Federico Ruberti, Luca Simeone, Salvatore Iaconesi.
Proceedings of the the 3rd ESA Research Network Sociology of Culture mid-term Conference, Panel 22. New media and participative culture. Milan, Bocconi University, 7-9 October 2010.
Introduction: a confusing scenario.
Nowadays the publishing industry seems to be facing a deep crisis almost everywhere due to an unpredictable evolution of their business model and the uncertainty about its role in a deeply changed society. While in the past the work of the publisher was quite clear (i.e.: reviewing manuscripts, editing, marketing and distributing), as the business model begun to shift, hard-pressed by cultural changes and arising technologies, many players are wondering which of the publisher’s roles may be still relevant in the near future.
“Self publishing” and “print-on-demand” have become a viable option for niche market books, peer reviewing of manuscripts and collaborative content creation, far from the earlier experiments, have reached a considerable level of maturity; hardcover books are rapidly leaving space to E-Books which are considered the medium through which books will be read from now on. Even more, some people believe that physical books will be extinct due to the rise of E-books, just as records and CDs have been outdated with the rise of MP3s.
According to the book, “Industry trends 2009” , the continuing march toward digital publishing models, combined with the severity of the recession, is making significant changes in business models and processes faster than the publishing industry has ever seen before. In this “unstable scenario”, most publishing houses seem to be focusing on the development of digital devices (Kindle, iPad and so on), encouraged by the evidence of unpredictable sales report given by the industry. Only 80 days after its introduction in the US market, Apple has sold three million iPad and adopters have bought 5 million digital books within a couple of months, allowing the device to reach a 22 percent e-book market share .
In this deeply changed scenario, may publishers be still relevant? May an editor act as a valuable link between writers and the market anymore? May publishers provide authors with a professional consultancy in order to create economic value around their work and in so doing act as a sustaining partner? Which are the characteristics of a successful publisher in the era of digital networked society? None of these questions may find an answer by looking at the current debate within the publishing industry; it may be found, actually, by looking at the intense international debate among academics, designers, ethnographers, entrepreneurs, politicians, activists, cultural producers and somehow the general public that is wondering what changes when places, spaces and objects are capable of being virtual books by means of enabling technologies and networked people access, produce and share contents through a variety of interfaces.
Augmented reality, spimes, ubiquitous computing and location-based technologies, thus suggest the possibility of exploring new ways in which publishing houses may communicate, interact, relate, behave with authors and readers, reassign in so doing their role within the society and the industry as well.
A deeply changed scenario.
In the era of a networked culture, the book is not only at the centre of a potentially infinite relation with other text and multimedia objects, it is, moreover, at the centre of a networked, always online, always connected community of readers that share information, suggestions and comments  and contribute, somehow, to the knowledge development around a theme. The relationship between people and content has become, in recent time, portable, personalized, and participatory . Contents are not fixed anymore within the limits of a written text in a book and not anymore solely hyperlinked to other resources: very often contents are cross-medial, multi-author, open-ended; they need to be continuously updated by their authors, extracted, remixed, re-contextualized by readers and distributed and reviewed by a community of people interested in a theme, at any time in any place. Therefore, distribution does not mean solely spreading books through booksellers around the world, not even through the web in the form of a digital copy; furthermore it means “multi platform distribution” to make content accessible on paper, through digital devices, via web, on mobile phones or smartphones as well as through architecture, objects, bodies, by using technologies such as ubiquitous computing and location based technologies [Chipchase, J. 2007]; in this way, on a multi-platform distribution, each channel of fruition represents a synchronized, dynamic point of view on the same content; for instance, an article, as well as a book or a paper, can be freely associated to multimedia contents, to geographical locations, to specific objects or architectural coordinates, to specific times, conditions and interactions.
A networked content in a networked society implies, also, a changed relationship between authors and readers. As readers may wish to build their own path within a given content and the amount of books and resources related to it, authors may need to add new findings attempting to propose to the audience a continuously evolving text instead of an ended story. Reading and writing have always been a social activity, formerly obscured by the form of a printed “offline” book, but in an interconnected culture based on online communities, locating content in a dynamic network which flattens the traditional perceived hierarchy between authors and readers and establishes an interaction between authors and readers. In this sense an author behaves as a group leader focusing on a particular subject instead of engaging with a particular subject matter on behalf of readers [Stein, B. 2008].
Next step publishing house.
The possibilities offered by technology to augment physical objects, spaces and the reality in general, give rise to the need for reconsidering the role of publishing houses and to identify possible ways in which they continue to represent a fundamental crown in the publishing engine. Instead of declining rapidly, publishers may play a very significant role in the age of a networked society, maintaining their traditional role and looking at technology not only in terms of “devices”, but moreover as a way to readdress their competencies and carry on with adding value to author’s work.
Successful publishers may be, then, those that:
- believe in multi-authoriality, leaving contents to be hosted in environments that allow the com-presence of multiple voices, points of view and layers for interpretation, at any time and place;
- enhance interactivity, so that content can be updated, extracted, remixed, re-contextualized, distributed, reviewed by readers and authors as well;
- design and develop a robust technological framework that inspires a complex range of user experiences and new forms of content dissemination, through the web and mobile platforms;
- create an integrated technological environment that transforms standard multimedia content (text, images, videos...) into its cross-medial version;
- produce publications that address multiple media in harmonic ways so that the publications produced are accessible on paper, web, mobile phones, smartphones and also from architectures, objects, bodies, by using ubiquitous and location based technologies;
- actively contribute to building a communities that involves authors and a group of readers interested in a topic, encouraging projects that aim to build and nurture these communities, experimenting and developing new ways of visualizing, consuming and sharing knowledge grown around a theme.
Following this premise, FakePress has designed a next-step publishing house producing cross-medial, multi-author, open-ended narratives that are built on constructions of networked, pluralistic, non-deterministic, interpretative layers of reality through location-based, augmented reality, spime and natural/gestural interfaces. In doing so FakePress aims to design new publishing practices that refer to narratives, education, knowledge sharing and distribution, communication, interaction, emotion and relation.
FakePress has explored the opportunities for the next-step transformation of publishing practices developing three publishing projects: Ubiquitous Anthropology, a scientific publication created and experienced through location-based technologies; iSee, an augmented reality publication; and NeRVi, a global atlas of the scientific and artistic projects using augmented reality techniques.
The Ubiquitous Anthropology Project was created as a result of an ethnographic research on a rare and complex funeral ritual, in the Brazilian Bororo village near Merurì. Opening toward forms of co-creation and multi-authority in which the confines between anthropologist as the observer and the observed culture itself blur and in which all of the subjects present on the scene have the right (and the opportunity) to express their point of view and their own narratives.
All contents related to the research have been geo-localized and positioned on a navigable map. As in an augmented reality, when approaching the village with a smart phone the display shows all of the clips of the events that happened at that point: photographs, sounds recorded during the ritual, notes and video sequences. In addition, Ubiquitous Anthropology functions as a media compass, a multiplier of experiences, a portable database that project informative layers on reality. Media clips can be viewed at any time and in any place by exploring the maps and selecting one of the various sensitive areas. Media clips are organized by different categories: geographic coordinates (and therefore position on the map), author name, clip format (text, image, video, audio), date and tag cloud (automatically generated by analyzing the titles of all of the compositions). Contents can always be updated through the platform by researchers, users and academics, used, remixed and shared by people interested in the topic; in other words, the editorial design is open so that any researcher or user can add his media clips, geo-locate them and, indeed, extend the storylines of the ethnographic account endlessly.
The Ubiquitous Anthropology Project explores the configurations of a new publishing framework that, within a community, considers the ever-increasing diffusion of progressive devices that allow cross-media geo-tagging practices and therefore the possibility of exploiting (and publishing) media compositions of a various nature, linked to specific geographic coordinates.
The second publication produced by FakePress, is iSee, a mobile augmented reality application that allows users to interact with the logos of products found in shops and supermarkets. People using the application/publication can take a picture of logos and access information on company’s social responsibility and environmental practices. Individuals can interact with information by accessing a platform, thus turning logos into discussion spaces as communication infrastructures on which to promote organic products as alternatives to industrially-produced ones, or as opportunities to create dialogues and information flows dealing with ecology, sustainability and alternative economies. Through iSee any product becomes a placeholder for a digital, narrative experience using Augmented Reality that individuals can use to retrieve and share information about products’ histories, the people that produced them, the companies’ social responsibility policies, and to participate in an open dialogue.
The third publication recently created by FakePress is NeoRealismoVirtuale (NeRVi), a global atlas of scientific and artistic projects using augmented reality techniques. NeRVi is browsable on the web, or by walking through cities and architecture, using a mobile location-based application equipped with Augmented Reality components designed to populate urban perspectives with relevant content, to experience and learn about augmented reality experiments, performances and artworks directly where they have been created, in a mixed media product that is both a scientific tool and a peculiar and immersive thematic travel guide.
Publishing practices need to be reconsidered and updated to match the recent social, cultural and technological changes that have profoundly modified the way in which content is produced, distributed, displayed and accessed. In a changed scenario, publishers may still play a significant role acting as a bridge between authors, content and readers, sustaining communities and creating a solid technological framework that enhances multi-authoriality, cross medial distribution, interactivity and knowledge dissemination. Following this assumption, FakePress has developed publishing projects that are coherent with the role of a next step publishing house by using augmented reality, location based technology and ubiquitous computing and creating a robust technological framework that allows communities of people interested on a theme to create, share and distribute open ended, endless narratives.
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