Sunday, April 7, 2013

NMN Assignment Three - Remix Culture

In this blog post I will be critically evaluating whether remix culture is fundamentally at odds with older media institutions and practices.  In researching this topic I found what appeared to be more evidence in support of remix culture thriving within societies than evidence opposing it.  Key points that became central to responding to this question included societal and cultural implications, examples of media (both old and new) that have participated in remix culture, and opposition to remix practices.  

Remix culture has been around prior to 200 BC, where  Roman audiences saw Latin versions of a Greek plays.  Latin literature was founded on Greek and Roman history and myths including works like Homer's Odyssey.  Shakespeare's works are also examples of remix culture, as he adopted his plays from folk tales, myths, history and other writings.  In his paper  titled “Remix and Remixability”, Lev Manovich states “...most human cultures developed by borrowing and reworking forms and styles from other cultures; the resulting “remixes” were to be incorporated into other cultures.  Ancient Rome remixed ancient Greece;  Renaissance remixed antiquity; nineteenth century Europe architecture remixed many historical periods...” (page 1)  With literature being the medium of media at the time, and folklore and myth assuming no proprietary authorship, these historic examples create a connection between the influence and importance of societal culture and remix culture.  Modern remix culture can be seen as, “the way in which youth culture today more visibly orients itself around creating media by extracting component pieces from other people's media creations, then connecting them together to form something new.”  This definition is provided by P2P Foundation, an international organization focused in studying, researching, documenting and promoting peer to peer practices in a very broad sense within a collaborative community.  Lawrence Lessig is a member of the P2P Foundation, and a Harvard Law graduate and activist in favour of sensible intellectual property law.   He is also known for reviving creative culture and describes the importance of  remix culture by saying that “progress and wealth creation of a culture is fundamentally tied to this participatory remix process.” in his book “Remix”.
Lessig provides great examples of the connection between cultural progress through user generated content and remix culture in his November 2007 TED Talk “Lawrence Lessig: Laws That Choke Creativity”

                                 TED Talk: "Lawrence Lessig: Laws That Choke Creativity"
              Lessig talks about remixing not as piracy, but recreating other people's content to say things differently

In his talk Lessig discusses user generated content being produced for the love of what the creator is doing without the aim of  money, where we have to realize the economic potential of youth culture as artists and creators free to embrace content.   He talks about how these new tools of creativity have become tools of speech and ultimately expression.  And though we are recreating with digital technologies, it is the technique that has become democratized.  His comments reflect not only the media practices of youth in developed countries today,  but the power youth have on culture and politics, money, and connectivity globally.  Lessig goes on to state that “ In our youth, we watched t.v., kids of today make t.v.”.  Lessig appears to share a similar belief with Henry Jenkins in youth culture playing a strong role in remix culture and new media. In his PBS lecture, “Your Kids on Social Media” Jenkins states, “ are not readers of their culture, they’re authors of their culture”  If we look to censor by laws or financially repress remix culture, we will affect the progress of culture on the whole.  New media is the  vehicle that essentially archives our stories, connects us to history and the present beyond our reach, shares our thoughts and actions in real time, and is reshaping our future through the vision and creativity of our youth .  In this regard, I cannot say remix culture is fundamentally at odds with older media institutions and practices, it appears to compliment it.
Piracy, copyright violation, and issues of ownership and authorship, create tension between other media institutions and practices.  If we look back before copyright laws appeared, we can say that many folk tales carried no specific author, however, the cultural origin of the tale remained an important element to be passed down generationally, with a desire for ownership by a group.  For example, how many versions on the origins of Santa Claus exist?  In the case of folktales, authorship and ownership can be very difficult to navigate.  Lessig talks about modern instances in remix culture not as acts or intended to be acts of piracy, rather creativity, recreating other people’s content to say or express things differently.   

The Walt Disney Company makes for a very interesting case study on remix culture at odds with older media institutions and practices.  Disney has masterfully adapted and remixed works of all types such as folk tales, books, plays and even music.  Disney media forms that have emerged from these sources include Hercules from Greek mythology, the American folk tale of Pocahontas, The Little Mermaid by Dutch writer Hans Christian Andersen, Peter Pan based on characters by Scottish playwright J.M. Barrie and an orchestral score heard in Sleeping Beauty, adapted from the Tchaikovsky ballet.  For over 90 years they have masterfully grown with the technology of the time keeping succinct with cultural literacies and practice.  Through rapidly accelerating new technologies, Disney has transformed animation, books, movies, television, and video games into a variety of media mirroring the times   Disney has also  seamlessly moved back and forth through these mediums, working with companies like Pixar to revolutionize animation, and soon to be released, their newest version of storytelling; the  Disney Infinity video game  Disney animation has shifted to television, made books into movies, theme park attractions in the case of Pirates of the Caribbean also into movies, and even adopted toys that became cartoons into movies in the case of Transformers.  Disney is an extremely powerful media force, with television networks, and a number of broadcast media divisions in house, not to mention, a commercial global influence across a large number of cultures.

The problem rests in Disney’s self serving interests toward remix culture.  From the small sampling of works mentioned previously, it is clear to see that Disney has overwhelmingly received the fruitful benefits of remix culture, however Disney spearheaded a major shift in copyright law in 1998 called the Copyright Term Extension Act, but more commonly referred to as the Mickey Mouse Protection Act.  This law overwrote the previous copyright law (1976), which protected the work for the life of the author plus 50 years, (or 75 years for corporate authorship).  The Mickey Mouse Act extended the terms to the life of the author plus 70 years, (or 120 years for corporate authorship), or 95 years after publication, whichever endpoint is earlier. Copyright Term Extension Act:  Theses terms completely favor Disney, and are a major blow to remix culture.  Corporate giants like Disney have claimed copyright violation on remix works, that have not actually been in violation, which have resulted in the disabling of user accounts and unnecessary censorship, stunting participatory and convergence culture.  This action is very confusing as Disney has pillaged literary works, and media forms born of other authors for their own profit relentlessly. Ultimately it can make remixing of works that Disney has assumed ownership over a very difficult task.  Eric Faden, Associate Professor of Film/Media studies at Bucknell University, made a remix of his own which can be found on on Youtube:,satirizing Disney films using their own material on the copyright principles they lobbied for.  The video called “A Fair(y) Use Tale”, has been used  to highlight fair use copyright practices, demonstrating that remixing can create new authorship with copyright material.  The video is under a Creative Commons license, meaning you do not require permission to show it.  It appears Faden has responded to Disney’s proprietary interests in a very strategic way; one that definitely reflects current remix culture.    

                                               Youtube  "A Fair(y) Use Tale"  by Eric Faden
Faden's video is a successful example of remixing within the laws of intellectual property and copyrights
Another example of shifting in remix practices stemmed back to BMI (Braodcast Music Inc.) founded in 1931.  Lessig describes how it pioneered a democratic attitude toward the business of how the content would be spread.  They took public domain works and gave it away for free to subscribers, upsetting the exclusive performance license that ASCAP (The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers), previously held on most popular content.  It is evident that adjusting within a remix culture is not new; it seems to evolve as  society and technology evolve.  In a participatory remix culture, we can not stop the use of new technology, and the limitless applications for it.  The problem we face is criminalizing our actions.  Stringent copyright laws create opportunities for users to be in constant violation.  In a  participatory new media landscape we engage in remix culture regularly and knowingly breaking copyright laws until we are caught (Youtube accounts being shut down), or sites being sued (Napster).  Owen Gallagher was interviewed by Henry Jenkins on his weblog on the topic of remix culture and current legal responses to the remix community  Gallagher states, “Of recent times there has been a serious crackdown on video sites like YouTube where copyright owners have made claims of copyright infringement and the videos have been taken down, in compliance with the DMCA. Unfortunately, many remixed videos that legitimately make fair use of copyrighted content are being caught in the crossfire of outright piracy. I feel it is very important to highlight the distinction here as this is possibly the number one reason why the remix community gets targeted and bullied by ‘overzealous’ copyright owners.”  

To conclude, I believe that remix culture is not at odds with older media institutions and practices.  Remix culture appears to have successfully evolved with advancements and changes in both society and technology.  It is however, facing challenges as we entangle in the messy business of money and ownership.  

Note:  Although I did not cite the "Everything is a Remix" series, it was very informative and grounding in my research of this topic.  The videos are definately worth a view.  I have posted Part 1, and have provided links to the remaining sections.

                                          Youtube:  "Everything is a Remix Part 1"  By - Kirby

Works Cited:
Manovich, Lev. "Remix Culture." N.p., 15 Nov. 2005. Web. 02 Apr. 2013.

"P2P Foundation." P2P Foundation. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Apr. 2013.

"Lawrence Lessig: Laws That Choke Creativity." TED: Ideas worth Spreading. TED Talks, Nov. 2007. Web. 02 Apr. 2013.

Jenkins, Henry. "Your Kids on Social Media." PBS. PBS, 06 July 2009. Web. 31 Mar. 2013.

Disney, Walt. "Creating Disney Infinity - Intro Trailer | Disney Video." Disney Video. Disney Video, n.d. Web. 03 Apr. 2013.

Disney, Walt. "Disney History." The Walt Disney Company. The Walt Disney Company, n.d. Web. 03 Apr. 2013.

"Mickey Mouse Law." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 03 Aug. 2013. Web. 02 Apr. 2013.

Faden, Eric. "Eric Faden Homepage." Eric Faden Homepage. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Apr. 2013.

Jenkins, Henry, and Owen Gallagher. "“What Is Remix Culture?”: An Interview with Total Recut’s Owen Gallagher (Part Two)." Confessions of an AcaFan. Henry Jenkins, 04 June 2008. Web. 04 Apr. 2013.

Everything is a Remix Part 1 by Kirby

Everything is a Remix Part 2 by Kirby

Everything is a Remix Part 3 by Kirby

Everything is a Remix Part 4 by Kirby

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Hi everyone, the first reading for this week is Carolyn Handler Miller's course "Using Digital Storytelling Techniques for Creative Nonfiction".  It appears that this course is no longer available to view, although I did find a similar one at the same institution here.

I also wanted to share a couple of excellent presentations from Carolyn Handler Miller which Jess encouraged me to post.  Enjoy!

Friday, April 5, 2013

Digital network media has radically changed the relationship between publishing institutions and society.

Clay Shirky (2008), in a McLuhanesque insight, says that when we change the way we communicate, such as with the emergence of digital networks, we change society (p.17). Digital networks have enabled new ways for groups to form and media convergence; both have had a profound impact on society (Jenkins, 2004; Shirky, 2008).

This post will explore the impact of digital network media on the democratization of publishing and the epochal changes occurring in the relationship between publishing institutions and society through three examples: new economic publishing models such as crowdsourcing; self-publishing on platforms that circumvent traditional publishing avenues; and lastly, transliteracy as an integral part of published works in order to engage the audience and remain viable.

All pictures in this post are located on my Pinterest Board please link here or click on each visual.  

Decentralized economic models

Pitch for Incente Documentary on
Source: via Teresa on Pinterest

Traditionally, the media and entertainment industries have enjoyed virtual control over what gets produced via barriers to entry afforded by their market dominance, ability to raise money to bankroll projects, and access to technology. Digital network media, however, are creating business models that break the traditional rules and provide access to resources – both technological and financial – that were previously out of reach of individual artists. For example, crowdfunding lets creators publicize their projects using the Internet and social media. The first crowdfunding site, artistShare, launched October, 2003. Another site, Kickstarter, has raised huge sums of money and achieved commercial and creative success. In 2012, three Kickstarter films ranked among the best-reviewed films of the year and six films garnered Oscar nominations (Geist, 2013). Inocente, a documentary on a 15-year old homeless girl who dreams of becoming an artist, raised $52,527 on Kickstarter and won an Academy Award.

Another recent development underscores the flux in the digital economy. Warner Bros., a major film studio, turned down creator Rob Thomas’ movie pitch based on his cult TV show Veronica Mars. The show was cancelled in 2007 after three seasons, but had enough of a following to raise $2 million on Kickstarter in less than 11 hours (Coyle, 2013). It went on to raise over $4.6 million from over 69,000 backers. Fans receive rewards for their level of donation but ultimately the win is their collective ability to create something that otherwise would not materialize (Jenkins, 2013). The power of the audience to resource and hence decide what gets created marks a fundamental change in relations between media institutions and society.

New media gurus predicted these models would emerge. Benkler (2006) explains the new economic models as “commons based peer production” (p.59) where individuals, neither hierarchically assigned or even paid, act on their own will and passion to develop or contribute to the development of a shared vision or product. Jenkins (2004) predicted the emergence of a digital economy negotiated between producers and consumers and the emergence of a micropayment system allowing producers to sell their content directly to the consumers, cutting out intermediaries and lowering production and distribution costs.

Decentralized editorial power

The Crowdfunded Garbage Patch Story Ran in The New York Times 
Source: via Teresa on Pinterest

The convergence of media industries and resulting loss of diversity in journalism is being counterbalanced by the emergence of a crowdfunded blend of journalism, production and consumption (Aitamurto, 2011). For example, the site Spot.Us acts like a collective intelligence site for freelance journalists. Readers make cash donations in order to fund a story, providing collective judgment about issues they believe deserve attention. Readers can also donate other resources such as knowledge on an issue, photography, or editing. Crowdfunding is a form of participatory culture where donors feel empowered and encouraged to participate – becoming co-creators. This is also an example of collective intelligence; rather than rely on an expert to determine what is newsworthy, the wisdom of the crowd becomes the arbiter of what is newsworthy. Mainstream media is paying attention and exploring new sources outside their traditional publishing process. The New York Times published a story from Spot.Us on the Pacific Garbage Patch, an island of trash afloat in the ocean (Hoshaw, 2009). This was the first crowdfunded story to be picked up by a major US publication.

The rise of the amateur publisher

Self-Publishing is Growing As More Platforms Become Available
Source: via Teresa on Pinterest

Digital network media have given society its own means to publish, resulting in “the largest increase in expressive capability in human history” (Shirky, 2009). Toffler (1980) coined the term prosumer to describe the emerging trend of consumers as co-creators and active producers in the economy. This new peer-based media ecosystem is creating a lot of content that competes against traditional publishers for audience share and relevance. The rise of the amateur publisher is supported by HTML coding tools that make it easy to create and update blogs, and comment boxes create opportunities for dialogue to take place between authors and readers (Lessig, 2008). Internet search engine hubs like Technorati count links to blogs and index and rank them to “show the revealed preferences of the blogosphere” (p.61), allowing us to see that many blog sites outperform traditional media.

In this new media ecosystem Canadian internet users have the 2nd highest level of engagement in the world, spending more than 41 hours per month online and ranking 2nd worldwide in video hours consumed (comScore, 2013). Social Media sites in Canada are increasing their visitor base and engagement. The annual growth rates of the visual web are particularly significant – Tumblr (96%), Pinterest (792%) and Instagram (900%) (comScore, 2013). Lee Rainie, director of the Internet and American Life Project, says “The act of telling your story and sharing part of your life with somebody is alive and well — even more so than at the dawn of blogging. It’s just morphing onto other platforms” (Kopytof, 2011).

Self-publishers: the future of publishing

Amanda Hocking is a Self-Publishing Success Story.
Source: via Teresa on Pinterest

Tim O’Reilly, publisher and founder of the Tools of Change Publishing Conference says that self-publishing is enabled by the democratization of technology. He predicts self-publishing is the wave of the future (Webb, 2013). Best-selling author Amanda Hocking is an example of self-publishing success. After constant, frustrating rejection by traditional publishers, she self-published on Amazon and quickly entered Kindle Million Club for sales (Pilkington, 2012). Marketing is done by her fans, through positive reviews on sites like Goodreads or Amazon whose computer-generated recommendations do not differentiate between self-publishers or big-publisher titles (Fowler & Trachtenberg, 2010).

The transition from print to electronic publishing is opening up new business models that benefit both publishers and authors. The e-book eliminates intermediaries and enables direct contact between author and reader. Compared to print publishing, the creation and distribution of e-books is economical, enabling an almost infinite numbers of titles to be carried and electronically distributed to numerous platforms. The e-publishing marketplace is an example of the Long Tail theory reflecting “culture unfiltered by economic scarcity” (Anderson, 2008, p. 53). Readers benefit with lower prices, an average of $2.99 on Smashwords, the world’s largest distributor of self-published eBooks (Pilkington, 2012). Numerous options exist for self-publishing. Pressbooks promotes that if you can blog you can make a beautiful e-book. Their open source software is built on WordPress and authors can make an ebook alone or with collaborators and export to numerous e-book formats. Apple recently launched Breakout Books to promote high performing self-publishers in their iBooks store (Coker, 2013).

Despite trends in self-publishing O’Reilly is optimistic for the publishing industry (O’Reilly, 2013). Using himself as an example, he predicts self-publishers who enjoy the experience, will in-turn become publishers and extend their acquired publishing expertise to help others. Despite her solo success Amanda Hocking signed on with a traditional publisher in May 2012 explaining that she was burned out by the stress of solo publishing.

Transliteracy for engagement and viability

The Very Transliterate Green Brothers Sell-Out Carnegie Hall.
Source: via Teresa on Pinterest

O’Reilly (2013) also predicts the rise of the cross-media star becoming the backbone of the industry — those who engage audiences through a variety of mediums. Jenkins considers the new literacies to be social skills that require new ways of thinking about how to communicate (Jenkins, 2008). John Green is an example of a popular author whose books, video channel entitled VlogBrothers, and live appearances, most recently at sold out Carnegie Hall, are all outgrowths of the same spirit and the same engagement with his audience, yet each requiring different skills in order to engage with his audience. Green says, “For me there is no bright line between publishing and making stuff on the Internet . . . They are both about collaborating with others to make something new (Kaufman, 2013). His ability to move easily across discursive communications platforms demonstrates his transliteracy skills (Thomas et al, 2007). As literacy practices alter around new genres, our understanding of what constitutes legitimate fields of publishing will also change (Ware, 2008). O’Reilly says the book as a user interface will continue to change and that people who embrace all the ways to express what we (publishers) do and think that way will be the stars, not those who stick with one form of expression (O’Reilly, 2013).

Digital media provides new publishing models, new means to publish and media convergence to enable what Tim O’Reilly (2004) has coined “an architecture of participation”. Functions once only the domain of professionals in publishing institutions has transferred to broader society, transforming roles and relationships.


Aitamurto, T. (2011). The impact of crowdfunding on journalism. Journalism Practice, 5,(4), 429-445.

Anderson, C. (2008). The Long Tail: Why the future of business is selling less of more. New York: Hyperion

Coker, M. (March 4, 2013). Apple iBookstores in the U.K. and Ireland promote self-published authors in breakout books feature. [Web log message]. Retrieved from

comScore. (2013, March 4). Canada Digital Future in Focus 2013. Retrieved March 24, 2013 from:

Coyle, J. (2013, March 22). Veronica Mars' campaign rattles movie industry. MSN News. Retrieved from

Fowler, G. & Trachtenberg, J. (2010, June 2). ‘Vanity press goes digital’. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from

Geist, M. (2013, March 1). How ‘crowdfunding’ is changing the way movies are funded: Geist. The Star.Com. Retrieved from

Higgins, C. (2013, January 17). John and Hank Green sell out Carnegie Hall. [Web log message]. Retrieved from

Hoshaw, L. (2009, November 9). Afloat in the ocean, expanding islands of trash. New York Times. Retrieved from

Jenkins, H. (2004). The cultural logic of media convergence. International Journal Of Cultural Studies, 7(1), 33-43. doi:10.1177/1367877904040603

Jenkins, H. (2008). Combating the participation gap: Why new media literacy matters. [Web log message]. Retrieved from

Jenkins, H. (2010). Transmedia storytelling and entertainment: An annotated syllabus. Continuum: Journal Of Media & Cultural Studies, 24(6), 943-958. doi:10.1080/10304312.2010.510599

Jenkins, H. (2013, March 26, 2013). Kickstarting Veronica Mars: A conversation about the future of television (part one). [Web log message]. Retrieved from

Kaufman, L. (2013, January 16). A novelist and his brother sell out Carnegie Hall. The New York Times. Retrieved March 25, 2013 from

Kickstarter. (n.d.) Retrieved March 24, 2013 from

Kopytoff, V. (2011, February 20). Blogs wane as the young drift to sites like twitter. The New York Times. Retrieved on March 24, 2013 from

Lessig, L. (2008). Remix. Making art and commerce thrive in the hybrid economy. New York: The Penguin Press.

O’Reilly, T. (2004, June). The architecture of participation. [Web log message]. Retrieved from

O’Reilly, T. (2013, February 12). Tools of Change Publishing Conference 2013. Tim O'Reilly, Some Reasons for Optimism. [Video]. Retrieved from

Pilkington, E. (2012, January, 12). Amanda Hocking, the writer who made millions by self-publishing online. The Guardian. Retrieved from

Shirky, C. (2008). Here comes everybody: The power of organizing without organizations. New York: Penguin.

Shirky. (TedTalks Producer). (2009, June). Clay Shirky: How social media can make history. [Video]. Retrieved from (n.d.) Dissecting the great pacific garbage patch. Retrieved on March 25, 2013 from

Thomas, S., Joseph, C., Laccetti, J., Mason, B., Mills, S., Perril, S. & Pullinger, K. (2007). Transliteracy: Crossing divides. First Monday, 12 (12). Retrieved from

Toffler, A. (1980). The third wave. The classic study of tomorrow. New York: Bantam Books.

Ware, I. (2008). Andrew keen vs the emos: Youth, publishing, and transliteracy. M/C Journal, 11(4). Retrieved from

Webb, J. (2013, March 5). Self-publishers will be the publishers of the future: Tim O'Reilly on self-publishing and the cycles of democratization via technology. [Web log message]. Retrieved from

New media narratives: Remix culture shakes things up

First off, here is my Flickr set for Assignment #3.

There is an art and a craft to taking existing content and creating new meaning. With the availability of digitalized text, images, video clips, and audio files online, there are endless possibilities for creative expression through remixing. Remixing originated with sampling different music tracks to create new mashups, but it has evolved beyond audio. The combination of available content, simple tools, and social platforms has made remix culture an everyday norm. People craft photo collages, videos, and other web projects, making use of all kinds of existing content while adding in their own unique interpretation. This was not possible with older media institutions as much of the content was not digitalized nor readily sharable on mass.

This paradigm shift that blurs the lines between consumer and producer has given way to a dynamic ecosystem of creativity, freedom, and people power. The megaphone belongs to anyone who wins the attention of viewers with their work. Of course, this comes with complexities around authorship and intellectual property. In the Flickr set, I've highlighted a recent and relevant example  - the Harlem Shake. This viral meme took the Internet by storm this year and recently hit 1 billion page views. It was a good example to draw on as the song itself is a remix (by Harry Bauer Rodrigues who used samples from Hector Delgado and Jayson Musson) and tens of thousands have upload their own version using the track. It emphasizes the active participation of consumers, something that characterizes remix culture and the digital revolution we're going through. 

The topic of remixing seems to evoke interest in academics, artists, musicians, lawyers, political scientists, and digital media experts alike. It is fascinating as it brings people across the spectrum to the same table.

For more on this discussion topic, check out the accompanying Flickr images and watch or re-watch the first remix dance video that got a billion people shaking. 


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

Fitzgerald, B. and O'Brien, D. (2005). Digital sampling and culture jamming in a remix world: What does the law allow? Media and Arts Law Review, 10(4), 279-298. Retrieved from

Jenkins, H. (2006). Convergence Culture: Where old and new media collide. Retrieved from

Jenkins, H. (2006). 
Welcome to convergence culture. Retrieved from

Knobel, M. and Lankshear, C. (2008). Remix: The art and craft of endless hybridization. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 52(1), 22-33. Retrieved from

Lessig, L. (2004). Remix: Making art and commerce thrive in the hybrid economy. Penguin, New York.

Lessig, L (2010). Re-examining the remix. Retrieved from

Lynskey, D. (2013). Harlem Shake: Could it kill sampling? The Guardian. Retrieved from 

The Harlem Shake Hits 1 Billion Views (2013, April 4). The Visible Measures Blog. Retrieved from

McKinley, J. (2013, March 10). Surprise hit was a shock for artists heard on it. New York Times. Retrieved from

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Week 12: Writers and Publishing

What does it mean to publish in the web 2.0 world?

Some key terms we will discuss during this session:

•digital storytelling
•new media platforms
•open source
•print on demand
• self-publishing

Although not on our reading list, I thought you might enjoy this timely read from the Huff Post:

Gini Graham Scott

Assault on Writers From Automated Software

Posted: 03/29/2013 3:07 pm

Professional writers today are in a crisis. Between millions of writers who are writing books and articles for free, celebrities with million dollar book deals (often written by an unknown ghostwriter), e-books transforming traditional publishers and reducing advances, and consolidations and disappearances of many book, newspaper, and magazine publishers, there are fewer paid writing opportunities -- and those that exist are often paying less. After all, there are many more non-professional writers and fewer opportunities, so it's simple supply and demand market economics.
And now there is still another assault on writers that is already here and will only get worse. The assault comes in the form of automated software that writes books and articles, further eliminating the potential jobs for writers. Sure the advantage of the software is that it can do a lot of routine writing tasks much faster and more cheaply, and as the software gets better and better -- just a matter of time, it can do more and more sophisticated writing, and the more it sounds like a real writer is writing the book and article, the more writers will be displaced. Consider the writer just another casualty of the technology revolution -- much like outsourcing and automation has eliminated many factory and service jobs to other countries, especially in Asia, or an army of helpful robots.
I became intrigued by this topic when as an author with two dozen e-books on Smashwords I read founderMark Coker's "2013 Book Publishing Industry Predictions -- Indie Ebook Authors Take Charge," Among other things, Coker noted that "If Amazon could invent a system to replace the author from the equation, they'd do that," and went on to describe how one innovative publisher, ICON Group International has already patented a system that automatically generates non-fiction books, and he worries that as the field of artificial intelligence increases, "how long until novelists are disinter-mediated by machines." While Coker notes that over 100,000 titles by ICON are already available for sale on AMAZON, in fact, ICON's website boasts the company has published over 250,000 titles. And two other software developers,Narrative Science and Automated Insights are already doing this for clients. Right now the software is primarily used to turn large amounts of data, such as sports scores, medical research, and business stats, into insightful narratives. But it could be only a matter of time before the software starts taking over the work that journalists, non-fiction book writers, novelists, and other kinds of writers do.
So how does this all work? And I assure you, I'm writing this article! I checked out a series of articles and websites to find out.
First, take ICON International, founded by Professor Philip M. Parker, who calls himself "the most published author in the history of the planet," who as of April 2008 had already written 200,000 books, according to Noam Cohen's New York Times article "He Wrote 200,000 Books (but Computers Did Some of the Work").
Basically, Parker has developed computer algorithms that collect information on a subject which is already publicly available with the help of 60 to 70 computers and a half-dozen programmers to create books in a variety of genres. The typical books include health publications which provide information on over 700 diseases and conditions, such as The Official Patient's Sourcebook, the world outlook for different types of products such as The 2003-2008 World Outlook for Wrapped Cakes, country outlooks, such as The 2007-2012 Outlook for Deli Foods in the United States, competitiveness studies, such as the relative performance and productivity across 230 countries, trade studies of exports and imports, and company benchmarks for financial and labor productivity. But the company has also created crossword puzzles, simple poetry books, and a series of Webster's Quotations, Facts, and Phrases and is developing the software to produce romance novels, which are often written based on a popular formula. Plus now a company called EdgeMaven, is using the databases and the patents of Professor Parker to create paperback books, ebooks, games, and video titles, including TV segments, features, and mixed-media titles) for other clients by compiling information to draw basic conclusions, applying a formula to a genre, or preparing a report, film, or game as a specialist in that field might, such as writing a econometrics report.
Meanwhile, Narrative Science has created its own software to turn data, such as sports statistics, company financial reports, and housing starts and sales and turns it into articles which sound like they are written by a real writer, such as in this opening sentence featured in a New York Times article by Steve Lohr: "In Case You Wondered, a Real Human Wrote This Column."
As the computer generated article starts off: "WISCONSIN appears to be in the driver's seat en route to a win, as it leads 51-10 after the third quarter."
According to Lohr, Narrative Science, led by two of the company's founders, Kris Hamman and Larry Birnbaum, co-directors of the Intelligent Information Laboratory at Northwestern University, has developed software based on more than a decade of research to mimic human reasoning so the articles sound like a real human wrote them. For the most part, the technology is being used to help publications with limited budgets provide additional coverage, such for recaps of local sports and the quarterly financial results of local public companies. But the big problem for writers is the potential for these computer generated articles to totally replace them. As Jerry Battiste writes in The Starved Writer "Will Computers Replace Writers? (Looks As If They Already Have),"
"The stories produced by the program designed by the company, Narrative Science, are indistinguishable from those written by living breathing reports. Editors are unable to tell the difference and in tests, usually prefer the prose composed by the computer to those created by human hands and minds." In fact, the computers have gotten so good that they can now write "just about any kind of content, using any kind of data," and they can adapt it to different styles, publication tone, and specialized vocabulary. While a writer may start the process by customizing the existing platform, then the computer takes over to come up with the facts and inferences drawn from the client data, as Joe Fassler notes in an Atlantic article: "Can the Computers at Narrative Science Replace Paid Writers."
And now still another company Automated Insights, based in Durham, North Carolina is doing much the same thing, though targeting companies that want a compelling narrative to enhance their data. They start by receiving data from the customer, public repositories, and third-party data providers, analyze the data, derive and prioritize insights using powerful algorithms that determine significance based on context and uniqueness, create a narrative that tells the story in various forms from a long-form narrative, to bullet-points, tweets, and headlines, and then publish it in real time forms, including web, mobile, Twitter, email, and books.
In short, the basic technology is already there and is likely to increasingly take over jobs once held by writers. Sure writers can always write free articles and celebrity writers -- or writers interviewing and ghostwriting for celebrities -- will always be in demand. But what about other writers? And as this software becomes sophisticated, it can be used to create art, music, virtually any kind of artform, and perhaps it already has. As for me -- I think this could be a signal for taking a long vacation. At least, a computer can't enjoy the vacation for me.
Gini Graham Scott, Ph.D. is the author of over 50 books with major publishers and has published 30 books through her own company Changemakers Publishing and Writing. She writes books and proposals for clients, and has written and produced over 50 short videos through her companyChangemakers Productions Her latest books include: The Very Next New Thing: Commentaries on the Latest Developments that Will Be Changing Your Life and Living in Limbo: From the End to New Beginnings

Monday, April 1, 2013

Assignment 3: Distributive Publishing

Weight: 30%

Objective & Procedure
Image licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.Samantha Penney,

Pick one question/hypothesis from the list below. Produce and publish a work (see below for what
constitutes “a work”) that responds to it. You don’t have to agree with the following statements but
you should critically evaluate, explore, counter or perhaps even extend the details of the
arguments and assumptions involved.

1. Digital network media make no essential difference to the relations between publishing
institutions and society.

2. Remix culture is fundamentally at odds with older media institution and practises.
Investigate a case study which illuminates these tensions.

3. When publishing changes, so does society. Investigate and compare the impact of two
publication technologies, one pre-1900 and one post-1962, on a specific aspect of society (e.g.
education, politics, creative industries, science, entertainment, social relationships).

4. "[C]ivilization has been dominated at different stages by various media of communication
such as clay, papyrus, parchment, and paper produced first from rags and then from wood. Each
medium has its significance for the type of monopoly of knowledge which will be built and which
will destroy the conditions suited to creative thought and be displaced by a new medium with its
peculiar type of monopoly of knowledge." (Innis, Harold. (1949). The Press: A Neglected Factor in the
Economic History of the Twentieth Century. London: Oxford University Press, p. 5).

Do you agree with this statement? Provide examples from the history and current state of
publishing to make your argument.

1. “In the days before machinery men and women who wanted to amuse themselves were
compelled, in their humble way, to be artists. Now they sit still and permit professionals to
entertain them by the aid of machinery. It is difficult to believe that general artistic culture can
flourish in this atmosphere of passivity.” (Huxley, Aldous. (1927, August). “The Outlook for American Culture:  Some Reflections in a Machine Age,” Harper’s Magazine).

Think about this quote especially in relation to new media publishing and new kinds of
ecologies of creativity (involved in creation & distribution).

You can respond to these questions in any one of the following formats, all of which need to be
published online AND on the class blog ( Remember to title your
post appropriately and tag as assignment 3.

1. Text based. Blog your response, in a 1500 word length post (you may include up to 5
illustrative images). Publish on our class blog.

2. Image Based. Produce a cohesive series of images with accompany captions. You should
produce 20 images. Captions are not to exceed 50 words each. Publish on Create a
blog post with a short summary and embed your photos. Don’t forget to link to your Flickr images.

3. Time-based Image (Video or Animation). Produce a video of 5 minutes (plus or minus 30
seconds) or produce an animation of 90 to 180 seconds. Publish on Create a blog
post with a short summary and embed your video.

4. Sound piece. Produce a sound piece in the form of a radio documentary. Publish as an audio
podcast (in MP3), uploaded to audioboo.comor Duration: 5 mins (plus or minus
30 seconds). Create a blog post with a short summary and embed your audio.

5. Input your findings by Friday 17:00 so that, as a group, we have the weekend to peruse and
comment on each other’s responses. Any comments on responses should be noted in the comments
section of the appropriate blog post on our class blog.