing the distributing and aggregating now. Alan Rusbridger (2010) points out that ‘we like creating things – words, pictures, films, graphics – and publishing them.’ The introduction of the World Wide Web has allowed mass self-publishing and because of this it is replacing the involvement of traditional intermediaries. This is demonstrated in the music publishing industry where free access to online music has resulted in people bypassing traditional intermediaries. Soundcloud is an example of a new free-flowing intermediary compared to the traditional structure of the record companies or music retail outlets. This intermediary now performs the functions of traditional intermediaries, yet now on a larger scale. Soundcloud allows its users to ‘create, upload, search for, play (stream or download) and store tracks’ (Koomen 2011). Soundcloud ultimately allows everyone to be connected with one another through the publishing of music. Talent development, production, promotion and distribution were previously mentioned as roles that the traditional intermediary would usually undertake. However, Soundcloud is now able to do all of these with the access of the World Wide Web. Interestingly, talent development is able to accomplished by users uploading music with the chance that it might be recognised by a recording company. This not only shows how the new intermediary is diminishing the role of its traditional intermediary, but also highlights the changing role of publishing in social life. This being, the onset of the World Wide Web allows publics to access a constant flow of information without having to go through a series of hierarchical structures.

A major reason for the decrease in traditional intermediaries is because of the flow of information on the World Wide Web. There is an endless supply of information on the Web and as Danah Boyd (2010) discusses, it has an effect on our social life: “technology does not inherently disintegrate social divisions. In fact, more often than not, it reinforces them.” Intermediaries such as Soundcloud handle this flow of information with the use of archives. They are able to collect and store data which can be used in the future. This is a positive aspect of Soundcloud in that it can store endless amounts of music files. It is a reason why traditional music publishing intermediaries are diminishing. Record companies or retail outlets may archive as well, but the fact that they are storing physical objects becomes difficult.

Furthermore, the archives on the website Soundcloud are highlighting the changing role of publishing in social life. One of Soundcloud’s features is the ability to comment on another person’s track or to even comment on another’s comment. This opens up the user’s ability to self-publish and, in the process, creating a form of social archiving. It also shows the ease in which people can now communicate to each other, as Alan Rusbridger (2010) supports: ‘But what’s happening today – the mass ability to communicate with each other, without having to go through a traditional intermediary – is truly transformative.’ It is perhaps even more impressive that we communicate with those who we do not know. Soundcloud is ultimately changing the way we publish in social life. It is opening up avenues for different modes of self-publishing and we are essentially connecting publics, or as David Gauntlett (2011) discusses: forming bridges between people and communities. The social features of Soundcloud have created various networks of social relations. These relations can be traced back to Latour’s Actor Network Theory where ‘interaction, transformation and transfer can be described as the processes that revolve around the central music track’ (Koomen 2011). People are becoming more open and public on the Web and as a result, their publishing in social life is reflective of it. Traditional intermediaries are diminishing because we are able to access new flexible intermediaries which promote people’s interests of self-publishing. Being able to access vast amounts of recent and stored information and to communicate with those who we do not know is in fact incredibly transformative.

An issue which has been significant within the music publishing industry is the concerns with piracy. Commonly interchanged with the term ‘copyright infringement’, piracy refers to the unwritten permission of copying one’s intellectual property. The onset of the information age has seen piracy’s focus shift towards the issue of filesharing software which enables people to ‘download movies, songs and other creative works without paying for them’ (Murphie 2012). This may seem as a disadvantage for these online music publishing intermediaries. Instead, it has worked in their favour and has resulted in the demise of traditional hierarchical intermediaries. Users are oblivious to the various piracy laws and thus we are becoming more open to publishing in our social lives. Especially in the music industry, where ‘if an original music product is born digital and purchased as a file or stream, piracy and sharing become very easy’ (Frost 2007). Matt Burns (2012) from TechCrunch states that new intermediaries like Soundcloud are increasingly popular because they offer additional functionality and convenience. Publishing in social life is changing and is now focusing on the issue of time; a reason for the dimishing of traditional intermediaries. Services such as Soundcloud ‘thrive because they offer the utmost in convenience, which is something the media companies have failed to provide yet’ (Burns 2012).

Creative commons is another aspect influencing the role of publishing in our social lives. It is also hindering the involvement of traditional intermediaries within the music industry. The creative commons is a form of license which permits certain royalty-free uses of copyrighted worked (Carroll 2006, p.47). In doing so, people are given more freedom to publish their work. It also allows people to copy and distribute another’s work provided that credit is given to the source. Soundcloud allows its users to give up certain exclusive rights associated with copyright by promoting the creative commons license. These licenses are changing the role of publishing in social life as it gives users more freedom. Furthermore, the prices for which music is offered through creative common sites such as Soundcloud give consumers less incentive to pirate work (Frost 2007). It also gives consumers less incentive go through a hierarchical intermediary when what they want can be accessed more conveniently through these new forms of intermediaries.

Something that modern intermediaries do well is presenting published work visually. Traditional intermediaries also publish work visually but not to the same degree. Through the development of the World Wide Web, modern intermediaries have been able to present published works with such elegance through either sophisticated or simple visualisations. They simply present data through images which tend to engage with the viewer, showing them information which could not be seen before. As simple as it is; it unintendedly diminishes the presence of traditional intermediaries as they are unable to compete with newer intermediaries which show such beautifully published work. In regards to music publishing, record companies as traditional intermediaries try to publish their product, such as an album, visually engaging. Yet these intermediaries lack in creating visualisations which connect or intervene with publics. Soundcloud on the other hand uses a simple design which encourages user interaction. A visual feature on the website is its waveform player. This allows users to comment and discuss specific timed areas of the track. The waveform’s visual representation of the track enables a dynamic music experience where the audio of the track is reflected in its visual orientation (Tanaka 2001 cited in Koomen 2011). There are also additional social features which allow users to create interest groups by following other users. In a way, this allows users to create their own public spehere. Each of the audio, visual and social features affords user processes and interactions (Norman 1998 cited in Koomen 2011). The use of simple visualisations allows users to publish information which will engage and connect with the public. With new intermediaries presenting published work visually it has changed the way we publish in social life in that we are promoting public interaction.

The development of the World Wide Web has caused the diminution of traditional hierarchical intermediaries. Its endless supply of information and the rate at which it flows is changing the role of publishing in social life. In particular, the music publishing industry has been influenced by these developments. Traditional music intermediaries are unable to compete with such vast amounts of information. Nor are they able to produce a social setting where publics can interact by publishing their own work and discussing it. Traditional intermediaries are becoming outdated because of the World Wide Web; and the way that these new intermediaries change how we publish in our social lives, is truly transformative.

References

Boyd, D 2010, What is implied by living in a world of flow?, Truthout, accessed 5 June 2012, http://archive.truthout.org/what-implied-living-a-world-flow56203

Burns, M 2012. With MegaUpload down, who’s next? RapidShare? SoundCloud? DropBox?, TechCrunch, accessed 6 June 2012, http://techcrunch.com/2012/01/20/megaupload-computer-abuse-reinforcement-education/

Carroll, M 2006. ‘Creative commons and the new intermediaries’, Michigan State Law Review, vol.45, pp.45-65

Callon, M 1991. ‘Techno-economic networks and irreversibility’, A Sociology of Monsters: Essays on Power, Technology and Domination, vol.38, pp.132-16

Frost, R 2007. ‘Rearchitecting the music industry: mitigating music piracy by cutting out the record companies’, First Monday, vol.12, Number 8-6 August 2007, accessed 6 June 2012, http://firstmonday.org/htbin/cgiwrap/bin/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/1975/1850                                            

Garofalo, R 1999. ‘From music publishing to MP3: Music and industry in the twentieth century’, American Music, vol.17, no.3, pp.318-354

Gauntlet, D 2011. Making is connecting, accessed 5 June, http://www.makingisconnecting.org/

Helium 2011, The rise of disintermediation in the music industry, Helium, accessed 4 June 2012, http://www.helium.com/items/2085023-the-rise-of-disintermediation-in-the-music-industry

Koomen, M 2011. ‘#heapsong1: sharing music on SoundCloud’, New Media Studies, mag.4, May 2011, accessed 5 June 2012, http://www.newmediastudies.nl/magazine/heapsong1-sharing-music-soundcloud

Murphie, A 2012. Lecture notes week 6, [PowerPoint Slides]

Murphie, A 2012. Lecture notes week 11, [PowerPoint Slides]

Rusbridger, A 2010, The splintering of the fourth estate, The Guardian, accessed 4 June 2012, http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/nov/19/open-collaborative-future-journalism/print

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