Fall 2015

Pulp fiction: remediation and the e-book

The way we read has been changing for decades. Once confined to heavy volumes bound in leather, books are now infinitely more portable and accessible. The invention of the pulp paperback in the late 1930s was an industry disruption that would forever change reading culture. The pulp paperback form, created and sold cheaply, was readily available to readers in every corner of their everyday lives: the grocery store, the train station, and the cigar stand. This paper will argue that the modern equivalent of the pulp paperback is the e-book, which has also been made cheaply and is widely available to readers en mass. Without the sensual and tactile qualities of traditional books, both the pulp paperback and the e-book have been created to be infinitely portable and accessible, resulting in the loss of some qualities and the advantage of others. The pulp paperback and the e-book have changed the shape of the book, turning it into an increasingly democratic medium with the high speed necessary to move forward.

The pulp paperback, born out of the motivation to democratize the reading experience, was created for a different purpose than that of the hardcover book, which delivers a particular material experience: hardcover books were – and still are – made with quality and durability in mind, and were often marketed as something that required an armchair and time. Readers could feel the weight of the book in their hands, the texture of the quality paper, and would often have to slice pages apart to continue on. It required attention and demanded participation. The creation of the pulp paperback reimagined where and how people could read, transforming the industry. Created in 1939 by Robert de Graff, the pulp paperback exploded in popularity, not only because of its portable size and weight, but also because of how de Graff marketed and distributed the books: rather than focusing on traditional bookstores, de Graff’s Pocket Books were sold in train stations, grocery stores, cigar counters, and other highly frequented public spaces. Louis Menand’s article from a January 2015 issue of the New Yorker titled “Pulp’s Big Moment” outlines a comprehensive history of the pulp paperback, beginning with de Graff’s conceptualization of the form in the late 30s. His Pocket Books were sold alongside magazines, newspapers, and candy bars – people would buy them on a whim with their leftover change after buying cigarettes. Sold at twenty-five cents each, the books were cheaply produced and were not meant to withstand the test of time. Pulps were designed to fit on the same racks as magazines, and were treated similarly: “every so often, [the distributors] emptied the racks and installed a fresh supply” (Menand).

While books with paper covers have been around since at least the sixteenth century, it was de Graff’s distribution plan and his treatment of the book that lead to a skyrocket in sales. After eight weeks in the market, de Graff had sold three hundred and twenty-five thousand pulp paperbacks (Menand). Other pulp publishers quickly emerged, which included a Penguin office in America, and a publisher collaboration that created the Armed Services Editions: “double-columned paperbound books, trimmed to a size that slipped easily into the pocket of a uniform, and made to be thrown away after use” (Menand). The pulp paperback was a market disrupter, in a similar way that the vinyl record was for the music industry – or the internet was for businesses – in that it changed the culture of reading. While literary classics were reprinted in pulp paperback form – especially those that were out of copyright or were only previously published in Europe – it was the “low-brow” that dominated the pulp market: “This stuff was not trying to pass itself off as serious literature. It was a deliberately down-market product, comic books for grownups – pulp fiction” (Menand). Cover art was done cheaply in the same styles across genres, and often featured sensationalist imagery, leaving little distinction between J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye (1951) and Henry Kane’s Report for a Corpse (1949). While many traditional publishers and editors found the pulps to be “a bottom-feeding commercial phenomenon, like the pulp magazines and comic books they were distributed with,” (Menand), they did democratize the culture of reading in America, and their effects wouldn’t stop there.

From Pocket Books came Signet, Avon, Beacon, Dell, and others, including Anchor Books, an imprint of Doubleday. Anchor Books was the brainchild of Jason Epstein, who wanted cheaper editions of the quality literature that was still being made into hardcover books. These paperbacks, which were considered of a higher caliber than the pulps, were still sold at low enough prices that students could afford them. Soon, the paperback became the new normal, and the industry moved further away from the tactility and sensual quality of the traditional hardcover. Following the logic of the pulp paperback came the modern day e-reader, a device that is almost entirely removed from the material experience of the book. As Paula Rabinowitz describes in American Pulp: How Paperbacks Brought Modernism to Main Street, “paperbacks were dynamic media, akin to our digital world of interactive electronics” (Rabinowitz, 41). Pulps were transmedial in the way that they moved content across forms “and across sign systems and various media, seemingly before [their] time” (Rabinowitz, 42). They connected high culture to low, the private to the public, and yet were self-consciously disposable at the same time. Like the pulp, which could be thrown away or left on a bench after use with no great loss to the owner, the digital files of e-books can be “disposed” of just as easily. Files can be removed to free up more space, or they can disappear after a subscription runs out. In this way, the e-book has been designed in the image of the pulp, with ultimate portability and renewal as its key selling points: readers no longer need to stop and buy a book at the train station, they have hundreds of thousands of titles available to them on one platform at all times. While e-readers themselves are not disposable, the light, portable format mimics the small size of the pulp paperback, which is light enough to carry around without burden. Reading options are now limitless, and there is no need to wait for the wire racks to be refreshed. Literary classics within the public domain can be easily found for cheap or free online, though the genres that still sell the most are those that also dominated the pulp fiction market, like the thrillers, mysteries, romances, and the crime stories. The same stories that were available to readers in the 30s and 40s in pulp paperbacks are now available as e-books: The Tall Dolores by Michal Avallone is available on Amazon for .99 cents; Kill the Boss Good-Bye by Peter Rabe can be found for $2.49; and And the Street Screamed Blue Murder by Jason Michel can be downloaded for free. Pulp paperbacks, which were sold for as low as 25 cents, generally only gave the author about a four percent royalty, which is about a penny per book, so even when they sold in the millions – like Grace Metalious’s Southern gothic Peyton Place which had sold ten million copies by 1966 – the author’s profit was low (Menand). With Amazon’s increased royalty rate of 70 percent for rights holders (the author or the publisher) on e-books priced at $2.99 or higher (“Royalty Options”), authors can make a considerable profit on books that sell into the thousands. Prices on pulps, paperback and e-book alike, have remained low, indicating that the perceived value of pulps have remained consistent over decades of changing media.

As the book has moved further and further away from being a valued tactile object, so has the importance of the visual cues of a traditional book. The pulp paperback did not need careful and thoughtful design, as the packaging was secondary to the content. Margins were tightened in order to fit more text on the page, and the reading experience was less mediated by the role of the paratext – the page numbers, half title pages, and other bits of information surrounding the content. Described by Gérard Genette in Paratexts as “the means by which a text makes a book of itself and proposes itself as such to its readers” (Genette, 261), the paratext has an even further diminished role in the e-book than in the pulp. Many e-readers don’t even display page numbers, and instead display the percentage of the book that has been read, or nothing at all. There are fewer and fewer cues to the reader that they are reading a book. This departure has been met with considerable resistance from many readers, in a similar way that the pulps were resisted, leading e-reader manufacturers to develop ways to make the experience more book-like. Elements of kitsch – like fake page texture and the illusion of turning pages – are an attempt to slowly ease the reader into the transition from printed page to digital screen. Johanna Drucker’s essay “The Virtual Codex from Page Space to E-space” describes the problem with this kitsch: “Electronic presentations often mimic the most kitsch elements of book iconography while the newer features of electronic functionality seem not to have found their place in the interface at all.” The struggle to catapult the e-book into popular usage often includes claims of increased interactivity and ease of use, with the insistence that the electronic version has vastly improved upon the reading experience. The ultimate irony lies in the struggle to make the e-reader more like a traditional book, when it should instead be embracing its formal differences. Rather than claiming an advantage over traditional forms of reading – or attempting to supersede them – it is more useful to consider e-books as an alternative, in the same way that pulps were: both emerged as new forms with an emphasis on accessibility and portability, but did not claim to improve upon or replace what already existed.

The transmedial movement from hardcover to pulp paperback to e-book is bound to result in some kind of loss: pulps have lost the sensual quality of traditional books, and e-books have abandoned the paratext. This is an act of “lossy” remediation, defined by Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin in their essay “Immediacy, Hypermediacy, and Remediation” as the transfer of content from one medium to another wherein something is lost. Bolter and Grusin describe this motion as one container emptying into another, resulting in some spillage. In the act of moving content from one medium to another – the transition of Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye from hardcover to pulp paperback, for instance – some things about the reading experience are lost along the way. Menand notes that when Salinger saw the 1953 Signet edition of The Catcher in the Rye – which depicted Holden Caulfield in Times Square with a man in the background soliciting a prostitute – he was furious. The cover – which also included the blurb “This unusual book may shock you, will make you laugh, and may break your heart – but you will never forget it!” (qtd. in Menand) – was designed to be sensationalist in order to appeal to the pulp audience, even if it inaccurately depicted the actual content of the book. Packaged as pure entertainment, the pulp version was misleading. This “lossy” remediation also happens with the creation of e-books, where the role of packaging is further diminished. With an e-reader, no one on the bus will know if you’re reading Joyce or E.L. James.

If something is inevitably lost in the process of remediation, can anything be gained by this process? While both pulp paperbacks and cheap e-books can be considered of low quality, this low quality results in an increase in speed. Hito Steyerl’s “In Defense of the Poor Image” discusses the qualities of poor images in film and art, but the same argument can be applied to book publishing. She argues “poor images are thus popular images – images that can be made and seen by the many…. The condition of the images speaks not only of countless transfers and reformatting, but also of the countless people who cared enough about them to convert them over and over again, to add subtitles, reedit, or upload them” (Steyerl). The cheap e-book, selling for one dollar on Amazon, exists because enough people cared about its content to take the time to upload it and share it, whether it be a literary classic long out of copyright or a pulpy romance. The poor image – the e-book and the pulp paperback – is merely a “reminder of its former visual self,” and its “aura is no longer based on the permanence of the ‘original,’ but on the transience of the copy” (Steyerl). If the e-book and the pulp paperback are of low quality, in terms of perceived value and tactile material, they are of high speed, “they are compressed and travel quickly” (Steyerl).

Pulps are no longer bound to paper books, and e-books are no longer bound to e-readers. If the two forms have merged, it is in the space where they have completely dematerialized, lost the smutty covers and the clunky kitsch of imitation in the intangible webs of the internet. E-books have become infinitely portable, emailable, uploadable, and downloadable. Websites like Adventure House Epubs, Futures Past Editions, and iPulpFiction offer hundreds of pulp titles available for download online. Then there are websites like archive.org and Project Gutenberg that list thousands of titles – literary, historical, and every other genre – that are available to be read online, without an e-reader. The effect of the pulp paperback on how we read is long lasting and evolving, and that influence is going nowhere fast.


Works Cited:

Bolter, Jay David and Richard Grusin. “Immediacy, Hypermediacy, and Remediation.” Remediation: Understanding New Media. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2000.

Drucker, Johanna. “The Virtual Codex from Page Space to E-space.” Book Arts Web. 2003. Web. 9 December 2015.

Genette, Gérard. “Introduction to the Paratext.” Paratexts: Thresholds of Interpretation. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press, 1997. Print.

Menand, Louis. “Pulp’s Big Moment.” The New Yorker. 5 January 2015. Web. 9 December 2015.

Rabinowitz, Paula. “Pulp as Interface.” American Pulp: How Paperbacks Brought Modernism to Main Street. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2014.

“Royalty Options.” Kindle: Direct Publishing. Web. 9 December 2015.

Steyerl, Hito. “In Defense of the Poor Image.” e-flux journal 10 (November 2009).



Pub 800

Maggie Zhao(Qinyu Zhao)


With the popularity of digital reading, people increasingly diversified ways of obtaining information, information cost is declining. Traditional publishing industry which earned profits by issuing material objects has become atrophy. Digital publishing is becoming a main  direction of development of the publishing industry. Meredith Corporation is one of the most successful representation in numerous publishing companies which are in the digital transition time.


Meredith Corporation has been committed to service journalism for more than 110 years. Meredith began in 1902 as an agricultural publisher. In 1924, the Company published the first issue of Better Homes and Gardens. The Company entered the television broadcasting business in 1948. Today, Meredith uses multiple media outlets-including broadcast television, print, digital, mobile, tablets, and video-to provide consumers with content they desire and to deliver the messages of our advertising and marketing partners.

Core ideas of Meredith

Today, the main source for Meredith’s revenue is advertising. That is to say, Meredith has gradually developed into a comprehensive media and marketing company. The company has been out of the profit model of traditional publishing company.

But it is worth noting that although Meredith changed the profit model, it does not change the core idea in the publishing industry: Content is king. Digital tools cannot change the existent precondition of the publishing industry—the demand for reading. And the premise of reading is content. Though the way of presenting information and people’s reading habits keep changing, the demand for content is consistent. Meredith never reduces the requirement of the quality of content. It insists that the company must provide practical information for audience and the magazine’s content must be able to help the audience to improve the quality of their lives. Even in advertising, Meredith also has a high standard of quality. They will have rigorous testing for all products which will advertise on their magazines.

The effort they make for the reliability of the advertising helps the company not only won a good reputation in readers but also won employees support and credence.

The other core idea of Meredith is “service”.

This idea is reflected in the audience at first. From publishing the first agricultural journal, Meredith always analyzes the market demand carefully and gets accurate market position. Different from the other magazines at that time which usually reported newsletter, novel, editor’s note and a variety of articles on politics, entertainment and tourism, Meredith never blindly follows suit. When other publishing companies focus on how to expand the audience and how to edit a content which can attract broad attention, Meredith went down a very different path which is intensive and distinct. In 1922, Meredith published magazine Fruit, Garden and Home and changed the name to Better Homes and Gardens in 1924. From that time, the company set its sights on domestic service and ushered in many female-driven publishing brands. Meredith locates its product customers in adult female definitely. It refined the target market and upheld “service” idea to make sure providing practical, useful and definite information which can help specific groups of audience to improve and increase their living quality. The choice of this path makes magazines of Meredith always lead the new fashion trend.

In the information age, the Internet shows its superiority of rapidly transmission but it also reveals its own defects—fragmentation of information. Furthermore, enormous amount of information interferes people’s ability to get useful massage while satisfy the information needs of people. What readers want now is not information itself but logical and systematic idea and content which is deep and thoughtful. In this situation, the role of media is changing. Media is not a tool which can provide information any more, but a tool which can help the audience process and screen out useful information. The “service” idea makes the advantage of Meredith more clearly in this age. On the one side, satisfying the requirement of a specific target market enables Meredith to have a fixed market share while controlling cost and decreasing the waste of resources. On the other side, the audience themselves is also an important resource. They improved the advertising value of the company and offer large amounts of data to help the company to understand the audience more deeply. Now, Meredith has established a database which has more than 80,000,000 audience data. This resource played a big role when Meredith selected the method and development direction in the digital transition.

The “service” idea is also reflected in advertisers. Meredith has realized in 1994 that the cost people get information will be lowered significantly and the revenue from magazine advertising and issuing material objects cannot support the development of the company in the future. They must enrich their own resource and achieve diversification of income. Therefore, Meredith also possesses a strategic marketing unit, Meredith 360°, which provides clients and their agencies with access to all of Meredith’s media platforms and capabilities, including print, television, digital, video, mobile, consumer events and custom marketing. Their team of creative and marketing experts delivers innovative solutions across multiple media channels that meet each client’s unique advertising and promotional requirements as well.

Development strategies in digital field:

Meredith found a suitable method to get into the digital field and insisted on extending the power of their brand and reaching it into multimedia platforms.

When deciding how to transform in digital form, Meredith did not choose the same way like most traditional publishing company that produce digital publications directly by using the same content in print publications. They selected website as their focal field. Theoretically, producing digital magazines which can be based on printed magazines will be the simplest way for the digitizing process. Nonetheless, Meredith thought about greater long-term goals. Meredith analyzed the characteristics of the audience first and combined them with the characteristics of their brand. They believed that the real authority of the media industry is the audience. The audience can choose the time, place and manner of getting information.  Thinking from the perspective of the consumer made Meredith to adapt to the audience’s needs and won their support. Since website has multiple display forms like picture, text and video, it became the best choice for Meredith.

Today, Meredith has built the Meredith women’s network which including 25 different websites with 3 languages. There is more than 45,000,000 times visiting every month. Meredith classified these websites into four groups. It is easy for the audience to browse different websites in one group for more comprehensive information. The following are the groups:

MEREDITH BEAUTY:  Fitness Magazine, Shape, Martha Stewart Weddings, My wedding, Divine Caroline, More, Siempre Mujer

MEREDITH HOME:  Better Homes and Gardens, Martha Stewart, Midwest Living, Traditional Home, All People Quilt, DIY Advice, Home and Family

ALLRECIPES:  Allrecipes.com, Recipe.com, Eating Well, Rachael Ray Magazine, Diabetic Living, Eat This, Not That!

PARENTS:  Parents, Parenting, Family Circle, Fit Pregnancy, Ser Padres

Except websites, Meredith also developed 22 different APP for food, parenting and home respectively. They had been downloaded about 25,000,000 times. These digital products provide diversified and informative content for the audience and help the company not only keep old readers who read the printed magazine but also attract a lot of new readers who use the new technique.

Through website and other technology platform, Meredith strengthened the link with their audience, raised the brand awareness, recognition and authority. It reached broader markets and achieved the goal of growing up to be  an international media platform.

Meredith also has a strategy that developing interactive experience based on the characteristics of the brand.

The goal of this strategy is serving audience. Compared with traditional publishing, one of the biggest merits of digital publishing is the increase of interactivity. Meredith used the superiority of internet(its interactivity) and the combined contents, tools and technology for giving the audience a rich multi-sensory reading experience. In this process, audiences are not merely receivers of information but also participators. For example, in www.bhg.com, the website of the most successful magazine of Meredith Better Homes and Gardens, Audience not only can learn how to organize their home and garden through sketch, text and video, buy the printed magazine online, even can buy gifts and serveware in the online shop. They can also follow the Twitter and Facebook to share their ideas with others. Through offering high quality of interactive experience, Meredith improved its impact in digital publishing field and promoted sales of magazines and other products. In addition, from the marketing perspective, interactivity can reflect what audience feel and think more directly and efficiently. It can help the company adjust marketing strategy and change the marketing way quickly. Through finding new feature of audience and receiving feedback in interactive environments, Meredith has constantly found inventive ways to hold and attract the audience. It enhances the brand value as well. Undoubtedly, this comprehensive, high quality interactive experience supplies guarantees for Meredith to fit the digital environment.


The success of the digital transition of Meredith Corporation benefited from the core ideas and right development strategies. In the way of transition, Meredith did not follow others blindly but found its market position exactly and use its advantages.  Using which way is more suitable for the audience as a starting point, the company tries hard to explore and expand the way of thinking, make itself more professional, authoritative and convenient, make its products and contents more suitable for new media forms.





Meredith 2015 Annual Report. http://ir.meredith.com/annual-reports.cfm

Meredith 2014 Annual Report. http://ir.meredith.com/annual-reports.cfm

Meredith 2013Annual Report. http://ir.meredith.com/annual-reports.cfm

Meredith 2012Annual Report. http://ir.meredith.com/annual-reports.cfm





The Surprising Comeback of the Travel Guidebook

In an age when content is increasingly being digitized, with more traditional print formats of publications being cast aside in favour of online, user-friendly ones, the future of certain industry staples, such as the travel guidebook, is uncertain. Once a necessity when travelling to an unfamiliar destination in the pre-Internet era, it’s easy to see why the traditional print guide can now be seen as cumbersome and unnecessary. When any practical information you need is at your fingertips with a light-as-air smartphone, why would any traveller in their right mind lug around a dense, weighty guidebook (some of which clock in at a hefty 1,000 pages), whose information is limited and may or may not even be current? And, unlike other books—novels, coffee table books, cookbooks—the travel guidebook is one that dates rapidly. It can be argued that while you may have novels on your bookshelf that date back twenty years yet still have value, who is likely to keep that dusty, stained copy of Fodor’s Affordable France, 1993?

In the beginning years of the recession, Nielsen BookScan reported that “sales of travel guides plummeted 41%…more than twice as steeply as book sales overall” (Marcus, 2015). And, in 2012, “US sales from the five principal travel series that hold 80% of the market tumbled from more than $125 million in 2007 to $78 million in 2012.” With the addition of increasing competition from ever-growing travel websites and apps, does this combination of factors signify the death knell for the traditional travel guidebook? Surprisingly, this does not appear to be the case. Despite the many reasons why the travel guidebook in its print form should be in decline, it has actually enjoyed an increase (albeit a small one) in sales over the past year.

In the past year, it was reported that sales of place guides (defined as “carry-along travel books other than travelogues and memoirs”) rose by nearly 3 percent, with some individual titles increasing by even more. There are several proposed reasons for this small but surprising renaissance which will be explored here. One proposed reason for the increase is the simple fact that people are travelling more. According to the US Department of Commerce, “travel increased nearly 10 percent…and 80 percent of that was for leisure and not business” (Marcus 2015). More people travelling, more people buying guidebooks…it makes sense.

However, it has also been argued that there must be some additional factor at play behind this recent upsurge in sales of guidebooks—a newfound nostalgia for what was once considered an iconic symbol of travel, perhaps, by a generation who remembers the heyday of the guidebook in the 1980s and ‘90s. Interestingly, the average age of the American vacationer last year was 45—the “generation that carried Lonely Planet or Let’s Go in its backpacks and now slips Fodor’s into its rollaway bags” (Marcus 2015).

Lorraine Shanley, the former editorial director at HarperCollins and current principal at Market Partners International, which follows the book industry, uses the analogy of cookbooks to explain why consumers may be more willing to splash out on a guidebook rather than solely accessing information on a location digitally (Marcus 2015). People can easily Google any recipe under the sun, yet they still buy cookbooks (whose sales, incidentally, are on the up), because “[they] have favourite authors and want to buy everything by that author.” This branding effect also extends to travel guidebooks, Shanley argues; “[t]he emotional relationship between the reader and the travel book is like the emotional relationship between a reader and a favourite cookbook author: It summons up a lifestyle to which you have an attachment.” With a niche publication for every type of traveller (Fodor’s and Rick Steves for the more mature; Lonely Planet for the adventurous; Let’s Go for the young backpacker), it’s easy to see how people can grow attached to a brand that specifically caters to their “kind” of travel and anticipates what information will be most important and relevant to them about a destination.

As Peter Jon Lindberg of Travel + Leisure notes, “when the enormity of the digital world overwhelms, guidebooks offer something else: the sweet relief of being able to stop” (Lindberg 2013). In an age where information is so readily accessible and “the Web too often devolves into an infinite series of questions—since a whole different answer is just another click away,” there is almost a certain comfort in having all the basic information you’ll need on a location in one sturdy, tangible package. A guidebook is “blessedly, reassuringly finite: a closed loop, a finished product, providing only answers.” And, of course, there is also the question of what happens when you’re in a location with limited Wifi access? For Lindberg, a trip to Zambia was survivable thanks to a 1.2-pound, 550-page Bradt guide to the country.

It has also been noted that at a time when the “novelty is off online reviews” as Piers Pickard, publisher of Lonely Planet puts it, and people are starting to grow weary of the sheer volume of opinions out there, it can be comforting to have an expert’s voice guide you through an unfamiliar destination. Travellers are savvy, and “while there is a glut of free online information available to [them], the realization has settled in that just because it’s free doesn’t mean it’s worthwhile” (Howard 2015). According to Pickard, the “new media isn’t so new anymore and people are finding the medium that suits them best…and lots of people are deciding that books are for them.” A book is reliable; a “great piece of technology that’s been working for a long time” (Marcus 2015).

Lonely Planet’s former director Eric Kettunen adds that while the “ease at which travellers could access destination content online, especially ‘perishable’ info like rates at hotels, prices at restaurants, etc.” likely contributed to the significant decrease in sales of guidebooks over the past few years, the recent resurgence is probably because travellers have begun to realize that there is “also a need for well researched information” written by an expert in the field, not just another fellow traveller with an opinion.

While the future of the travel guidebook industry as we know it may be uncertain, it looks like the traditional guide will be here to stay for a little while yet, with many travellers finding that a mix of print and digital is what works best for them while travelling. Amanda D’Acierno, SVP and publisher of Fodor’s claims that “there’s nothing like having a print guidebook on the ground in a destination—no roaming charges or worrying about battery.” At the same time, she notes that “print guidebooks and digital resources work in tandem,” and that at Fodor’s, ebook editions of guidebooks are published simultaneously or before print editions, allowing travellers to have access to the most up-to-date information. And at Avalon Travel, publisher Bill Newlin notes that technology has served to enhance the overall travel experience for readers of Avalon’s ebook editions, which contain features such as hyperlinked content listings and pan-and-zoom maps (Howard 2015).

Kettunen also notes that after a few years of being shunned in favour of the exhaustive content to be found online, “the physical guide has figured out how to coexist with a world full of free, digital information” (Howard 2015). While online content is useful for checking up on “perishable” information that is constantly changing, there is the additional desire to have an expert’s guiding voice serve as a grounding, authoritative voice in a sea of endless opinions.

Additionally, in recent years, there has been a rise in the production of the aesthetically pleasing guidebook, an item that has taken on a certain collectable quality. Phaidon’s Wallpaper guides, for example—slim, pocket-size city guides that come in a rainbow array of colours—may not contain an extensive amount of information on their destinations, but they inspire in the traveller a desire to “collect” them all. What could be more visually pleasing and satisfying, after all, then a shelf of brightly hued books serving as a physical representation of all the places you’ve been?



Similarly, the LUXE city guides, with their attractive, patterned covers, appeal to a traveller who is drawn to not just the contents of the guide, but its aesthetically pleasing appearance, too. Promoting themselves as “the travel industry’s snappiest, sassiest and most stylish destination companion” (www.luxecollaborations.com), the Hong Kong-based publisher has carved out a niche for itself as the go-to travel guide for a certain type of traveller—one who is sophisticated, in-the-know, and likes their travel guidebooks concise and colourful.



And even those guidebooks that are not particularly visually pleasing still serve as “a nostalgic presence” on a bookshelf according to Pickard. “You take the book with you on the trip, you make notes on the margin, you look at the cover photograph every single day until you get bored with it, and it comes back dog-eared with a coffee stain on page 200 and a wine stain on page 56…we know people love that, and that’s going to continue for a long time.”


Howard, Samantha. “Technology and the Travel Guide.” Publishing Trends. 23 June 2015. Web. 7 Dec. 2015. http://www.publishingtrends.com/2015/06/technology-and-the-travel-guide/

Lindberg, Peter Jon. “Are Guidebooks Dead?”. Travel & Leisure. 24 July 2013. Web. 6 Dec. 2015. http://www.travelandleisure.com/articles/are-guidebooks-dead

Marcus, Jon. “Are travel guidebooks making a comeback?”. Boston Globe. 30 May 2015. Web. 6 Dec. 2015.


What Wattpad Brings to the Publishing Table

What Wattpad Brings to the Publishing Table

Monica Miller | 9 December 2015 | PUB 800, Fall 2015 | Simon Fraser University, Master of Publishing


It seems every few months there is another story about a self-published author getting a huge book deal, or being optioned for a movie—Hugh Howey, Amanda Hocking, and E.L. James are just a few names that come to mind. But these authors, however they got their start, intentionally went the self-published route, charging a fee (sometimes nominal) for their stories. The story is decidedly different for Anna Todd, Beth Reekles, Ali Novak, and Natasha Preston, all of whom got their start on Wattpad, sharing their stories for free. These writers didn’t begin with the intention of self-publishing, just self-expression. Although Wattpad was pre-smartphone (started in late 2006), the co-founders “picked up on two phenomena: the explosive growth of mobile, and the rise of user-generated content and social media” (Gardner, International Publisher Association). This intersection of social media with storytelling has struck a chord among young readers, and Wattpad grew with technological developments, instead of resisting against them. millenials-wattpadNow, Wattpad asserts that 78% of their 40 million users are Millenials and Gen Z (Wattpad for Business), a demographic typically considered hard to reach. Yet Wattpad is leveraging their audience to gain investors and monetizing through native advertising and brand partnerships, and traditional publishers have begun to pay attention.

Despite being an elusive target for book marketing, Millenials are actually reading more, but they are also reading differently, according to fellow Master of Publishing student Sarah Corsie (2015). To engage Millenials, material needs to be instantly engaging and easily digestible. Wattpad employs this with a serialized form to emphasizes the narrative, instead of a reverse-chronology typically found with news sites and blogs. Writing for the New York Times, David Streitfeld likened Wattpad authors Anna Todd and Rebecca Sky to Charles Dickens and Alexandre Dumas who fueled the 19th century reader’s desire for serialized fiction (Streitfeld, 23 March 2014). Splitting stories into bite-size chapters also creates engagement as Wattpadders need not wait two years until the writer has finished the book, they can get updates instantly—as push notifications to their phone in fact. The serialized format also works seamlessly with mobile devices, which account for 85% of Wattpad’s traffic. US visitors rank the highest, but Wattpad is also the number one website in the Philippines, with large user bases in Turkey, Mexico, and India. Gardner accounts this to the high mobile device penetration rate as well as high literacy rates among the younger population (Gardner, personal communication, 24 Nov 2015).

Doom & Gloom

This all seems like positive developments and data. So what’s the problem? Media and the publishing industry frequently view each new start-up and player as a threat to the traditional publishing landscape. The concern is that the size of the publishing “pie” is shrinking as the players in the publishing world merge—publishers, distributors, and tech companies alike. Then the slices available for other players, such as start-ups and tech-based companies, get smaller and smaller. “This notion of a ‘‘limited pie’’ shapes a lot of our thinking about books, eBooks, digital formats, subscription models, fan fiction, independent publishing, copyright terms and more”, says Brian O’Leary (2014). While fear is understandable in an industry with such small margins and such a long tail, this idea of new players being a threat is doing a disservice to publishers. “Belief in a static or a shrinking pie puts us on defense, inclined to protect core aspects of traditional models. We think about new entrants and platforms taking share from existing publishers, retailers and others” (O’Leary, 2014). Where in fact, these platforms are creating new opportunities. It should be acknowledged that in some ways these new entrants are competing with publishers, but it’s mostly for what all forms of entertainment are competing for—attention.

According to PEW Research Centre, in terms of general entertainment and media consumption, “93% of respondents under age 30 listen to music, the radio, or a podcast in some format on a daily or near-daily basis, compared with 78% of those 30 and older” (Zickuhr & Rainie, 2014). Business models have had to adapt and expand, although online monetization is frequently uncertain. Online monetization doesn’t simply mean getting users to pay for content anymore. Publishers have begun to place more emphasis on discovery—page views, content engagement, likes, shares, comments, click-through rates—which is also tied to the communities of readers and the author’s platform. “In this environment, the market for reading may be expanding significantly, but the gains are seen almost entirely outside the prevailing supply chain. Fixed on the creation, management and sale of physical and digital objects, publishers view other forms of writing and reading as potential threats to their established markets.” (O’Leary, 2014). O’Leary argues that “rather than see new platforms and business models as competition, publishers should explore ways to engage with companies and communities that can help us understand and offer new sources and uses of what was once just book content”—what he calls an ‘‘architecture of collaboration” (2014).

There is doom and gloom everywhere you look in the publishing industry: “indie booksellers are shutting up shop, authors struggle to make a living, and more than 60% of 18-to-30-year-olds would rather watch a DVD than get their nose in a book” (Rankin, 6 April 2014). But for every report saying that literacy and reading for pleasure is declining among youth, there are just as many claiming the opposite. In 2014, PEW Research Centre reported that “younger Americans under age 30 are more likely than those 30 and older to report reading a book (in any format) at least weekly (67% vs 58%)” (Zickuhr & Rainie, 2014). This is corroborated by Wattpad’s own stats of 11 billion minutes on Wattpad every month with 85% accessing from a mobile device (Wattpad About). Why then do Millenials get such a bad rap when it comes to reading? Looking at BookNet Canada research, perhaps it’s that many teens are reading on their smartphones, and most parents and teens do not consider apps as another kind of reading activity, although both believe that it depends on the app (25 Nov 2013).

The Smartphone Generation

“The criticism and misconceptions about Millennials is merely a time-honored tradition of the older generation critiquing the young” (Cox, 2014). Writing for Wired, Clive Thompson details the critiques against Generation Xers in the 90s. These individuals are now in their forties and fifties, slinging the same types of “lazy” and “illiterate” comments at Millenials. “The real pattern here isn’t any big cultural shift. It’s a much more venerable algo­rithm: How middle-aged folks freak out over niggling cultural differences between themselves and twentysomethings.” (Thompson, 2014). Thompson is well known for boldly going against technological doomsayers, instead proposing that although technology changes the way we think, it’s not a big bad wolf that media pundits make it out to be. In his book, Smarter Than You Think (2013), Thompson argues that the internet allows for new forms of human cognition; we learn and read more, retain a ton of information, and engage with global audiences and ideas. Thompson calls this the “audience effect”, how every thread of conversation—be it Twitter, Instagram, texting, or vlogging—shapes our cognition and connects collective ideas (17 September 2013). Gardner calls it a “mobile campfire” where readers share reactions and speculate on future plot twists, similar to other fan communities like ComiCons (Gardner, personal communication, 24 Nov 2015).

This concept of thinking in public is similar to notions of collective intelligence, or collaborative thinking, whereby sharing ideas we can develop our thoughts and cooperatively address problems too big for us individually. It is also the principle behind participatory media, whereby regular people help create and shape the cultural artefacts they consume. In fact, Thompson feels that focusing on individual writers and thinkers is unintentionally limiting. “The fact that so many of us are writing — sharing our ideas, good and bad, for the world to see — has changed the way we think. Just as we now live in public, so do we think in public. And that is accelerating the creation of new ideas and the advancement of global knowledge.” (Thompson, 2013).

Stating it explicitly seems unnecessary because of how familiar the concept is to us, we have already internalized it. The very structure and nature of the internet seems to enhance and encourage this form of collective thinking. Media scholars call these spaces “networked publics”—public spaces that have been restructured by networked technologies like the internet (boyd, 2014). Networked publics—both mediated and unmediated—deeply effect the content created and the imagined community of people identified within this public. Networked publics are publics both in the spatial sense and in the sense of an imagined community … built on and through social media and other emergent technologies,” danah boyd explains in her book It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens (2014). By calling yourself a “Wattpadder” or a “YouTuber”, you are identifying and aligning yourself with that community. People can be part of multiple publics; these publics intersect and intertwine based on audiences, interests, and geography. “Social media creates networked publics that allow people to see themselves as a part of a broader community” (boyd, 2014, pg.11). Wattpad taps in to this collective intelligence of a networked public, harnessing the audience effect through inline commenting, update notifications, and recommendation algorithms. These affordances are also what makes Wattpad so appealing to mobile-savvy users, as well as the participatory nature of the media.

Revenue & Monetization

Wattpad has been growing since 2006, yet it still is free for users to read and write; it has a huge portion of young users, and a growing global audience. “The Wattpad story was slow to build, but has turned into something of a page-turner in recent months. Raising more than $20 million in two rounds of [venture capital] funding will do that.” (Powell, 24 July 2013). One such investor is Union Square Ventures, which has funded other tech start-ups such as Foursquare, Tumblr, and Twitter. For those unfamiliar with entrepreneurial startups, this concept of venture capital can sound precarious. But according to the Harvard Business Review, it’s actually fairly common, following government grants and corporate support. “Where venture money plays an important role is in the next stage of the innovation life cycle—the period in a company’s life when it begins to commercialize its innovation. We estimate that more than 80% of the money invested by venture capitalists goes into building the infrastructure required to grow the business—in expense investments (manufacturing, marketing, and sales) and the balance sheet (providing fixed assets and working capital).” (Zider, 1988).

Besides venture capital, Wattpad’s revenue comes mostly from advertising, whether it be brand partnerships or traditional display ads. But co-founder Allen Lau doesn’t see monetization as a challenge: “Look at Twitter or Facebook, it’s critical in the early stage to focus on user growth rather than monetization. If you flip the switch too early it hampers user growth. I’m a firm believer that when you have a billion users there will be a million ways to make money” (Casey, 24 June 2013).

Currently, the partnerships with brands is proving to be highly successful. Wattpad is harnessing many of these talented young writers for the Wattpad Stars program. This is one important way that Wattpad is monetizing its platform. A company or brand can pay Wattpad to develop native advertising, which they claim is “30 [times] more effective than traditional display ads as they integrate directly into stories”. The program connects writers with companies and brands, “giving wattpad-native-adsthem the chance to earn money while writing new stories that support brand goals and engage Wattpadders” (Wattpad Stars). One case study highlighted on the site is with 20th Century Fox for The Fault In Our Stars movie, with a dedicated profile and special stories written by Wattpad Stars. The campaign reached more than 8 million readers who spent more than 4.6 million minutes engaging with the content (Case Study, Wattpad for Business). This type of digital ad spending is expected to surpass traditional television advertising by 2017 (Ember, 7 Dec 2015).

In personal correspondence, Ashleigh Gardner explained that the monetary compensation for the writer is based on two components: the copy and the influence. For example, “a writer with 500,000 followers will be paid more than one with 50,000 followers to write the same length. The writer retains all money for this, unless they have an agreement with a third party, such as their agent.” Although not disclosing any specific amounts, Gardner is quick to point out that this amount is “far higher than industry standards – and in many cases can be more than an advance on a book for a short story of 10,000 words.” (Gardner, personal communication, 8 Dec 2015). The stories are clearly delineated as “Promoted Content”, but by using writers with existing clout on Wattpad, readers trust it will entertain them. Having grown up with pervasive advertising online, Millenials are skeptical and tend to prefer engagement based around genuine experiences.

But What About Publishers?

Mike Shatzkin has long affirmed that the publishing world is being deeply influenced by big tech companies, and “that doesn’t just mean the obvious one, Amazon, which is almost every book publisher’s biggest trading partner. It means Facebook and Google, which have become perhaps our primary marketing mechanisms. And, of course, it also means Apple, which has become the second-leading ebook provider to Amazon.” (Shatzkin, 27 Nov 2015). These four companies—Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google—are what Scott Galloway calls the “Four Horsemen” (Shatzkin, 27 Nov 2015), likening these tech companies to biblical disasters. “The book business is a cork floating on a digital device stream. We don’t control our environment. We must keep adapting to what bigger players, some of which have pretty minimal bandwidth to engage us in a dialogue and pretty minimal interest in what’s best from our point of view, see as the best strategy for them” (Shatzkin, 2011).

But this publishing-centric view of four major players negatively impacts the perception of other techno-based companies. Malik, writing enthusiastically about Medium.com, stated that “as traditional media outlets have had to deal with grim reality of webonomics, the slack is being picked up by non-traditional and newer platforms.” (Malik, 7 Oct 2014). Although Malik was referring to the voicing of technology stories, not just news reporting, by fresher and younger writers, the sentiment can be applied to many creative industries. Companies that are not as heavy-handed and marketshare-hogging as the Four Horsemen, such as Wattpad, Medium, or BitLit, are able to cultivate a position in the media landscape.

Wattpad authors at Target

It is a common misconception that Wattpad needs traditional publishers. Ala Serafin, a 2014 Master of Publishing student wrote, “the relationship between Wattpad and traditional publishers is truly symbiotic and interdependent … Wattpad depends on traditional publishers to inspire readers to use their website … the hope of attaining profit and stardom by signing a deal with a traditional publisher gives users an incentive to write on Wattpad and create engaging content, which in turn attracts readers to the site” (Serafin, 2014). This statement is flawed as it comes from the false conclusion that Wattpadders are interested in being so-called “Real Authors”.

In communications from the company itself, Wattpad employees such as Gardner attest that it is about self-expression, not self-publishing (Gardner, personal communication, 24 Nov 2015). Wattpad even dubbed itself the “YouTube of Stories” (Powell, 24 July 2013) to help the media understand that they were different from Kindle Worlds (authorized fan fiction) or SmashWords (self-published ebooks). Gardner explained in several podcasts that just like Instagram users don’t see themselves as professional photographers, Wattpadders are not aspiring novelists. The attention and instant feedback from “likes” and comments are what inspire users to write these stories.

With an unfettered access to audiences and no editorial gatekeepers, Wattpad is in a unique position to see emerging trends and genres that are underrepresented in traditional publishing, such as “urban fiction”. The unique author-reader exchanges are also attracting established authors, many of whom experiment and connect with readers over new genres, such as Margaret Atwood, Scott Westerfeld, and Cory Doctorow. “The traditional publishing industry is watching Wattpad closely, not only as a source of new talent but also for techniques to increase reader engagement (Streitfeld, 24 March 2014). Westerfeld’s 2005 book, Uglies has been posted on Wattpad for free, using a traditional marketing technique of giving away something older to entice customers to purchase the newer items.

Wattpad—although holding a large market of 40 million users—is not a threat to traditional (or mainstream) publishing. In fact, Wattpad has become a partner for publishers, with companies like Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, and Sourcebooks all signing book deals with authors who go their start on Wattpad. It is through partnerships and agenting deals such as this that Wattpad is demonstrating its worth and use to the publishing industry, as a discovery tool and the development of a writer’s platform.



n.a. (n.d.). Wattpad About. Retrieved from https://www.wattpad.com/about

n.a. (n.d.). Wattpad for Business. Retrieved from http://business.wattpad.com/

n.a. (n.d.). Wattpad Stars program. Retrieved from https://www.wattpad.com/writers/stars.html

BookNet Canada. (25 Nov 2013). “Reading, Apps, and the Modern Kid” Retrieved from http://www.booknetcanada.ca/blog/2013/11/25/reading-apps-and-the-modern-kid.html

boyd, danah. (2014) It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens. Yale University Press. Retrieved from http://www.danah.org/books/ItsComplicated.pdf

Casey, Quentin. (24 June 2013). “How Toronto’s Wattpad is handling the challenges that come with fast growth”. Financial Post. Retrieved from http://business.financialpost.com/entrepreneur/torontos-wattpad-aims-to-be-the-youtube-of-online-publishing

Corsie, Sarah (9 Dec 2015). “Millennials, Libraries, & the Internet: A Long-Term Outlook for the Short-Term Attention Spantkbr [PUB 800]. Simon Fraser University, Master of Publishing. Retrieved from http://tkbr.publishing.sfu.ca/pub800/2015/12/millennials-libraries-the-internet-a-long-term-outlook-for-the-short-term-attention-span/

Cox, Erin L. (October 2014). “Designing Books for Tomorrow’s Readers: How Millennials Consume Content” [Whitepaper]. Publishing Technology. Retrieved from http://www.publishingtechnology.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/White-Paper-How-Millennials-Consume-Content.pdf

Ember, Sydney (7 Dec 2015). “Digital Ad Spending Expected to Soon Surpass TV”. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://mobile.nytimes.com/2015/12/07/business/media/digital-ad-spending-expected-to-soon-surpass-tv.html

International Publisher’s Association (19 Mar 2015). “Wattpad’s 40 million readers create opportunities for publishers”. Retrieved from http://www.internationalpublishers.org/market-insights/trends-and-innovation/286-wattpad-s-40-million-readers-creates-big-opportunities-for-publishers

Malik, Om. (7 Oct 2014). “Backchannel”. Om.co. Retrieved from http://om.co/2014/10/07/backchannel-steven-levy-medium/

O’Leary, Brian F. (2014) “An Architecture of Collaboration”. Pub Res Q 30:313–322

Powell, Chris. (24 July 2013). “How One Direction helped make Wattpad a bestseller” Marketing Mag. Retrieved from http://www.marketingmag.ca/media/how-one-direction-helped-make-wattpad-a-bestseller-84417

Rankin, Jennifer. (6 April 2014). “Tom Weldon: ‘Some say publishing is in trouble. They are completely wrong’” The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/apr/06/london-book-fair-penguin-random-house-tom-weldon

Serafin, Ala (2014). “How Wattpad Will Help Save Trade Publishing”. tkbr [PUB 800]. Simon Fraser University, Master of Publishing. Retrieved from http://tkbr.publishing.sfu.ca/pub800/2014-fall-essays/how-wattpad-will-help-save-trade-publishing/

Streitfeld, David. (24 March 2014).  “Web Fiction, Serialized and Social”. New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/24/technology/web-fiction-serialized-and-social.html

Thompson, Clive. (17 Sept 2013) “Why Even the Worst Bloggers Are Making Us Smarter” [Book Excerpt]. Wired. Retrieved from http://www.wired.com/2013/09/how-successful-networks-nurture-good-ideas-2/

Thompson, Clive. (31 Jan 2014). “Congrats, Millennials. Now It’s Your Turn to Be Vilified.” Wired. Retrieved from http://www.wired.com/2014/01/thompson_generation/

Shatzkin, Mike. (17 Nov 2015). “Big focus at DBW 2016 on the tech companies that are shaping the world the book business has to live in”. Idealog. Retrieved from http://www.idealog.com/blog/big-focus-at-dbw-2016-on-the-tech-companies-that-are-shaping-the-world-the-book-business-has-to-live-in/

Shatzkin, Mike. (24 July 2011). “Publishing is living in a world not of its own making”. Idealog. Retrieved from http://www.idealog.com/blog/publishing-is-living-in-a-world-not-of-its-own-making/

Zickuhr, Kathryn & Rainie, Lee. (10 September 2014). “Younger Americans’ Reading Habits and Technology Use.” Pew Research Center. Retrieved from http://www.pewinternet.org/2014/09/10/younger-americans-reading-habits-and-technology-use/

Zider, Bob. (Nov-Dec 1988) “How Venture Capital Works” Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/1998/11/how-venture-capital-works

(Copy)Rights for Everyone

Copyright law has evolved over several hundred years, shifting and developing as technologies and social environments have changed. However, until recently, those changes have come slowly and in response to continuous innovation, or gradual enhancements of existing technologies. With the introduction and proliferation of digital technologies and the internet, however, this is no longer the case (Shear, 2010). Change has come rapidly and legislation has not been able to keep pace. This has resulted in a system of governance being applied to a digital realm that it was never designed to manage. While necessity has demanded this and there have been reforms, the situation is fraught and uncertain. However, in that uncertainty lies an opportunity. One of the biggest evolutions in copyright in the past has been a shift away from balancing stakeholder interests to a system that prioritises the interests of rights holders, which has significant consequences for users. But the current upheaval could prove to be the catalyst for a return to the balance that was once envisioned.

Before exploring that balance, it is important to understand why the current concept of copyright is facing difficulties. At the heart of the legal principle is the right to create and use copies of a work. Stokes (2014) explains copyright as the “right the law gives authors/creators and those taking ownership from them to control the copying and other forms of exploitation of their creations or ‘works’.” This principle dates back to the early 18th century (Cohen & Rosenzweig, 2005) and for as long as creating a copy of a work has been a labour-intensive process, where a physical object must be created, it has been fairly easily controlled, even as printing became faster and easier over time. But digital information communication technologies, in particular the internet, have taken faster and easier to previously unimagined heights. Now, creating a perfect copy of content is as easy as clicking a button (Khan, 2015). What is more, the ease of creation of copies is deeply embedded in the nature of digital work and production. A recent case before the Canadian Supreme Court demonstrated this, as well as the controversy that it causes, as a Quebec based copyright collective sued the CBC for compensation for incidental copies of music that were created as a by-product of their production technologies, though only one copy was ever broadcast (Geist, 2015).

This highlights a fundamental issue in the application of traditional copyright to the digital arena. It is unreasonable to expect a system largely based on the control of creating copies to manage the scale of copying now possible. However, it is still important to have some measure of protection for creators and rights holders as they act as an incentive to produce (Liu, 2001). Khan (2015) suggests that we should be trying to build an infrastructure that both works with copyright and takes advantage of the digital environment. One forward-thinking way to achieve this would be to focus developing user rights, the other half of the copyright equation, that maximise the potential of digital technologies, rather than devoting time and resources to policing reproduction, which is now arguably uncontrollable, but this has thus far not been a high priority. Indeed, the panic over what digital means for rights holders has seen them clamp down further on user rights, taking them beyond what has ever been applied to physical copies of a work.

Liu (2001) illustrates this with the example of a physical book that, once purchased, he may not reproduce by photocopying, but can read as often as he likes, lend to a friend or even sell. All of these are activities restricted or forbidden with digital products through digital rights management (DRM). He points out that current copyright rights are “limited by our conventional understandings about physical personal property” and so when products cease to be tangible, the rules fail. What results is uncertainty of what rights a user has over the binary code stored on their hard drive that makes up a digital product; an uncertainty that is exploited by rights holders who have the ability to restrict use through, somewhat ironically, digital means. Once again, there is an inconsistency between convention and the contemporary environment (Yu, 2011). If a ‘work’ is no longer a tangible product, the system of copyright is built on a faulty assumption.

However, this uncertainty is somewhat handy for users as well.  Much of the restriction of use, outside of using DRM to lock up content (to varying degrees of success), is managed by enforcement only, requiring active policing by rights holders. This means that with guidance provided by the expansive wording of fair use or fair dealing exception clauses (Geist, 2012) it is easy to fly under the radar without much risk of repercussions, especially if the use of copyrighted material is for non-commercial purposes (Cohen & Rosenzweig, 2005). The difference between fair use and infringement is not always clear (Shear, 2010), though, and the biggest problems arise when enforcement is pursued, which can result in a myriad of outcomes, from the mild (taking down on a clip on YouTube), to the sinister, in the case of Aaron Swartz, who committed suicide after being prosecuted for fraud after downloading large numbers of academic articles from JSTOR.

A good news story in the arena is the recent result in the Authors’ Guild v. Google Books case where the US 2nd Circuit appeals court ruled that Google creating digital copies of books to provide a search function is covered under fair use provisions (Anderson, 2015). This is certainly encouraging progress and sets a significant precedent, but it is important to note that it took nearly a decade to reach this point, and another appeal has been indicated. Only a company of considerable size and resources could sustain such a battle. The risk of a lawsuit is a serious disincentive for other people and organisations who might feel they are edging into a grey area where they may or may not be covered by fair use or fair dealing exceptions. Cohen and Rosenzweig (2005) discuss this in the context of universities who, after a ruling against a commercial copy shop making course packs for students, are reluctant to rely on fair use grounds for producing course materials. This was a more traditional copyright issue at the time, but the implications are clear for more contemporary scenarios, such as uploading content to course websites.

Fortunately, reforms in Canada have given stronger protections to the use of copyrighted materials for teaching and research (Geist, 2012), but Cohen and Rosenzweig (2005) also raise the point that what might be legal in one country could very easily be illegal elsewhere, which is significant. There are no clear geographic lines when it comes to the online world, yet another unprecedented phenomenon. While something may be allowed under fair use in the country in which, for example, a blogger resides, the website they post to might be hosted in another country, and as the data passes from the blogger’s computer to the server, it may pass through a third country, and then it might be accessed by a reader in a fourth. In this sense it would be sensible to take a more global approach and aim to have copyright legislation achieve some consistency across borders. There is currently an initiative before the European Parliament that would harmonise copyright laws EU-wide with more of a focus on user rights and the promotion of creativity and innovation (Reda, n.d., Richmond, 2015). This has been met with support from the public and many copyright experts, but resistance from within Parliament due to industry lobbying. Another effort towards internationalisation is the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), which would see twelve signees synchronise their copyright laws. However, the proposed system is heavily influenced by the American system which holds commercial interests before all others, and would see countries like Canada and New Zealand lose millions of dollars through things like an extension to the term of copyright, and employ them as a policing agent for the US (Geist, 2015).

Clearly, there are deep conflicts between traditional copyright and the realities of the digital era. While changes are being made through reforms and landmark cases, these are mostly small moves and largely reactionary; dealing only with issues as they arise. Considering the implications of copyright laws for users and rights holders alike, it is imperative to consider a more proactive approach. In this sense, one must consider the major of change that has occurred over the history of copyright, where the commercial interests of rights holders have steadily come to be prioritised over user rights and the public interest. With two of the earliest copyright acts, the 1710 Statute of Anne in the UK and the 1787 US Constitution, there was a clear emphasis on balancing the rights of the creator or author with the social and cultural interests of public access to content (Cohen & Rosenzweig, 2005). Three hundred years later, the pendulum has swung heavily in favour of rights holders.

Interestingly, the idea of balance is still part of the rhetoric around copyright, with the Supreme Court of Canada recently stating that “copyright law maintains “a balance between promoting the public interest in the encouragement and dissemination of works and obtaining a just reward for the creators” of those works” (Supreme Court of Canada, 2015). Michael Geist (2015) noted though, partly in relation to that statement, that there was an absence of real engagement with the concept of balance, and that outside of Supreme Court judgements users rights are treated as an exception to established rules that serve rights holders, rather than allowing that users are anything near an equal stakeholder. However, the digital age may provide an opportunity to address this imbalance in a meaningful way.

In many ways, digital disruption has already shifted the power balance back towards users. Part of what is remarkable about the internet is that it has democratised both the creation and sharing of works (Richmond, 2015), in large part due to the ease of creating copies and breaking down of international barriers discussed earlier, and it is accessible to anyone with a computer or phone and internet access. This is the direct opposite of the old system where a relatively small group of players controlled the means of production and avenues for access, giving them significant power. The debate over what allowances should be made for each side is highly polarized (Yu, 2011), but the change brought about by digital technologies is an undeniable reality and even the might of large multi-national corporations is unlikely to be able to shift the balance entirely back in their favour. Instead, it would be smart to accept a new normal and work to reach a middle ground that justly rewards creators as well as serving the interests of the public, as was the original intention of copyright law. This is the intent of the proposed EU reforms and has been demonstrated in some way by the Google Books case and the 2012 Canadian Supreme Court ruling on fair dealing. However, the existence of the TPP proves that we may see even more protections granted to rights holders and that any improvements will take time.

As deeply challenging and destabilising as digital technologies are to traditional concepts of copyright, the potential for what can be achieved with them is phenomenal. But the current copyright framework is ill-equipped to handle the implications of a digital world, from the ability to reproduce work becoming exponentially easier to the discovery of previously un-thought of ways to use copyrighted content. That digital world has placed power in the hands of users by creating unprecedented ease of use and accessibility to creative works. Power no longer resides as securely with those who have accumulated it over time. These two fundamental shifts go hand-in-hand and the necessity of addressing the former provides an opportunity to protect the latter. However, this is not happening quickly or rigorously (Richmond, 2015), and the debate is still profoundly divided, with each side talking past the other, rather than to them (Yu, 2011). It will be a significant challenge to achieve meaningful reforms, but the promise of a system that serves both creators and users and maximises the immense potential of the digital age means that it is a challenge worth pursuing.



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Cohen, D. & Rosenzweig, R. (2005). Digital history: a guide to gathering, preserving, and presenting the past on the web. University of Pennsylvania Press.

Geist, M. (2012, July 13). Why the Supreme Court’s endorsement of technological neutrality in copyright may be anti-technology.

Geist, M. (2015, Nov 30). What Canadian heritage officials didn’t tell Minister Mélanie Joly about copyright.

Geist, M. (2015, Nov 26). Why the Supreme Court’s endorsement of technological neutrality in copyright may be anti-technology.

Geist, M. (2015, Nov 18). Why the TPP is a Canadian digital policy failure.

Khan, M. (2015). Issues of copyright protection in the digital era. In P. Rai, R. Sharma, P. Jain & A. Singh (Eds.), Transforming dimensions of IPR: Challenges for new age libraries (1st ed., pp. 134-139). New Delhi, India: National Law University.

Liu, J. (2001). Owning digital copies: Copyright law and the incidents of copy ownership. William & Mary Law Review 42(4), 1246-1366.

Reda, J. (n.d.). EU copyright evaluation report.

Richmond, S. (2015, Sept 12). Copyright laws don’t work in the digital age.

Shear, B. (2010, Sept 7). Copyright Protection in the Digital Age.

Stokes, S. (2014). Digital copyright: Law and practice. London, England: Bloomsbury.

Supreme Court of Canada. (2015, Nov 26). Canadian Broadcasting Corp. v. SODRAC 2003 Inc.

Yu, P. (2011). Digital copyright and confuzzling rhetoric. Legal Studies Research Paper Series, Drake University.


Screen Shot 2015-12-08 at 4.23.54 PMOn September 22, 2015, The New York Times published an article titled, The Plot Twist: E-Book Sales Slip, and Print Is Far From Dead It sent shockwaves through the publishing industry and touched off weeks of debate by voicing a conclusion many had already reached. Specifically that, despite widespread prior projections, ebooks had not affected print books in the same way that mp3s and streaming had affected physical music sales. Or, as the article put it, “the digital apocalypse never arrived.”

To be clear, the ebook has not quite disappeared. There has even been recent growth in the low priced, self-published segment of the ebook market. But as an existential threat to print supremacy? As a disruptive technology to reinvent reading as predominantly occurring on dedicated ereaders? In these terms and more, most 2015 observers agree the ebook is dead.

But if the formerly transformative vision of the ebook is truly dead, did someone kill it? If so, why and did they work alone? Any amount of digging reveals several potential culprits. The following investigation will interrogate, judge, and sentence each one to help answer the question, “who killed the electric book?”

Suspect 1: Manufacturers


Photo: Wikimedia Commons

If there is a sympathetic suspect it is the ereader manufacturers who can only suffer from the ebook’s demise. Still, they clearly failed in their duty to promote the use of ebooks.

After several false starts dating back to the late 1990s, 2004 saw Sony’s Librié become the first modern ereader. It utilized digital ink to crucially reduce eyestrain by mimicking paper reading. In 2007, Amazon released the Kindle using similar technology and the initial stock sold out in hours. In 2009, Kindle 2 was released along with the Nook, a competitor by major U.S. book retailer Barnes & Noble. That December ebooks outsold physical books on Amazon.com for the first time, leading to more ereaders being released in 2010 by Kobo, Samsung, Asus, and others. It understandably seemed to many that the digital book age had finally dawned.

By 2012 one in four Americans owned an ereader, but this progress soon sputtered, plateaued, and then dived. In 2015 alone, ereader ownership declined precipitously by over one third, suggesting prior owners were giving up or disavowing ownership of their devices. Ouch! Some reasons for this decline could not be controlled, including the swift rise of tablets and smartphones, but ereaders themselves had at least two critical design flaws.

First, a universal file type was never agreed on. This led to consumer confusion and difficulty with ebook conversion for publishers. Each new device seemed more interested in restricting users to proprietary stores or experiences than with solidifying ereading as a satisfying, inclusive cultural practice.  Second, ereaders proved, perhaps paradoxically, too focused on reading. They lacked basic features to attract readers and allow interaction between them, such as reasonable web browsers and social media capabilities.

Verdict: Manufacturers are guilty of gross negligence toward ebooks, exhibited in a rare mixture of excess competitiveness and complacency.

Sentence: Their products are sentenced to 5 more years of increasing irrelevance, at which time they will immediately become “retro cool.”

Suspect 2: Amazon


When Amazon.com sold its first book in July 1995, founder Jeff Bezos had created more than a new kind of bookstore. He had created a new category of company, still with no competitors two decades later. Disinterested in directly rewarding shareholders, Amazon has only ever pursued the pioneering and domination of new markets.

Amazon’s unusual strategy of investing their way to unchallengeable leads, then worrying about profitability second, if at all, was applied to ebooks. To corner the market and promote their Kindle device, Amazon bought ebooks directly from publishers then sold them back to readers at a significant loss. Amazon believed so firmly that ebooks should cost under ten dollars that it was willing to foot the bill to make up the difference.

At first, this arrangement seemed fantastic to publishers. They had a stable partner in Amazon who was paying their desired price then selling their products at a loss to satisfied end users. But soon the publishers realized that Amazon was hurting them in the long term by creating a market of ebook consumers more loyal to Amazon’s business model than their own.

Searching for anyone to help them stand up to Amazon, the major publishers looked to Apple in 2010, whose iTunes platform had already proven uniquely capable of selling digital music at top value. They entered a price fixing arrangement that offered Apple’s iBooks store exclusive rights to sell their ebooks at industry-set prices. It turned out this form of collusion was actually super illegalSo publishers took a different tack. They fought Amazon directly and won the right to set prices individually for their ebooks across the board. They also excluded their ebooks from Amazon’s subscription-based service, Kindle Unlimited. The immediate result was a predictably stark decrease in ebook sales for the major publishers

But Amazon did not leave the fracas empty handed. They emerged with a dedicated cadre of ebook readers prepared to pay low prices to purchase ebooks from them and no one else. Amazon is currently directing this voracious bargain ebooks audience toward self-published titles via subscription on Kindle Unlimited or for an average price of about $3.99 each. 

Verdict: Amazon is guilty of reckless endangerment of ebooks by setting their value low enough to divide the market and drive major publishers away.

Sentence: Amazon is sentenced to 10 years of spending its leisure time on Kindle Unlimited reading your nephew’s ninety neo noir novellas.

Suspect 3: Major Publishers

Big 5The five major publishers’ initial compliance with Amazon’s pricing strategy undermined their ability to profit from selling new ebooks. Even priced where they are currently, at about 30% below the cost of print books, publishers have difficulty convincing readers accustomed to Amazon’s prices that their ebooks represent fair value.

But if selling ebooks were a priority for the “Big Five” they would do much more. To begin with, they would more aggressively bundle paper books with ebooks. They would also offer ebooks of underperforming backlist titles at reduced prices to compete with self-publishers. Further, they would ease digital rights management restrictions on ebooks to allow customers to share their purchases, as has always been common among avid readers. Surely, it could be arranged so the ebook file could be traded but not duplicated, retaining a sense of fairness. Relatedly, if actually interested in growing their ebook market share, major publishers would change the purchase terms so buyers would actually own their ebook files, instead of only gaining access for undetermined durations. 

The failure of major publishers to take these and other actions to encourage ebook growth makes clear their limited interest in the ebook’s survival. This becomes obvious in statements made by heads of major publishers displaying nonchalance bordering on celebration at the confirmed death of ebooks as a potentially dominant new paradigm.

It seems major publishers, though initially enthusiastic about ebooks, realized they could not adequately assess the threats they posed, nor could they consistently dictate the rules of engagement to powerful new players, such as Apple and Amazon. So they did the easiest thing possible. They raised their ebook prices, knowing few readers would buy them, and returned their focus to print books, a market they understood and felt they can control. In schoolyard terms, the major publishers have taken their ball and gone home.

Verdict: Major publishers are guilty of misrepresenting themselves as an ally of ebooks, while slowly killing them through inaction and innovation aversion.

Sentence: Major publishers are sentenced to 15 years of watching competitors grow the ebook market, then overpaying to buy them back out of it.

Suspect 4: The Public

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The public I refer to here includes several distinct groups.

One is self-publishing authors and publishers who are willing to sell their books for a pittance or even give their work away for free just to gain exposure. In the short term their approach may seem sensible, but they are continuing to educate ebook readers that the work of writing is worth very little. 

This public also includes the mass of ebook readers who would rather use free ebook databases, unlimited subscription services with second rate collections, and even outright piracy, than pay what traditional book publishers require for top quality ebooks. Their unwillingness to pay fair value for what they can essentially find knock offs of for cheap or free will eventually leave them holding the bag in quality terms. 

This generalized ebook public finally includes those abandoning liquid ink ereaders for increasingly casual reading experiences on smartphones and tablets. Basically, it’s those who would rather risk vision loss reading a glowing Facebook display for an hour in bed than spend that time with Franzen’s ilk on now discarded ereaders.

Verdict: The public is guilty of abandoning top quality ebooks on dedicated ereaders, settling instead for cheap thrills and reasonable facsimiles.

Sentence: The public is sentenced to 20 years of reading inferior products on devices less optimized for prolonged reading than were available in 2004.


Even if 2015 is remembered as the year the ebook died, the truth, as usual, will be more complex. All that died is a vision of ebooks on dedicated ereaders as the ascendantly dominant way to enjoy the world’s best books. Instead, a niche group now pays for that privilege, while others read whatever ebooks they can access cheaply on any device, and a third group remains in the timeless embrace of print books. So, rather than a loss, there has really been a fracturing of the market. 

What has died is the threatening but false image of the ebook as an unstoppable symbol of progress. This caricature version of the ebook was composed of equal parts hyperbole and fear. The publishing world thought it understood this monster, however, and sought to control it, to bend it to their will, before it could ever express itself naturally.

Now that this warped first take on the ebook has been killed, perhaps the technology that surrounded it can be applied to a fresh, new, underdog generation of ebook, its hour come at last.

Works Cited:

Sarah Corsie

PUB 800

John Maxwell

9 December 2015


Millennials, Libraries, & the Internet:

A Long-Term Outlook for the Short-Term Attention Span


Whether or not they deserve it, millennials get a pretty bad rap. We’re lazy, we’re entitled, we’re narcissistic, (just type ‘millennials are’ into your Google search bar and see!), and, of course, we’re glued to our smartphones. We are a generation of instant gratification, redefining and modernizing hedonism, exemplified by our dependence on technology. We are the “two-screen generation,” living our entire lives out online, constantly connected and arguably disconnected simultaneously. Things move and change quickly in the millennial world, with planned obsolescence taking the concept of keeping up with the Joneses —­ or perhaps more appropriately, the Kardashians — to the next level. Immersion in an online world means rapid exposure and an almost immediate turn over of information. How can a generation that consumes content so rapidly be invested in something as archaic as the print book?

To the surprise of all generations, millennials are just as invested in literature as their predecessors. In fact, millennials are reading more those previous generations. According to the most recent data curated by the Pew Research Center on millennial reading habits, 43 % of participants age 16-29 (for consistency, assume that all following usage of the term ‘millennials’ refers to this age demographic) reported reading a book (print, audiobook, or e-book) every day or almost every day, while only 40% of those over 30 reported the same regularity of reading (Zickuhr & Rainie 9).

Not only are millennials reading more than previous generations, we are reading differently. As noted by millennial marketing experts Jeff Fromm and Greg Vodicka, millennials are “good scanners” who are reading “with purpose.” In order to grab the millennial reader, design is crucial to presenting information, and material must be “presented in an attractive and easily digestible way.” Molly Soat also indicates the importance of the visual depiction of reading material to the millennial generation, stating that readers will be drawn in by the creation of “visual content to accompany long-form written works.” Since millennials are more attracted to material that is quickly and easily consumed, the magazine-like format of incorporating images to complement the textual information, is strongly embraced online. Or, better yet, just put the information into the image in an effectively designed infographic. Portmanteaus are nothing if not efficient, and millennials like their information to be efficient.

Millennials are consuming different material, not only in design, but also in content. In 2013, a new BISAC code under the romantic fiction category was introduced to help clarify the demand for a certain kind of reader and the material being created and consumed. The ‘new adult’ reader is defined by their interest in romantic fiction that is tailored to their demographic: “the characters must be late teens or early 20s, the narration is usually first person, and the sex can be hot—but not so hot that it crosses the line into erotica” (McCartney). Interestingly, Jennifer McCartney notes that the need for this new code arose from the popularity of this specific genre in the self-published e-book market, suggesting that this new audience created and sustained itself long before the publishing world caught on. Were this group not provided the platform of online self-publishing, the ‘new adults’ would have taken a lot longer to emerge as a clearly defined audience, and even longer still to identify and track.

So, what about finding books?


As this very helpful, millennial-friendly infographic shows (Cox 5) nearly a quarter of millennial-aged readers are still finding their reading material through public libraries. This is encouraging, but could easily be increased with some savvy digital sharing. Erin L. Cox attributes the prevalence of recommendations though social media and direct word of mouth channels to millennials inclination to “share their likes and dislikes” (4), especially online. It can be argued that Goodreads.com, which was purchased by Amazon in 2013 for the humble price of $150 million, seems to be successfully stepping in to take on that role of opinion-sharing platform for books. Not only does Goodreads link automatically to users’ Facebook pages and connect them directly with their already established network of ‘friends,’ users can now purchase any book through Amazon and other retailers directly through the Goodreads page. Users can also rate, review, or tag books for future reading, unintentionally and unobtrusively giving publishers insight into the reading habits and trends of audiences.

Cox also cites Tor.com, an online community and imprint dedicated to science-fiction and fantasy, as a “particularly successful” example of an online community because they established themselves without association with a particular publisher. Tor.com, by embracing baseball diamond-building Kevin Costner’s “If you build it, they will come” motto, have garnered themselves 1.5 million readers and 45 thousand followers, simply by creating a place for an existing community to meet and share ideas and information. Cox notes that anyone looking to connect to the millennial reader would be wise to take a page out of Tor.com’s book, so to speak, and give reader’s what they want, while at the same time learning about their preferences in order to capitalize on them. It creates a symbiotic relationship of shared information between the network and the reader, who then becomes the loyal consumer.

Public libraries have equal opportunity to connect with communities, both online and geographically, and maintain this neutrality and authenticity, but whether they are really working to achieve that is not universally evident. Robert McDonald and Chuck Thomas suggest that libraries are already working to accommodate the needs of the physical community by “remaking their physical space in the likeliness of a typical third space (for example, a coffee shop)” (6). While this may seem important in maintaining public libraries as a foundational component of communities and satisfying those who are already users of the library space, it doesn’t seem to be enough to solidify the essentiality of libraries in the minds of millennials. When asked whether the closure of their local library would have “a major impact on their community,” only half of those ages 16-29 agreed (Zickuhr & Rainie 2). Even more indicative of the perceived obsolescence of libraries to the millennial is the measly 19% who believed that the closure of their local public library would “have a major impact of them and their family” (Zickuhr & Rainie 2). This restructuring of the physical space does little to accommodate the new user or satisfy the need for “virtual information,” (McDonald & Thomas 6) and this space for the online community development is not being explored to its full potential. Ideally, the online and the physical community can coincide and even complement each other, but this can only be achieved if both entities and their impact on each other are understood.

With endless information at the fingertips of millennials (and any generation), what do brick and mortar libraries have to offer the new user anymore? It seems that the concept of the physical library as a source of knowledge still outweighs the seemingly unlimited resource of the internet. Drawing again from the data collected by the Pew Research Centre, “62% of Americans under age 30 agree there is ‘a lot of useful, important information that is not available on the internet,’ compared with 53% of older Americans who believe that” (Zickuhr & Rainie 1). While this does not directly attribute libraries to filling the gaps of knowledge left by the internet, it demonstrates a contradiction in the perceived dependence of millennials on online or digital resources for information.

In reality, millennials aren’t as dependent on, or proficient in, technology as they are given credit for, and this has important implications for designing new technology to appeal to the millennial consumer. According to Jennifer Horwath and Cynthia Williamson, “millennials are not using Web 2.0 tools to a greater extent than people of other age groups.” They note that “while some young people may be adept at using new technologies,” it’s not necessary to completely redesign library services to accommodate the tech-savvy user, even warning that “it is dangerous to assume that all young people are exactly the same or that a cookie cutter approach to library service development is acceptable.” Thus, the potential to neglect the millennial user is not necessarily solved by increasing the intricacy of technology. The struggle to design a one-size-fits-all-demographics system, one that is user-friendly while still being technologically advanced, is the heart of the issue.

Libraries, like all areas of publishing and print media, are finding themselves forced to embrace new technology to stay relevant, both in the academic and pleasure reading sectors. Perhaps even more so than publishers, academic libraries have to stay on top of the current technological trends, and serve as a resource for the technologically dependent population. S. R. Ranganathan, the founder of the five laws of library science, stated that libraries must be defined as “a growing organism.” McDonald and Thomas argue that perhaps libraries have forgotten this statute, and a reevaluation of their “cultural roots” is necessary in the face the changing realm of reading. McDonald and Thomas identify the “key disconnects” between libraries and the online world, noting the absence of “tools to support the creation of new-model digital scholarship and to enable the use of Web services frameworks to support information formatting … and point-of-need Web-based assistance” (5). McDonald and Thomas also point out the discrepancies between desktop-based content and the extensive usage of hand-held digital devices.

Finally, McDonald and Thomas argue that libraries have a very antiquated concept of file-sharing, but some libraries, particularly academic ones, are challenging this critique. For example, California University Press’s newly launched Open Access publishing program Luminos seeks to “exponentially increase the visibility and impact of scholarly work by making it globally accessible and freely available in digital formats.” By publishing monographs openly, Luminos places the importance of accessibility over profitability with regard to the distribution of scholarly works, without sacrificing the quality and reputability of the material. As Molly Soat points out, it’s important for millennials to have the ability to easily share and engage with the material they read. Open Access material allows for the consumption of information that is sourced and reviewed, without limiting its readership and shareability. Perhaps public libraries could work to develop a more user-friendly platform of file-sharing, as McDonald and Thomas suggest, that aligns more with the Open Access mode demonstrated by Luminos. Tracking of content consumption need not be sacrificed, and, barring compatibility issues, content can be ‘borrowed’ online. Of course, public libraries already offer e-book versions of many books, but this generally requires the use of an e-reader device compatible with OverDrive. Since only 22% of those ages 18-24 have e-readers, this service is only usable by less than a quarter of the demographic. However, 99% of the same age group have smartphones and can utilize the OverDrive or similar ePub reader app to access library materials, which many public libraries are now adopting. Whether millennials and new users are aware of these developments, however, seems to be the real underlying disconnect.

Since only 36% of millennials surveyed by the Pew Research Centre claimed to have used a library website at least once in 2013 (up from 28% in 2012), it’s clear that this generation, despite reading more, embracing technology and online communities, and having a positive perception of libraries, is not interesting in bridging the gap between physical and digital (16). While libraries have maintained their physical importance and position as a cornerstone of community, millennials do not seem invested in the virtual community and digital offerings of the public library as a source of information. Despite living in a world laden with various modes of communication, libraries and millennials seem to have gotten their wires crossed. Libraries don’t really understand millennials, and vice versa. Libraries need a re-branding in the eyes of millennials, and millennials need to stop being defined in such negative terms at the risk of becoming a self-fulfilling prophesy. They are the new readers, hungry for content, and they just need to be able to find it through the channels of their own creation.



Works Cited


Cox, Erin L. “Designing Books for Tomorrow’s Readers: How Millennials Consume Content.” Publishingtechnology.com. Publishing Technology PLC., October 2014. Web. 7 December 2015.

Fromm, Jeff and Greg Vodicka. “Do Millennials Read? Yes, But They Read Differently.” Millennialmarketing.com. Futurecast, May 2010. Web. 7 December 2015.

Horwath, Jennifer and Cynthia Williamson. “The Kids are Alright — Or, Are They?: The Millennial Generation’s Technology Use and Intelligence — an Assessment of the Literature.” Partnership: The Canadian Journal of Library and Information Practice and Research 4.2 (2009): n. pag. Web. 7 December 2015.

Luminos. Luminosoa.org. The Regents of the University of California, 2015. Web. 7 December 2015

McCartney, Jennifer. “Millennials: An Emerging Readership.” Publishersweekly.com. PWxyz, LCC., 24 July 2015. Web. 7 December 2015.

McDonald, Robert H. and Chuck Thomas. “Disconnects Between Library Culture and Millennial Generation Values.” Educause.edu. Educause, 1 January, 2006. Web. 7 December 2015.

Soat, Molly. “What Millennials Read and Why.” Saydaily.com. Say Media, Inc., 16 October 2014. Web. 7 December 2015.

Zickuhr, Kathryn and Lee Rainie. “Younger Americans’ Reading Habits and Technology Use.” Pewinternet.org. Pew Research Center, 10 September, 2014. Web. 7 December 2015.

The Rise of Intellectual Property

In “The rise of intellectual property, 700 BC – AD 2000: an idea in the balance”, Carla Hesse explains that the concept of intellectual property was borne during the European Enlightenment, and combines the concepts of copyright, patent, and trademark. In the article, Hesse covers a huge swath of history to demonstrate the rise of intellectual property as a concept and how different societies have dealt with ideas and original authorship. Hesse includes examples from Europe, Russia, China, Islam, and other Judeo-Christian cultures.

Initially, the Ancient Greeks saw ideas and authorship as a gift from god, and even through the Renaissance the concept of “genius” was still as divine inspiration. With this theological association came the revulsion of individual profit, and instead support through patronage was more common.

However, even if societies philosophically saw the sharing of ideas as universal, the flow of information was still controlled by rulers and religious authorities. There were existing systems of pre-publication censorship such as royal patents and monopolies. These granted licenses were considered a grace from rulers, not a right.

During the European Reformation, there was the rise of printer’s guilds and these systems became incredibly strict. There was a consolidation of licenses among certain guild members, who bought the manuscript from the author for a one-time fee, then all the sales profit went to the printer.

Things changed in the 1700s with the rise of the middle-class. The influx of new readers and demand for literature put a strain on the current system of guilds and a new supply of writers arose. These writers also wanted profit from the sales and to retain right of authorship. The demand for literature also bred piracy, cheap reprints by printers who didn’t hold the right to print and didn’t respect the monopolies. Regulation struggled to catch up.

Thus began the debate of knowledge and origin of ideas in earnest.

On the pro-author side, we have writers such as John Locke, Edward Young, Denis Diderot, and Gotthold Lessing. They all believed that authors have natural property right in their ideas and argued that the authors labour should be recognized. This was the “secularization of the theory of knowledge”. Lessing challenged the ban on profits received from writing.

The other side of the argument was Condorcet, who disputed the Lockean argument. Condorcet saw ideas as social – they are the collective process of experiences, and therefore cannot belong to one sole author. Condorcet didn’t see any social value in granting individual claim upon ideas.

The main problem was that other property rights had a singular item, but with writing, the printed manuscript meant that there was no singular tangible item.

Johann Gottlieb Fichte, in 1791, suggested that it wasn’t the idea, but the unique form and expression of those ideas that was the property of the author. People still had a problem with this, but it is actually quite close to how modern copyright is phrased.

Moving forward, there were still generally two strains of legal interpretation:

  1. the rational or objectivist or utilitarian, that saw the sharing of ideas as the highest aim. In this view, giving legal rights to the author simply helped encourage the production and transmission of new ideas for the public good.
  2. In the more romantic or subjectivist view, was the concept of universal and perpetual property in ideas, maintaining that the sanctity of the creator is a natural right.

Hesse states that over the course of the 18th century, every European country witnessed a series of legal battles over these principles, and she details several. Eventually many countries came to a sort of compromise, giving authors a claim, but limiting it for the public good. They used mechanical patents as the leading example. By the mid-1800s there was a sort of balance between universal and utilitarian principles.

However, the continual change of distribution, especially on a global scale, meant that there were still further issues to be sorted. Exporter nations preferred a Universal argument, allowing the author control and the exporter to receive profits. Importer nations in development refused to acknowledge these and simply “appropriated” the ideas freely. But, as Hesse shows with the United States, as the Importer nations transitioned into Exporter nations, they changed their tune. Hesse includes examples from Russia, China, and Islam. An interesting, albeit brief, discussion is included about Russia and China and the socialist mechanisms they have for encouraging creation, such as state-issued awards and public patronage.

What Hesse’s article doesn’t include is anything relating to the Canadian landscape. A great deal of our history is tightly linked to Great Britain, but we are also deeply influenced by the United States’ exporting of cultural content. And to a degree, this has affected how Canada has chosen to deal with the concept of ideas and sharing of information for the public good, such as setting up a public broadcaster.

Hesse summarizes with a few troubling aspects of copyright moving forward. As her article has generally looked at the global scale, with a major focus on the European landscape, her concerns are also more generalized.

On a global scale, the monopolistic power is held by exporter nations, and for things like medical patents (such as AIDs drugs), this can have devastating affects. In an example like this, the utilitarian view would argue that it is in the public’s best interest to have free and open access.

Also, with the increased terms of copyright—which the United States and the Disney corporation have a lot to do with—this limits the public spread of knowledge.

Also, although it may not seem like it with the decentralized structure of the internet, but the sources of information and how we receive info is increasingly narrow. Consolidation of media is a huge concern for the utilitarian view. For example, both of Greater Vancouver’s major newspapers, the Vancouver Sun and The Province are owned by the same corporation, CanWest.

Children’s publishing in Canada has a relatively short history. The first full-colour Canadian children’s book was published in 1968[1]) but the literature has grown steadily, bloomed, and thrived. A recent article in Quill & Quire even suggested that we’ve entered a second “golden age” of Canadian kidlit [2]. Data from BookNet Canada supports this suggestion; the Canadian Book Market 2013 indicated that the Juvenile market consisted of 33.24% of total sales by volume [3]. According to BNC, this percentage has been increasing for several years, reporting a 4.1% increase from 2013 to 2014 [4]. Some critics might dismiss it as simply the recent trend of adults consuming young adult (YA) fiction, pointing to indicators such as Twilight celebrating 10 years, and countless book-to-screen adaptations like Divergent and Hunger Games. According to Nielsen Market Research, in the first nine months of 2013, YA literature accounted for 18% of children’s unit purchases in the US, down from 21% in the same period in 2012, reflecting the impact that the Hunger Games trilogy had on the category in 2012 [5]. However, these anecdotal cases, although supported by some sales data, really only tell part of the story. The other part of the story remains a mystery due to BISAC codes.

Book Industry Standards and Communications (BISAC) Subject Headings are used for a number of purposes in publishing, embedded within the metadata of every title. Though they are standardized throughout the industry, categories can be subjectively ascribed based on a specific publisher’s list or store’s clientele. BISAC codes are also used to help build bestseller lists and assist online retailer algorithms to show results in a particular genre. Currently, young adult titles are lumped into the Juvenile BISAC heading, along with picture books and everything in between. The problem with having a sole “Juvenile” header in the BISAC subject list is that, unless we have access to publisher data, we cannot separate out particular age ranges. For example, it is not possible to see the trends in Teen Fantasy because the Juvenile Fiction category simply lists “Fantasy & Magic” (JUV037000). There is no way to isolate the teen titles within this subcategory without examining the specific titles via ISBN. Even though each bookstore and publisher will categorize their books according to how they perceive their audience (probably separating teen, picture books, and middle-grade chapter books), the current BISAC subject headings will still only reflect the single category: Juvenile.

Although there are a variety of opinions on how the juvenile market is divided, these appear to fall into three general categories: illustrated picture books, juvenile, and teen or YA. Booksellers and publishers have their own systems too; they want the right audience to find a title where they expect it to be located. A larger issue arises, however, when you try to assign an age group to a specific category—some consider middle grade to be 8-12, YA to be 14+, and then a crossover area of 12-16, which others call the “teen” category. All these age groups can be confusing when considering how varying degrees of maturity and different reading levels factor in, especially as children progress at different rates. The Book Industry Study Group (BISG) has been researching the viability of splitting YA into its own BISAC subject heading. I would take it a step further and recommend dividing the current Juvenile section into three parts: Children, Juvenile, and Teen. Of course, each publisher is free to choose which BISAC heading best suits a title, with Harry Potter probably staying in Juvenile and Twilight going in Teen.

As noted, categories help position a book in a number of ways, but most particularly, in terms of “discoverability.” This somewhat jargon-y term is actually why correct categorization has become so important. In the postmodern world, our attention is being demanded constantly on all fronts, assaulted from all sorts of stimuli, and having to process all types of verbal and non-verbal communication. We use genres and categories as semiotic tools for making sense of the world, and then assessing its value to us as individuals. It’s no wonder we are exhausted—having to sort through unwanted messages just adds to our current information overload. However, this wasn’t always the case—previously, the market for literature was a lot smaller and more refined. Rachel Malik suggests varying levels of literacy actually helped the evolution of style and genre [6]. For example, the serialized novels of Charles Dickens and other authors of the Victorian era inspired a new class of reader, one enjoyed the humour, characterizations, realism, and social criticism. Dickens was writing in a particular style, which appealed to particular audiences yet didn’t alienate others. These were lower class, illiterate labourers, who gathered socially to hear the monthly stories read aloud. Although this literature wasn’t directly meant for the lower classes (as they couldn’t read), it still resonated with them in particular ways. It may be a bit of a stretch, but I see a parallelism in how we are experiencing a surge in young adult literature today; it may not be initially intended for adults, but adults are still consuming and enjoying these stories. How is this any different than introducing a middle-grader to the teen section, or introducing a teen to relevant adult titles? At the upcoming Young Adult Services Symposium 2015 (organized by the Young Adult Library Services Association, a division of the American Library Association), there is even a panel sharing ideas for programs and services to “transition middle school students to the YA collection” [7].

A big part of the debate in splitting the juvenile market is how we define YA. Writing for The Guardian, Imogen Russell Williams stated “Writers across the board at [Young Adult Literature Convention] agreed that the sine qua non of YA is an adolescent protagonist, who will probably face significant difficulties and crises, and grow and develop to some degree.” [8] Essentially, this limits YA fiction to coming-of-age stories, which I would disagree with. It is rare to find any protagonist-focused novel (adult or juvenile) that eschews character development of some kind. In fact, literary critic Leslie Fiedler saw countless canonical American literary characters, such as Twain’s Huck Finn and Melville’s Ishmael, refusing to become adults [9]. Most definitions of YA seems to be transfixed with just the age of the protagonist, but there are many more factors that need to be considered by a publisher when positioning a title, such as the intent of the author and the level of maturity being targeted. There are also many Bildungsroman narratives that are positioned for adults, such as The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold, The Lord of the Flies by William Golding, or Kicking the Sky by Anthony De Sa, which have been intentionally categorized as adult literary fiction due to their mature subject matter. I think a more useful definition can be found in what Karyn Silverman wrote for the School Library Journal blog: young adult literature is a story about the business of adolescence [10].

Speaking at a previous Young Adult Literature Convention (YALC), Meg Rossoff stated “55% of YA titles are bought by adults” [11], and there are many adults who (proudly) read YA and teen literature, as we can see reflected in popular culture. Even Harry Potter, which was first published in 1997, had two separate US editions: one design for children and one for adults. Books surpassing age boundaries is not a new phenomenon; consider Watership Down by Richard Adams, The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, The Outsiders by S.E. Hilton, Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery, Roch Carrier’s The Hockey Sweater, or Robert Munsch’s Love You Forever, to name but a few. In a 1998 Quill & Quire special report on children’s publishing, this crossover appeal was already in full swing: “The books themselves have changed the way we compartmentalize what we see as suitable adult and children’s fare, and we are more and more coming to see they can be literary and art forms for all ages”. [12]

The subsequent “book-shaming” around reading YA is both disgraceful and counter-productive. We should celebrate the fact that authors are writing stories that work for multiple reading levels and interests—as we do when children’s movies can also entertain adults (think Shrek, Toy Story, or Who Framed Roger Rabbit?). In June 2014, there was controversy following a Slate article titled “Against YA”, where Ruth Graham criticized grown-ups for reading books meant for children, stating “the once-unseemly notion that it’s acceptable for not-young adults to read young adult fiction is now conventional wisdom … [but] Adults should feel embarrassed about reading literature written for children.” [13] Graham believes that these books of realistic fiction aimed at young adults are cannibalizing the adult literary market. I disagree: if someone is reading—no matter what they’re reading—that should be celebrated, not chastised. Personally, I read all kinds of fiction, from literary, translation, and fantasy, to young adult and science fiction. Why does it matter what category in the bookstore or library it is found? Mark Medley, writing for the National Post, posted a satirical response to Graham about “getting rid of the YA” in his home, going so far as to ditch his “well-read copies of To Kill A Mockingbird, The Little Prince, The Catcher in the Rye, and [his] Oxford edition of the Complete Works of William Shakespeare, because, you know, Romeo and Juliet. They were, after all, teenagers, and one can never be too careful.” Medley mocks further, insisting that children shouldn’t be allowed to read adult books, such as Lord of the Flies, Hamlet, or Of Mice and Men. He (sarcastically) declares that books should have rating systems, and patrons should be carded before they can enter the adult section of bookstores. “No one should be allowed to read outside his or her demographic. … Everyone would stick to age-appropriate books. After all, the point of literature isn’t to learn about people and places and situations other than your own. There’s no room for wonder, for magic, for fun. Books are meant to confirm our preconceived notions, not expand our horizons.” [14]

Medley drives home a key point about the intention of literature: to expand our horizons. As demonstrated by numerous anecdotes and data, the YA market is burgeoning—and it certainly isn’t a new phenomenon. BISG, which oversees the BISAC Subject Headings, has been conducting research for more than a year regarding proposed changes to the BISAC Subject Headings to “allow for the classification of young adult / teen, middle grade, and picture books.” [15] Because these surveys, interviews with industry stakeholders, and committee meetings are only open to BISG members, and the results have not been announced, I cannot comment on the proposed changes. However, the BISG website states that these are “new sections specifically for young adult/teen fiction and nonfiction codes.” [16] The new edition for BISAC Subject Headings is due for release in Fall 2015, but as of yet there is no set date [17].

Ultimately categorization is not a science—even selecting the BISAC subject code for a book is a form of marketing. A publisher is stating, through bibliographic data, how their title should be positioned to an audience: if it is appropriate for a particular age, if it contains certain topics. Then, it is at the discretion of the librarian or the bookseller as to how they place the title in their establishment. But if it is possible to give publishers a more precise tool for positioning their titles in a world beset by an onslaught of information, perhaps they can improve discoverability among the intended audience.


Beha, Christopher, “Henry James and the Great Y.A. Debate”, The New Yorker, 18 Sept 2014, http://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/henry-james-great-ya-debate

“BISG’s March 13 & 20 BISAC Meetings: YA Content and Subject Categories”, BISG News Briefs, 11 Mar 2015, https://www.bisg.org/news/bisgs-march-13-20-bisac-meetings-ya-content-and-subject-categories

BookNet Canada, BNC Research: The Canadian Book Market 2013 (BookNet Canada, 2014), pg. 12.

Cerny, Dory, “Solid gold”, Quill & Quire, October 2015, pg. 14-18.

Couri, Sarah, “Definitions”, Someday my Printz Will Come [Blog], School Library Journal, 22 December 2011, http://blogs.slj.com/printzblog/2011/12/22/definitions/

Garvie, Maureen, “Not just for children anymore”, Quill & Quire, 64, no. 10 (Oct 1998).

Graham, Ruth, “Against YA”, Slate, 5 June 2014, http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/books/2014/06/against_ya_adults_should_be_embarrassed_to_read_children_s_books.html

Malik, Rachel, “Horizons of the Publishable: Publishing in/as Literary Studies.” ELH 75, no. 3 (2008): 707-735.

Medley, Mark, “Ruth Graham doesn’t go far enough”, National Post, 11 June 2014, http://news.nationalpost.com/arts/books/stick-with-your-kind-getting-adults-off-ya-books-doesnt-go-nearly-far-enough

Milliot, Jim, “Children’s Books: A Shifting Market”, Publisher’s Weekly, 24 Feb 2014, http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/childrens/childrens-industry-news/article/61167-children-s-books-a-shifting-market.html

Pennell, Victoria, “Canadian Children’s Literature In Motion – It’s Evolution from the 1970s to the Present”, Resource Links, April 2006 (11: 4), pg. 74-78.

“Press Release: Juvenile Market strong in 2014” BookNet Canada, 1 April 2015, http://www.booknetcanada.ca/press-room/2015/4/1/juvenile-market-strong-in-2014.html

Williams, Imogen Russell, “What are YA books? And who is reading them?” The Guardian, 31 July 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2014/jul/31/ya-books-reads-young-adult-teen-new-adult-books

“Young Adult or Teen? Give us your opinion on labeling the new BISAC subject categories.” BISG News Briefs, 17 June 2015, https://www.bisg.org/news/young-adult-or-teen-give-us-your-opinion-labeling-new-bisac-subject-categories

“Young Adult Services Symposium 2015 Program”, Young Adult Library Services Association, American Library Association, http://www.ala.org/yalsa/yasymposium/programs#program



[1]. Victoria Pennell, “Canadian Children’s Literature In Motion – It’s Evolution from the 1970s to the Present”, Resource Links, April 2006 (11: 4), pg. 74-78.

[2] Dory Cerny. “Solid gold”, Quill & Quire, October 2015, pg. 14-18.

[3]. BookNet Canada, BNC Research: The Canadian Book Market 2013 (BookNet Canada, 2014), pg. 12.

[4]. “Press Release: Juvenile Market strong in 2014” BookNet Canada, 1 April 2015, http://www.booknetcanada.ca/press-room/2015/4/1/juvenile-market-strong-in-2014.html

[5]. Jim Milliot, “Children’s Books: A Shifting Market”, Publisher’s Weekly, 24 Feb 2014, http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/childrens/childrens-industry-news/article/61167-children-s-books-a-shifting-market.html

[6]. Rachel Malik, “Horizons of the Publishable: Publishing in/as Literary Studies.” ELH 75, no. 3 (2008): 707-735.

[7]. “Young Adult Services Symposium 2015 Program”, Young Adult Library Services Association, American Library Association, http://www.ala.org/yalsa/yasymposium/programs#program

[8]. Imogen Russell Williams, “What are YA books? And who is reading them?” The Guardian, 31 July 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2014/jul/31/ya-books-reads-young-adult-teen-new-adult-books

[9]. Christopher Beha, “Henry James and the Great Y.A. Debate”, The New Yorker, 18 Sept 2014, http://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/henry-james-great-ya-debate

[10]. Sarah Couri, “Definitions”, Someday my Printz Will Come [Blog], School Library Journal, 22 December 2011, http://blogs.slj.com/printzblog/2011/12/22/definitions/

[11]. Imogen Russell Williams, “What are YA books? And who is reading them?” The Guardian, 31 July 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2014/jul/31/ya-books-reads-young-adult-teen-new-adult-books

[12]. Maureen Garvie, “Not just for children anymore”, Quill & Quire, 64, no. 10 (Oct 1998).

[13]. Ruth Graham, “Against YA”, Slate, 5 June 2014, http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/books/2014/06/against_ya_adults_should_be_embarrassed_to_read_children_s_books.html

[14]. Mark Medley, “Ruth Graham doesn’t go far enough”, National Post, 11 June 2014, http://news.nationalpost.com/arts/books/stick-with-your-kind-getting-adults-off-ya-books-doesnt-go-nearly-far-enough

[15]. “BISG’s March 13 & 20 BISAC Meetings: YA Content and Subject Categories”, BISG News Briefs, 11 Mar 2015, https://www.bisg.org/news/bisgs-march-13-20-bisac-meetings-ya-content-and-subject-categories

[16]. Ibid.

[17]. “Young Adult or Teen? Give us your opinion on labeling the new BISAC subject categories.” BISG News Briefs, 17 June 2015, https://www.bisg.org/news/young-adult-or-teen-give-us-your-opinion-labeling-new-bisac-subject-categories