Spreadable Media: A book review by Bob Morris

Posted on: March 14th, 2013 by bobmorris

SpreadableSpreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture
Henry Jenkins, Sam Ford, and Joshua Green
New York University Press (2013)

The significance of the shift from a culture shaped by traditional media toward one fostering greater grassroots participation

First of all, I want to commend Henry Jenkins, Sam Ford, and Joshua Green on their 46-page Introduction that, all by itself, is worth more than the cost of the book while “setting the table” for an even more substantial feast of information, insights, and counsel in the seven chapters that follow.

As they explain, their book “examines the emerging hybrid model of [content] circulation, where a mix of top-down and bottom-up forces determine how material is shared across and among cultures in far more participatory (and messier) ways…This shit from distribution to circulation signals a movement toward a more participatory model of culture, one which sees the public not as simply consumer of preconstructed messages [e.g. book reviews of this book] but as people who are shaping, sharing, reframing, and remixing media content in ways which might not have been previously imagined.”

In this context, I am reminded of Henry Chesbrough and the open business model for which he is so widely and justifiably renowned. As he explains in Open Innovation (2005), “An open business model uses this new division of innovation labor – both in the creation of value and in the capture of a portion of that value. Open models create value by leveraging many more ideas, due to their inclusion of a variety of external concepts. Open models can also enable greater value capture, by using a key asset, resource, or position not only in the company’s own business model but also in other companies businesses.”

In their book, Jenkins, Ford, and Green focus on the “social logics and practices that have enabled and popularized [social media’s] new platforms, logics that explain why sharing has become such a common practice, not just how.” The terms “spread,” “spreadable,” and “spreadability” are indeed appropriate, given the almost unlimited opportunities for communication, cooperation, and collaboration that an open business model creates for social media. The potentialities – both technical and cultural — for connection and interaction are there to be seized by those who recognize and then take full advantage the increasingly pervasive forms of media circulation.

These are among the dozens of passages that caught my eye, also listed to suggest the scope of coverage.

o What Susan Boyle Can Teach About Spreadability (Pages 9-16)
o Toward a New Moral Economy, Stolen Content or Exploited Labor, and Engaged, Not Exploited? (52-61)
o Value, Worth, and Meaning (67-72)
o Toward Transparent Marketing, and, We don’t Need Influencers (75-82)
o Systems of Appraisal (87-90)
o From the Residual to the Retro, and, Residual Economics (100-106)
o Are You Engaged? and, The Challenges of Measurement (116-126)
o “The Total Engagement Experience” (137-141)
o A Brief History of Participatory Culture, and, Resistance versus Participation (159-172)
o Hearing versus Listening (175-182)
o The Problem of Unequal Participation (188-194)
o The Uncertainty Principle (196-202)
o How Long Is the Long Tail? (238-242)
o Learning from Nollywood (265-270)
o The World Is Not Flat (284-290)
o Spreadability Focal Points (295-300)

Before concluding their brilliant book, Jenkins, Ford, and Green identify a number of issues about a spreadable media environment that remain unresolved. For example, “If, for many of us, the long-term goal is to create a more democratic culture, which allows the public a greater role in decision-making at all levels, then a key requirement is going to be timely access to information and transparency in decision-making.” Governance issues, especially regulation within a global digital community, suggest major implications for both better or worse.

However, Henry Jenkins, Sam Ford, and Joshua Green observe, “For the foreseeable future, these issues will be under debate between and among all participating parties. The shape of our culture, thank goodness, is still under transition, and – as a consequence – it is still possible for us to collectively struggle to shape the terms of a spreadable media environment and to forge a media environment that is more inclusive, more dynamic, and more participatory than before.” I share that hope and am encouraged by the fact that achieving that vision would not have been possible only a few years ago.

I realize that no brief commentary such as mine can do full justice to the material that is provided in this volume but I hope that I have at least suggested why I think so highly of it. Also, I hope that those who read this commentary will be better prepared to determine whether or not they wish to read the book and, in that event, will have at least some idea of how to create value and meaning continuously at all levels and in all areas of their organization’s operation.

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One Response

  1. Sam Ford says:

    Really appreciate the thorough review of the book, Bob. We’re glad you found it to be provocative. And looking forward to my pending interview with you for the blog!

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