January 13, 2011

Introduction to Communications Technologies - A Syllabus

Introduction by Daniel Pereira

Last year, the posting of Prof. Jenkins' syllabus for his inaugural Fall 2009
class on Transmedia at USC garnered an enormous response (cross-posted here on Sept. 22, 2009: Transmedia Storytelling and Entertainment: A Syllabus).

We also cross posted the syllabus of Prof. Jenkins Fall 2010 graduate seminar offering entitled Medium Specificity -- a Syllabus.

Following is Prof. Jenkins latest syllabus, designed for his first large (200+ students) undergraduate lecture class at USC which started this week:

Introduction to Communications Technologies

by Prof. Henry Jenkins

Well, it is hard for me to believe that the University of Southern California semester starts back today. I think spending 20 years at MIT spoiled me. MIT has this glorious month long "Independent Activity Period", which allows faculty to both catch up on their own research and to test innovative new ideas, host public lectures, and otherwise engage in the intellectual life of the university. It was my favorite time of the academic year and I could use it this year as I have been grinding all break trying to finish up our (Sam Ford, Joshua Green, and my) new book, Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Society. I will be saying more about the book here throughout the year, but for the moment, let me just say that our draft is so close to being done that we can taste it!

That said, I am also very excited to be teaching my first big lecture hall class since moving to USC. At MIT, my biggest class was 75, while enrollment for this class is over 200 students. I have a great team of TAs to help with the teaching. This class is one which rotates between a range of Annenberg faculty and is intended to introduce undergraduates to basic issues around technology and society. I am using new media in two senses here -- one is focused specifically on digital and mobile technologies, the wave of emerging communication tools and practices that have emerged over the past few decades and the other is focused on the process by which any emerging media technology gets absorbed into the culture. So, there is a constant movement in the class between contemporary and historical developments. For example, the first session we will watch The Honeymooners episode ("To TV or To Not TV") where the two couples go in together and buy a television set. Lynn Spigel introduced me to this episode several decades ago and it remains a staple in my teaching because it shows so many of the conflicts and tensions which surrounded the introduction of television into the home. I will then unpack it for a lecture, drawing on ideas from Raymond Williams and Nancy Baym, about the social construction of technologies. And from there, we will venture into the early history of the web. I am hoping that this constant movement between past and present will off-set a tendency to talk about new media as if they were without precedent and as if their social impacts were inescapable.

I've thought a lot going into this class about the issue of laptop use in large lecture hall classes and we've decided to make that issue an explicit part of our strategies for the class. Specifically, we are going to be deploying a Backchannel platform which we have experimented with at the Futures of Entertainment conferences back at MIT. It allows people to post questions and for the audience to vote them up or down so that one gets a rough ranking of their priority for the group as a whole. The questions will be projected onto a second screen in front of the class. This will allow me to respond on the fly to what the audience is thinking and at the same time, ideally, will keep laptop use focused on what's going on in the class. We will see what happens.

Anyway, I have made it a habit since moving to USC to post my new syllabi on this blog for anyone who might be interested. So here's the syllabus for my Intro class. You will see that I've worked hard to find the most accessible versions of certain arguments, including the use of interviews, bog posts, and journalistic writing by key thinkers on issues of media change.

For those wondering, I will also be teaching my graduate seminar on New Media Literacies this semester. This is the version of the syllabus I posted last year, which still forms the core of what I am doing this term. The key difference is that I will be involving my students in developing and teaching lessons through an afterschool program which Project New Media Literacies will be launching this semester through the Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools in Los Angeles. I will have more to say about this down the line.

Henry Jenkins
COMM 202
Introduction to Communications Technology

This course is intended as an introduction to the ways new and emerging communications technologies impact our culture. While the primary focus will be on digital and mobile technologies and practices (contemporary new media), the course will also consider a range of older media when they were new - including print culture, cinema, television, recorded sound, photography, and the telephone. The course is divided into three broad units:

  • Understanding Technological Change is intended to offer broad conceptual frameworks for thinking about the relations between technology and culture.

  • Reinventing... takes as its starting point the ways that the emergence of digital, networked, and mobile communications technology has impacted pre-existing media forms.

  • Rethinking... examines a range of institutions and practices as they are re-imagined in response to the introduction of new communications technologies.

Taken as a whole, this class will introduce students to:

  • Core issues concerning the study of communications technologies

  • The process of media in transition

  • The ways that new media impact existing media and institutions

  • Core digital platforms (YouTube, Facebook, Wikipedia, Twitter, eBay, Flickr, Second Life, etc.) and the ways they are reshaping our everyday lives.

The course readings are intended to introduce core thinkers and debates surrounding these technological and cultural shifts. And student assignments are designed to introduce a range of research methods and conceptual models commonly deployed to examine the interface between new communications technologies and cultural practices.

1. Participation in online forum. Every week, students will be expected to use Blackboard's Forum to share a core question or thought that emerges from the assigned readings. These questions can be a paragraph or so and informal, but they are intended to help the instructors better understand how the students are relating to the class materials and content. Such questions are also intended as springboards for the recitation session. (20 percent)

2. Autobiographical essay. Students will draft a short (5 page) essay exploring their own relationship to new communications technologies and practices. There are many valid ways of approaching this assignment. You might describe a particular program you use regularly and how it impacts your day to day activities. You might trace your evolving relations to computers from elementary school to the present. You might describe a specific activity that is important to you and talk about the range of technologies you deploy in the pursuit of these interests. In each case, the paper is going to be evaluated based on the ways you deploy your personal experience to construct an argument about the nature of new communications technologies and practices and their impact on everyday life. The more specific you can be at pointing to uses of these technologies, the better. You do not need to make sweeping arguments about "Today's Society" but you do need to argue how they impacted specific aspects of your own experience. (10 percent)

3. Contextualizing a YouTube video. Each video on YouTube has a story. While it can be hard to trace the origins of some of these videos, each was posted by someone, for some reason. Most reflect ongoing conversations within particular subculture communities. Each may inspire comments either as written texts or response videos. And each may travel from YouTube to other communities through social networking tools. Choose a video and help us to better understand where it came from, how it relates to the existing genres of participation on YouTube, how the YouTube community responded to the video, and how it has been taken up by other online communities. Tell us that story in a five page analytic essay. The core goal of this paper is analysis and documentation, not description. You will be expected to refer to specific outside sources to support your core factual claims. You will be evaluated based on the amount of research performed, on the quality of the analysis you offer, on how you build off concepts from the readings and the lectures to help frame your analysis (including, ideally, direct references to specific readings), and on how well you understanding the nature of the new communications environment. (20 Percent)

4. Reporting on Wikipedia. Identify a Wikipedia entry that has undergone substantial revision. Review the process by which the entry was written and the debates which have surrounded its revision. Write a five-page essay discussing what you learn about the process by which Wikipedia entries are produced and vetted. How does the discussion and debate around the entry draw on the core principles of the Wikipedia community? Again, this paper is intended to combine research and analysis. You will be evaluated based on the amount of research performed, on the quality of the analysis you offer, on how you build off concepts from the readings and the lectures to help frame your analysis (including, ideally, direct references to specific readings), and on how well you understanding the nature of the new communications environment. (20 Percent)

5. Midterm and Final Exams.
The exams will be open-notes, open-text. They will combine identification terms, short answer, and essay questions. The terms and essay questions will be selected from a list circulated in advance. The Midterm Exam will cover material from the first two units of the class; the final exam will cover material in the final unit. (15 Percent for each exam)

Students will be allowed to revise one of the three essays to be considered for a higher grade. The paper must be turned in at least two weeks after the original paper was returned. The grade will only be raised if the revisions substantively address one or more of the criteria for the paper's evaluation. Students who simply correct cosmetic or grammatical errors identified by the grader will not receive a higher score.

Assigned Books:
James Paul Gee and Elisabeth R. Hayes, Women and Gaming: The Sims and 21st Century Learning (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2010)
Remaining readings can be found on the course's Blackboard site.

Part One: Understanding Technological Change

Week 1
January 10 Overview of the Course; Thinking about Technological Change
screen: The Honeymooners, "To TV or Not To TV"

January 12 The Problem of Technological Determinism

Raymond Williams, "The Technology and The Society," Television: Technology and
Cultural Form
(New York: Schoken, 1974)
Nancy Baym, "Making New Media Make Sense," Personal Connection in the Digital
(New York: Polity, 2010)
William Boddy, "The Amateur, the Housewife, and the Salesroom Floor: Promoting Post-War U.S. Television," New Media and the Popular Imagination (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004).

Week 2
January 17 NO CLASS

January 19 The Origins of Digital Culture
Steven Levy, "The Tech Model Railroad Club" and "The Homebrew Computer Club,"
Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution (New York: Anchor, 1984)

Fred Turner, "The Shifting Politics of the Computational Metaphor," From
Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, The Whole Earth Network, and
the Rise of Digital Utopianism
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006)

Week 3
January 24 The Myth of the Digital Revolution

Nicholas Negroponte, "The Post-Information Age," Being Digital (New York: Vintage,1995)

John Perry Barlow, "A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace," 1996

John Battelle, "The Data Base of Intentions," The Search: How Google and Its Rivals
Rewrote the Rules of Business and Transformed Our Culture
(New York: Portfolio, 2006)

Chris Anderson, "The Web is Dead. Long Live the Internet," Wired, August 2010

January 26 From Mass Culture to Participatory Culture
Henry Jenkins, "Nine Propositions Towards a Cultural Theory of YouTube," Confessions of an Aca-Fan, May 28 2007.

Henry Jenkins, "What Happened Before YouTube," in Joshua Green and Jean Burgess,
YouTube: Online Video and Participatory Culture (New York: Polity, 2009)

"Andrew Keen vs. David Weinberger," The Wall Street Journal, July 18 2007.

Week 4
January 31 From Technological Utopianism to Steampunk

Howard P. Segal, "The Technological Utopians", Technological Utopianism in American Culture (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985)

Bruce Sterling, "Introduction," Mirrorshades: The Cyberpunk Anthology (New York: Ace, 1988)

Sharon Steel, "Steam Dream," The Boston Phoenix, May 19, 2008.

February 2 From Pirates to Policy Makers

Debora L. Spar, "The View from Partena," Ruling the Waves: From the Compass to the Internet (New York: Mariner, 2003)

Thomas Streeter, "Blue Skies and Strange Bedfellows: The Discourse of Cable
Television," in Lynn Spigel and Michael Curtin (eds.), The Revolution Wasn't
Televised: Sixties Television and Social Conflict
(London: Routledge, 1997)

Week 5
February 7 Adjusting to a New Media

Lynn Spigel, "Designing the Smart House:Posthuman Domesticity and Conscpicious Production," in Chris Berry, Soyoung Kim, and Lynn Spigel (eds.) Electronic Elsewheres: Media, Technology and the Experience of Social Space (Minneapolis: University of Minnesotta Press, 2010)

Lisa Gitelman, "New Media Users," Always Already New: Media, History and the Data of Culture (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2006)

February 9 Is Print Culture Endangered?

Sven Birkerts, "The Fate of the Book," in Sven Birkerts, Tolstoy's Dictaphone:
Technology and the Muse
(Boston: Graywolfe, 1996)

Nicholas Carr, "Is Google Making Us Stupid?" The Atlantic, August 2008.

Clay Shirky, "Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable," Clay Shirky, March 13, 2009.

Part Two Reinventing...
Week 6
February 14 The Library

James J. O'Donnell, "From the Alexandrian Library to The Virtual Library and Beyond"
and "From the Codex Page to the Homepage," Avatars of the Word: From Papyrus to Cyberspace (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998)

Scott D. N. Cook, "Technological Revolutions and the Guttenberg Myth," in Mark Stefik (ed.) Internet Dreams: Archetypes, Myths, and Metaphors (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1996).

February 16 Television
Henry Jenkins, Sam Ford, and Joshua Green, Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Society (New York: New York University Press, forthcoming),Chapter 4.

Week 7
February 21 NO CLASS

February 23 Music

William W. Fischer, "The Promise of New Technology" and "An Alternative
Compensation System," Promises to Keep: Technology, Law and the Future of Entertainment (San Francisco: Stanford University Press, 2004)

Sam Carroll, "The Practical Politics of Step-Stealing and Textual Poaching: YouTube, Audio-visual Media and Contemporary Swing Dancers Online," Convergence, 2008, 14, 183-204.

Week 8
February 28 The Telephone

Claude S. Fischer, "Educating the Public," America Calling: A Social History of
the Telephone (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994)

Misa Matsuda, "Discourses of Keitai in Japan," Personal, Portable, Pedestrian: Mobile Phones in Japanese Life (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2006)

March 2 Midterm Exam

Part Three: Rethinking...
Week 9
March 7 Production

Trebor Scholz and Paul Hartzog, "Towards a Critique of the Social Web," Re-Public: Reimagining Democracy

Axel Bruns, "Who Controls the Means of Produsage?," Re-Public: Reimagining

Jeff Howe, "The Rise of Crowdsourcing," Wired, June 2006.

Brendon I. Koerner, "Geeks in Toyland," Wired, February 2006.

March 9 Consumption

Tim O'Reilly, "What is Web 2.0," O'Reilly Media, September 30, 2005.

Cory Doctorow, "The Branding of Billy Bailey," A Place So Foreign and Eight More
(San Francisco: Running Press, 2003)

Week 10
March 14 NO CLASS

March 16 NO CLASS

Week 11
March 21 Circulation

Henry Jenkins, Sam Ford, and Joshua Green, Spreadable Media:
Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Society
, (New York: New York University Press, forthcoming), Chapters 1-2, 6

March 23 Innovation

Kevin Driscoll, "The Hip Hop Approach," Stepping Your Game Up: Technical Innovation Among Young People of Color in Hip-Hop, MIT Master's thesis, 2009.

Jonathon Zitrain, "The Generative Internet," Harvard Law Review 119.7, 2006

Week 12
March 28 Privacy

danah boyd, "Making Sense of Privacy and Publicity," South by Southwest, March 13 2010.

March 30 Knowledge
Henry Jenkins, "Spoiling Survivor," Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide (New York: New York University Press, 2006)

Andrew Lih, "Community at Work (The Piranha Effect)," The Wikipedia Revolution (New York: Hyperion, 2009)

Week 13
April 4 Learning

"Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out: A Conversation with the Digital
Youth Project," Confessions of an Aca-Fan, November 21, November 24,
November 26, 2008,

Jeffrey J. Williams, "Culture and Policy: An Interview with Mark Bauerlein," The Minnesota Review, Winter 2005.

April 6 Play
James Paul Gee and Elisabeth R. Hayes, Women and Gaming: The Sims and 21st Century Learning (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2010)

Week 14
April 11 Community

Julian Dibell, "A Rape in Cyberspace," The Village Voice, December 23, 1993 http://www.juliandibbell.com/articles/a-rape-in-cyberspace

danah boyd, "White Flight in Networked Publics? How Race and Class
Shaped American Teen Engagement with MySpace and Facebook
." in Lisa Nakamura and Peter Chow-White, Digital Race Anthology (London: Routledge, forthcoming).

April 13 The Public Sphere

Dayna Cunningham, "Can African-Americans Find Their Voice in Cyberspace?," Confessions of an Aca-Fan, March 2009.

Malcolm Gladwell, "Small Change," The New Yorker, October 2, 2010.

Week 15
April 18 Piracy

Nancy Baym, "The New Shape of Online Community: The Example of Swedish Independent Music Fandom," First Monday, May 16, 2007.

Mizuko Ito, "Contributors Vs. Leechers: Fansubbing Ethics and a Hybrid Public
Culture," Fandom Unbound: Otaku Culture in a Connected Age (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011)

April 20 Originality

Lawrence Lessig, "Re-Examining the Remix," TED.com.

Aram Sinnreich, "Something Borrowed, Something Blue," Mashed-Up: Music,
Technology and the Rise of Configurable Culture
(Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2010)

Week 16
April 25 Final Reflections: What Happens Next

April 27 Review for Final Exam

January 11, 2011

My Turn by Christopher Weaver

Christopher Weaver is a Faculty Advisor to the C3 Consortium and teaches in the Comparative Media Studies Program at MIT. He founded Bethesda Softworks in 1985 and was the Chief Engineer to the Congressional Subcommittee on Communications from 1980-1984. As both an IP creator as well as advisory government regulator, he brings a unique perspective to the topic of copyright and "fair use".

Chris and I had an e-mail string going recently regarding the recent C3 Research Memo on "piracy" and the future of television.

At some point in our e-mail exchange, Chris recommended I go back into the C3 vault and fish out this article, entitled "My Turn," that he contributed to the C3 newsletter in 2006 and includes a quote from a similar C3 piece by Prof. William Uricchio. In the piece, Chris provides an overview of the centrality of copyright protection in the concept of creativity and invention as a "central part of the social wealth that the Founders envisioned would supply incentive and vibrancy to the fledgling colonies whereby intellectual property development created by a special few would ultimately be owned by all."

My Turn by Christopher Weaver

If Castaneda said that, "those who do not read history are doomed to repeat it," then Professor William Urrichio's reference (in a 2006 MIT C3 Consortium newsletter article) to the Statute of Anne and its influence on the first US copyright statute of 1790 is critical to understanding what has flowed from that time:


"The motives behind the document generally considered to be the cornerstone of our notion of copyright, England's 1710 Statute of Anne, appear in its title: An Act for the Encouragement of Learning, by Vesting the Copies of Printed Books in the Authors or Purchasers of such Copies, during the Times therein mentioned. The encouragement of learning ... such high-mindedness was not the exclusive prevue of the British. Some 80 years later, America's first federal copyright regulation, the Copyright Act of 1790, also pointed to "the encouragement of learning" as its stated goal. Given the centrality of learning to the very existence of copyright, it seems strange that we have today reached a situation where copyright is an active barrier to the educational mission, and more than ironic that media education in particular is hamstrung by legal complexities and media producers' fears.

Both the originating British and American legislation also share another characteristic: term of copyright protection. In an era when it would take a Boston-based author more than a week to get a manuscript to a New York-based publisher, and when book circulation was accordingly slow, the Copyright Act of 1790 limited the term of protection to fourteen years (most of it, one assumes travel time), renewable for an additional fourteen (the 1710 British statute afforded slightly more protection with an original twenty one years of coverage, renewable for fourteen). Not altogether logically, now that the physical trip can be done in a few hours or less, and information transfer can take place instantly, we have dramatically expanded, not reduced as one might expect, the term of protection. There's something about a name, and the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998 says it all. This act, otherwise known as the Copyright Extension Act, stretched the steadily accruing copyright term to the life of the author plus 70 years for post-1978 works. In the case of a work for hire, the term can be as long as120 years from the date of creation. And the pressure is on for continued extension. Referring to the constitutional prohibition of perpetual copyright, Jack Valenti famously stated his goal as 'forever less one day.'

The extension of the classical notion of copyright -- from at best a small portion of the author's life to ever-longer periods of afterlife coverage -- runs roughly in tandem with the growing political and economic strength of the media industry. And it falls in tandem as well with a more general mid-19th century shift in media application from predominantly informational (scholarly and fictional literature, charts, maps) to entertainment (popular literature, photography, music, film). Lurking in this change as well is the shift from the printed word, which seems to have a fairly well established set of citation and reprinting protocols, to image and sound, which seem still to have eluded our conceptual grasp. Copyright precedent is clear enough when using citations or verbatim sections of books for our classes and scholarly writing, but try to include a film clip or even a frame enlargement from a film, and the threat of litigation is immediate. When it comes to media beyond the printed word, conformance with the four point "fair use" defense seems to make little difference. Digital media have added further twists, with legal battles over the ownership of programming languages (unthinkable with ordinary language), sound sampling, and even once legally allowed provisions for home copies. And they complicate our notions of what's really being protected (in moving from a 35mm film to an ultra-low resolution copy on Second Life, should information degradation play a role in what is actually being copyrighted?)."


It is important not only from the standpoint of copyright holders but copyright grantors, because that is where I believe we in the United States lose sight of the original intentions of the Founding Fathers.


So important was the concept of authorship and invention, that in the very first Article of the US Constitution we find clear language stating:

The Congress shall have power...

To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.[1]

It is clear the Founders considered the issue of invention and authorship so important that they wrote this clause into the Constitution just after the establishment of the postal system and prior to addressing a regional judicial system. The whole concept of creativity and invention was a central part of the social wealth that the Founders envisioned would supply incentive and vibrancy to the fledgling colonies whereby intellectual property development created by a special few would ultimately be owned by all. This creative development was to be fostered by the public "loaning" certain rights to Inventors and Authors for a limited period of time so as to provide those Inventors a means of capitalizing upon (and profiting from) their creations—recognizing that all the while the underlying principle behind this temporary grant of license was that the true purpose of the system was to provide a means whereby invention was promoted so as to ultimately revert to the "common good" in a reasonably short period of time. In all the years from the late 18th century to the present, it is important to understand that in the United States "we the People" have been the ones from whom these numerous "carve out" rights have consistently been taken. Once viewed in the light of public ownership and not corporate entitlement the social experiment of purposely limited protection of invention and creative development takes on a very different dimension.

Public information policy has even more importance in an age when information is moved through bits and not atoms. Until recently, it was assumed that one could buy an author's copywritten work, discuss it, perform it, trade it, loan it, reference it, donate it or resell it. There was previously assumed to be an underlying tension between the rights of the public weighed against the limited rights of the author. That underlying assumption is now being challenged with an attempt to value (read control) an author's rights far in excess of the general public. For copyright holders to hijack public policy to the point of de facto control over their works would be the ultimate myopia on the part of our government. As recently as thirty years ago, it was accepted that copyright was imperfect and provided only limited controls over protected works. Special interests have created protected positions for themselves at the expense of the general public and the inherent tension between the public good and author's rights promises to spiral out of control if there is not a serious reexamination of public need versus corporate want. As powerful and compelling as the promise of the internet and related digital media are, what are the ramifications to freedom of access and thought when this same technology makes possible a type of monitoring that can restrict, track and report just as easily as allow freedom of access? With digital technology, copyright holders can truly control access to their work. But with recent congressional legislation such as the DMCA[2] and the CTEA[3], as well as the European EUCD[4], where does an author's ability to control access on virtually every level benefit the public and promote the progress of science and useful arts? Digital technology has allowed individuals a power they never possessed before (such as being able to print or record one's own copy of a work), even as it has provided a technical means for IP owners to argue enforcement of ever more invasive (read unlimited) rights. The dynamic that has worked in some measure for over one hundred forty years has to change to reestablish a new balance—one that works for authors but must also be palatable to an increasingly confused public. How can one be expected to obey laws they do not believe or cannot understand?

These are heady issues that have no easy answers. There is an ongoing battle being waged by special interests who want to profit from works long after what would appear was contemplated by the Founders. There are independent groups of legal scholars who have taken a stand to try and maintain the balance as well as free speech advocates such as the EFF[5] and groups responsible for overseeing international IP.[6] But unless a serious dialog is started not between warring copyright attorneys but the general public and their representative government(s) we, the People, stand to lose something crucial to what the Founders assumed was a basic right. The stakes are that high.

1 - USC, I, §8, cl.8

2 - Digital Millennium Copyright Act

3 - European Union Copyright Directive

4 - Electronic Frontier Foundation

5 - World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)

January 6, 2011

C3 Research Memo (2010): Embracing the Flow by Nancy Baym

Select 2010 C3 research memos and white papers are now available for download via the C3 blog. Now publicly available:

Embracing the Flow by Nancy Baym
Consulting Researcher for the Convergence Culture Consortium

Download the executive summary or the entire research memo.

Executive Summary

One of the most vexing issues facing the content industries is their loss of control over the distribution of digital material. Combined with the ability of consumers and fans to organize and voice opinions more loudly than ever before, many industries, including recording, broadcast, and motion picture, find themselves acting from defensive postures, seeking to shut down grassroots activities and file sharing. In contrast, some in the industry, particularly (though not exclusively) independent artists, have embraced this unfettered flow of materials and discourse.

This C3 research memo (1) briefly identifies the current situation of information and content flow and the kinds of steps being taken to combat it. Against this backdrop, it then (2) identifies the reasons one might choose to embrace these changes rather than fighting them (3) argues that these industries need to consider the role of social exchange in addition to the economic exchange models they are used to in building consumers' willingness to pay for content they can obtain for free and (4) proposes specific strategies for building social exchange relationships in this environment. In what follows, I use music as an exemplar, but the discussion will not be limited to music.

The music industry is a microcosm of mass communication's past and a harbinger or its future (Benkler, 2006; Briggs & Burke, 2009). Once local and interpersonal, inherently relational, and shared with co-present others, the phonograph and the recording industry it spawned enabled music to become a centralized mass-produced commodity. It was less than one hundred years ago that music became an object to be created at great expense, widely distributed and purchased at a set price, rather than an experience to be shared (Benkler, 2006). The music industry, like most media industries, is built on a highly centralized model that relies on tight control of distribution and, to a lesser extent, communication. Four firms (Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment, Warner Music Group, EMI) are responsible for 72% of the global music market (Wikstrom, 2009).

Against this backdrop, the essay will articulate a number of incorrect tactics the music and the reasons these tactics are wrong. These reasons include:

a. The more persecuted file sharing becomes, the further underground and harder to track this behavior will be.

b. The flow of materials provides critical real time information about where and in some cases by whom, they are being taken up and used, which can be of great use in better planning campaigns, tours, targeting marketing, etc. Thus one sees companies such as Big Champagne, which the RIAA has been paying to track file sharing for years, as well as newer start ups like Band Metrics that assess the flow of downloads and buzz about bands as it happens.

c. Fan labor can be appropriated (and justly rewarded) in the service of promotion and audience building

d. Fan efforts can help content to find new audiences, including those in countries where materials are not currently available, and can hence reveal where future efforts might be expanded

e. The good will that ensues from permitting such activities builds consumer loyalty

The model driving the music industry for decades has been one of economic exchange in which the musicians and industry provide a scarce good (records or CDs) for which the audience pays money, providing artists with their primary revenue stream. Secondary revenue streams included live performance and, perhaps the most important marker of the audience's affect, merchandise such as t-shirts and posters. The ubiquity of file sharing means that the once scarce good of the music itself has become an infinite good, freely available to those with the minimal competence and disregard for intellectual property required to download. The question of why audiences might still pay for music has become critical for the very survival of music as the industry it has become.

In economic exchange, a fixed good is exchanged for a fixed price according to legal rules of exchange. While there are and will always be elements of economic exchange in the relationship between content industries and their audiences, increasingly the building of social relationships is important in providing incentives for audiences to contribute financially. In social exchange relationships, the rate of exchange is motivated by feelings of trust, obligation and gratitude rather than price structures. Social media provide new means for producers and artists to connect with audiences in ways that allow them to build relationships, yet few have moved past viewing audiences as consumers to understand and interact with them as relational partners. This section lays out the dynamics of economic vs. social exchange (drawing on Blau's early formulation) and argues that this model elucidates the ways people can provide rewards including money, but also services and the ephemeral but important motivations of affection, and validation.

There are many concrete ways in which content industries -- and brands more generally -- can make use of this flow of materials, discourse and exchange, and the research memo will conclude with some suggestions, illustrated with examples such as Amanda Palmer and Trent Reznor.

These suggestions include:

  • operate out of trust not fear
  • behave as people, not as institutions
  • use a variety of social media, though not more than you can sustain
  • provide people with social resources they can use with one another
  • grant users their independence
  • encourage and reward user creativity

Works Cited

Benkler, Y. (2006). The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom. New Haven and London: Yale.

Blau, P. (1964). Exchange and Power in Social Life. New York: Wiley.

Briggs, A. & Burke, P. (2009). A Social History of the Media (Third Edition). Malden, MA: Polity.

Wikstrom, P. (2009 The music industry: Music in the cloud. Cambridge, UK: Polity.


Nancy Baym 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.

Add to Technorati Favorites