Following on the heals of our last issue, the special issue on Adaptations, Cross-Media Practices and Branded Entertainments, we have seen an e-book price war between rivals in the e-book market, Apple ipad, Barnes and Noble’s Nook, Sony e-reader and Amazon kindle.co.uk. This was stopped by publishers (led by Hachette) withdrawing their distribution agreements with e-book retailers and issuing an agency agreement with the retail price fixed by them. A fixed retail price preserves profit margins, but can only be sustained by a highly institutionalized trade and where competition laws allow it. At the moment of writing, the verdict on whether it is legal is still awaited
In another case coming under British competition law, 1990s concerns about the concentration of media ownership and its effect on cultural diversity were cited in the News International and BSkyB dispute. For despite the opportunities available through Internet narrowcasting, the major companies still dominate the marketplace.
The question then arises of whether the content providers – publishers and broadcasters – or the distributors are limiting our freedom? Apple, Amazon, Barnes & Noble are the retail windows for e-books while Apple, Amazon and Sony own the distribution technologies. So as booksellers, do they have the right to discount? Or do Hachette and HarperCollins which produce the books?
Our problem is that we are looking at the individual elements rather than the system. The book is not an object or an aesthetic form but a dynamic system for commodifying ideas and cultural expressions within a multimedia marketplace. Similarly news is not a form or an object as in the news bulletin or newspaper, it is a dynamic system for locating, verifying, packaging and delivering news to a mobile and demanding audience.
Nowadays few news organisations deliver to one platform. In this issue Montse Bonet and co-authors David Fernández-Quijada and Xavier Ribes discuss, for instance, the case of Catalan public broadcaster iCat fm and its use of diverse technological distribution platforms to successfully achieve its public service remit. Writing for broadcast is of course different from writing for newsprint, even if the origination of the story is similar or even the same. Do the differing organisations form the digital news flow into the style of news reporting for that company? As Ivar John Erdal points out convergent journalism has to be analysed in terms of its organisational strategies, distinguishing between cross-media communication and cross-media production processes which shape its final form. We are seeing the redefinition of the newspaper as an immaterial object and an electronic format. And today the media trade is not dealing with the death of the newspaper, but the commodification of the digital news.
Yet as we have seen with the news stories coming from wikileaks, getting access to and verifying stories can be a very public business and, as a former British Prime Minister and a Royal Prince have found out this year, off-the-record comments can become embarrassing items of news. From wikis to Facebook and Twitter, social media technologies let people connect by creating and sharing content. But celebrities can use this for their own purposes as Alice Marwick and danah boyd investigate. These celebrity performances are put on for followers and the power differentials in the relationship between celebrity and fan maybe disguised, but in fact remain.
A more democratic form of communication is the SMS messaging service widely used by young people in Western countries. Aksel H. Tjora’s qualitative study of how SMS is used for discreet communication between people in the same physical space will resonate with many lecturers who have watched students’ classroom practices change. It is beneficial here to draw parallels with both R.M. Milner’s article and the research of Holin Lin Lin and Chuen-Tsai Sun who look at social context – the fans or onlookers – who create a knowledge community, supporting and encouraging the performance of the game, whether it is in the arcade or online. Such studies show the significance of the group and its dynamics in front of which the performance takes place.
Moving to the visual realm, however, this issue kicks off with a debates piece about high-definition (HD) aesthetics by practising cinematography and visual artist Terry Flaxton. Despite the now fairly numerous histories of early cinema, according to Flaxton there are virtually no verbatim accounts from actual practitioners and designers of the medium from that period. Concerned to avoid a similar 'absence of original voices' from our contemporary period of HD, Flaxton undertook a series of interviews with digital cinematography practitioners. His detailed analysis of HD technology and aesthetics draws on those interviews – available online to accompany the article – to challenge how we have both evaluated and valued the digital as an inherently immaterial medium and to 're-inscribe digital image making as a material process'.
University of Sunderland
University of Bedfordshire