Monday, 21 October 2013

Publishing vs. Blogging: Is the Pen Mightier than the Keyboard?



As the phenomenon of digital media continues to permeate into the everyday lives of mankind, its constant transformations have caused an enormous shift in traditional understandings and structures of publishing. With the onset of the digital age, a growing number of ordinary citizens were and continue to be given the opportunity to create literary and/or visual content that could be consumed by an interested public. However, does the ability to place one’s creative works in a public sphere immediately transform into one a real “publisher”? Unfortunately conclusive answers are frustratingly elusive with the fluid and unset nature of digital media. Nevertheless, this paper will examine various aspects of blogging in order to propose that bloggers and social media users, under certain conditions and circumstances, can be considered as publishers.


A Radical Transformation: Publishing from Yesterday to Today
Prior to the digitalization of media, publishing had a very concrete and physical foundation upon which structure, ideas, and practices related to publication were based. For instance, the physical requirements for pre-digital publishing, such as typesetting, book-binding, and distribution to various vendors, would create the need for specialized roles such as craftsmen, financial investors, and marketers. As well, within an established publishing house, its publishers are responsible for “maintaining the brand and integrity of the house” (Norman, 24 Sept 2013, Posiel.com). In other words, these publishers act as the gatekeepers of what will become published and what will not; they decide what is good enough to be seen by the public and what will be thrown into the trash bin. In today’s digital-literate culture, however, many individuals are discovering methods of publicly posting content that circumvent the usual methods of publishing. Therefore, a brief examination of one of today’s most popular avenues of self-publication, blogging, might aid us in better understanding how publishing has radically transformed from a closed-house operation into an open doorway to opportunity.

Blogging 101: A Brief Introduction
As someone who runs her main blog on Blogspot, a sideline blog on Tumblr, and writes for an online publication via Wordpress, I have come to view blogging as a legitimate way with which to become a publisher. I first started blogging in high school with that once-popular site “Xanga” as a way of journalling my teenage angst; many of my fellow classmates and peers, who were also active on the site, would comment on my posts and write their own angsty posts about school, relationships, and growing up. It was at this point in time when I slowly became aware of the blogging community-- an audience comprised of both real-life acquaintances and strangers. A readership that was simultaneously tangible and imaginary to whom I voiced my deepest, innermost feelings of mortification and uncertainty with little hesitation. As a result of reliving these younger days, I began to contemplate the reasons for why we bloggers are so easily compelled to fearlessly bare our souls within such public mediums.  

Addressing the “Public” (Or Why We Write)

Michael Warner discusses in his work “Publics and Counterpublics” (2002) that “a public is a relation among strangers” and that in our contemporary society, strangers are “a normal feature of the social” and “a necessary medium of commonality” (417). In other words, our current world, which reveres success within digital arenas such as blogging and social media, often functions as a community of strangers who may not know each other personally but still can relate to one another based on mutual or opposing interests. For instance, within the fashion blogger community, I have found myself becoming friendly acquaintances with other like-minded bloggers who live in distant cities or countries. We invite others to become voyeurs of carefully-curated aspects of our lives in order to build relationships with strangers. While in the past, this kind of relationship could only be built between individuals who met in person or between published print authors and their readership, today’s technologies allow any determined person to establish a loyal audience on a transcontinental scale. As a result, I believe that this reality allows for individuals who are not associated with established publishing houses to be reasonably considered as publishers.


Blogging vs. “Legitimate” Publishing
The act of blogging should be considered as publishing as it does not merely constitute purposeless communication between strangers. Rather, it is a “carefully controlled performance” through which we present a very self-governed image of ourselves on our own terms (Papacharissi, 2002, p. 644). In opposition to our physical social interactions in which others can draw their own conclusions about your identity based on their personal observations, blogging permits us to display “fixed, singular, and self-conscious” versions of ourselves as fashion bloggers, financial advisors, beauty gurus or travel guides (Marwick & boyd, 2010, p. 2). Given the enormous amount of work required to maintain such self-representation, I think it is only fair that bloggers are seen as legitimate writers and publishers.
So how exactly do the duties of bloggers mirror the obligations of certified publishers? In the much-heralded (by style bloggers at least) website “Independent Fashion Bloggers,” Taylor Davies writes that bloggers, specifically fashion and personal style bloggers, “wear many hats [and] have an extremely varied array of marketable skills and talents” (2012, “IFB Poll: Are Bloggers Celebrities or Publishers?”). For instance, we can consider ourselves to be authors, publishers, photographers, marketers, entrepreneurs, brand ambassadors, and stylists. Although a traditional publishing house would consist of different departments specializing within the aforementioned fields, an independent blogger would have to gain some measure of expertise within many of these areas in order to become moderately successful. As well, there are quite a few well-known bloggers who have gone on to become marketers for various brands, editors for magazines, or self-published authors (albeit with the help of sponsors, literary agents, and publishing houses). Therefore, it becomes clear that even established publishing houses have accepted the fact that today’s forms of blogging are akin to, if not the same as, publishing.

Monetization and Audience Numbers
While many bloggers such as myself are happy to maintain a blog purely as a hobby, many others view their blogs in a more professional sense and work to make them viable sources of financial profit. In the IFB post “When to Start Monetizing Your Blog” (2013), Grechen Reiter writes that “once you have a good feel for your brand, your influence, and your “place” in the world of [blogging], you will come to monetization with a clearer understanding of your value and what to ask for.” In particular, this means that once a blogger understands that her or his site has grown a moderately-large and loyal audience who enjoy the blog’s content enough to click through links or read every post, it is time to stop thinking of their blog as merely a personal journal and more as a valuable method of personal branding. At that point in time, an increasing number of brands will begin contacting the blogger in order to conduct collaborations, promotional giveaways, contests, and other marketing tactics. As a result of such attention, onlookers and the blogger him or herself would more be compelled to view the blog as being an established online publication.
In terms of audience numbers, my experiences as a contributor for the online publication, AX3 Battery, have taught me how to gauge one’s influence on the web and to use it for monetary gain. This publication, which was originally created by a group of passionate university students, allows for all of its members to be quite hands-on and vocal regarding its management. For instance, during our tri-monthly editorial board discussions, we will often discuss ways with which to create posts that better appeal to our target audience (young Asian Americans) and to market our content more effectively. These conversations are invariably based upon audience tracking numbers that are drawn from tools such as Google Analytics; the information gleaned from such sources allows us to better understand every nuance of our audience’s habits and interests, such as whether certain content posted at noon tends to gain more attention than content posted early in the morning or late at night. Subsequently, we are able to discover more efficient methods of attracting potential paid campaigns with brands and businesses that wish to reach our particular audience. Through my time with AX3 Battery, I have come to understand that there are few concrete rules within the world of online publishing. As an digital editor, you must constantly re-learn how to remain a significant source of attractive and valuable information to your publication’s readers.   

Conclusion: The Difficulties of Digital Publishing
The PUB 131 reading “A Day in the Life of a Digital Editor, 2013,” which was written by the senior editor of The Atlantic, brought to my attention the sad reality that even well-established publications are struggling to stay relevant within a fast-paced digital age. In that post, Alexis C. Madrigal described the various hardships associated with online publishing to which I could more than relate. For example, Madrigal (2013) wrote that with the onset of “the digital transition,” “the ad market, on which [they] all depend[ed], started going haywire” and that most “large-scale general interest magazines” began to lose revenue as advertisers began to find cheaper ways to promote their wares (“A Day in the Life of a Digital Editor”). As a consequence, it becomes clear that if world-renowned publications are struggling to make sense of the digital age, then the world of publishing is indeed open to any blogger who is willing to work hard to post regular and high-quality content, whether it be literary, visual, artistic or analytical.   



Reference List:
Davies, T. (2012, September). IFB Poll: Are Bloggers Celebrities or Publishers? Retrieved

Madrigal, A.C. (2013, March). A Day in the Life of a Digital Editor, 2013. Retrieved from

Marwick, A.E. & boyd, d. (2010). I Tweet Honestly, I Tweet Passionately: Twitter Users,     Context  Collapse, and the Imagined Audience. New Media Society 20(10), 1-20.


Norman, S. (2013, September). The structure of a publishing house. Retrieved from http://posiel.com/2013/09/the-structure-of-a-publishing-house.


Papacharissi, Z. (2002). The Presentation of Self in Virtual Life: Characteristics of Personal Home Pages. Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly 79(3), 643–60.  


Reiter, G. (2013, July). When to Start Monetizing Your Blog. Retrieved from 
http://heartifb.com/2013/07/19/when-to-start-monetizing-your-blog.

Warner, M. (2002). Publics and Counterpublics (abbreviated version). Quarterly Journal of Speech 88(4), 413-425. Retrieved from http://knowledgepublic.pbworks.com/f/warnerPubCounterP.pdf
    

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