THE READER IS A LIE: PUBLISHING FOR A PUBLIC

Back when I use to operate my own online publication (read: euphemism for blog), I would often reach the brink of folding (or whatever the digital equivalent is), due to a mix of exhaustion and a lack of growth in readership.  It was only natural, then, that I would then suddenly receive an encouraging tweet, email, or I would meet someone who recognized my publication and say something along the lines of, “I had given up on reading blogs until I found yours!” and my heart would melt at these little gestures. Alas, I finally did lay to rest my online publication with the stark realisation that I had never “found my reader,” as my peers and mentors would say. This elusive “reader,” yes, the one creature who every publisher hunts as if they were an endangered species in a jungle of common critters. The problem with identifying a “reader,” is that they are too easy to praise for a publication’s success and blame for its failures. But has anyone even stopped to ask, “is there even such thing as a ‘reader?’” Michael Warner solves this existential issue in his essay, “Publics and Counterpublics (abbreviated version).” The answer is no, the reader is a myth we publishers tell ourselves when we lay our heads at night. Oh, but if you can understand your “public,” then you’ve got yourself a meaningful publication.

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Prospects of Mobile Phone Publishing as an Alternative Model to Digital Publishing in Developing Countries

Introduction: The Digital Revolution and E-Publishing

The onset of the digital age, spurred by major advances in computing and communication technology in the later half of the 20th century, has undeniably touched and virtually transformed every aspect of our lives as humans–from the way we interact with another to the way we transact business. Continue reading “Prospects of Mobile Phone Publishing as an Alternative Model to Digital Publishing in Developing Countries”

The Proximity of Distant Reading and Today’s Publishers

Tori Elliott

Publishing is an involved business. There are publishers and editors, copywriters and fact checkers, designers and marketers, advertisers and salespeople. There are agents, printers, distributors, booksellers, financiers, and investors. But at the heart of it all there are two who keep the industry alive—who perform the basic acts that are absolutely paramount to the business of publishing—the writer and the reader. Throughout the history of publishing (or at least since the 1700s) (Hesse), the pair have gone hand-in-hand, pleased as spiked punch at junior prom, one producing so the other could consume, the other reading so one might be inspired to write. But what if the reader isn’t actually as important as we’ve always believed her to be? What if she was removed from the equation entirely?

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Social media is a cheap but effective way to marketing

By Summer Zhang

Nowadays, social media, which has changed the way people connect, discover, and share information, has becomes a major marketing tactic for many companies. More and more companies choose to market their products, services, and brands through their social networks. Social media takes advantage of the technology that connects people and refers to the process of gaining website traffic or attention through social media sites. Social media has been adopted rapidly primarily because it is cheap and effective. Although most marketers believe that social media is cheap and trendy, but not very effective, the online marketing trend cannot be ignored.

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List Lust: The Interplay Between Images and Rhetoric in Listicles

In a world of abundant information and careful curation, it’s not surprising that the average attention span has dropped from 12 minutes to five seconds (Vidyarthi, 2011). Though it’s hard to determine that the widespread use of the internet and social media are responsible for dwindling focus, or if shorter attention spans are more common at all, it is apparent that these technologies have changed the way information is consumed (Gailey, 2013). Ultimately, publishing has broken free of its traditional containers and is seeking context to allow audiences to find, interact, and ultimately consume its content (O’Leary, 2012). Within these interactions, especially between image and language, rhetoric is notably a part of understanding. Creating a type of visual rhetoric, images within listicles and other online platforms provide an interesting challenge and ultimately showcase that content influences, and even shapes, the context of the image skewing or altering the meaning of its original context, as intended by the creator.

As a society, the majority of individuals are constantly connected to each other, networks, or devices. Whether it’s through a computer, tablet, or smart phone, most people are accessing information constantly. Because of the containers information is bound by—different screen aspect ratios, varying displays—there is a trend to make it as easy to consume as possible, especially through visual organization (Pope, 2013). Ultimately, this has resulted in information transforming into the most truncated version—from long-form article to chunked text, and from novel into list.

Though lists are not new, there are several sites like Buzzfeed, Thought Catalog, Bored Panda that have proliferated this form of information online. Almost any topic, from breaking news to fashion tips, can be found in a  numbered, ranked, or ordered lists. More commonly referred to as a listicle, “an informal term for an article made up of a series of facts, tips, quotations, or examples organized around a particular theme” (Nordquist, n.d.), short attention spans and busy, habitual schedules are satisfied through the easily digestible, pre-chunked texts with a definite end.

Essentially, lists and other ranked or numbered articles “enumerate the innumerable variety of the world and give us a sense of mastery over our environment,” (Thompson, 2013) showing that lists allow us to put a different type of publishing container around a chaotic abundance of information in order for us to more easily consume the content within. As Thompson (2013) outlines in his article exposing our love/hate relationship with lists, this way of conveying information eases readability and understanding overall and ultimately facilitates remembering because of visual fluency, that is, the ability and ease of processing an image or information (Larson, 2012). Lists are aesthetically engineered for the reading mind as they strike a balance between specificity and vagueness while appealing to time pressures that many individuals face. Lists are “simply a more effortless way to consume information” (Konnikova, 2013).

Listicles also take advantage of our desire for variety in our reading experiences, moving away from walls of text. Breaking up the field with numbers or bullets showcases difference in an article, which can lead us to see that something doesn’t fit the normal pattern, which prompts us to refocus (Konnikova, 2013). Images embedded within listciles further this differentiation and appeal to our tendency to categorize information even more, creating an increasingly intuitive reading process (Konnikova, 2013). This shows that we use the context of the text provided to shape our reading of an image. In my opinion, an image is often taken out of one context (the original context intended by the creator) and put into a different one (the listicle), in a way forcing the image to convey a different connotation, potentially skewing an audience’s perception.

These images, when placed within a particular framework, like that of a categorized or themed listicle, take on a different meaning than if they were merely placed in front of you on a blank sheet of paper. This showcases that there is no naïve reading of an image. Rather, readings are derived out of our own experiences or the contexts in which they are presented. Even though these photos demonstrate content on their own without the aid of text, context, which can be text or container or both, ultimately shapes how they are perceived (O’Leary, 2012). This context is generally created from individual experiences and social cues. The text placed around the image leads readers into a certain context that they may have not created on their own. That said, no image could exist without resting within a scheme of interpretation. As Roland Barthes notes, there isn’t such a thing as a pure image as no viewer is able to receive it completely objectively. In my opinion though, the creator can, and often does, have an intended meaning behind an image or photographer, which can be perceived differently by different viewers.

Context, an essential part of communication, is related to the ideas of rhetoric, which is fundamentally concerned with using symbols to communicate (Foss, 2005). Though commonly thought of linguistically, rhetoric can be applied visually as well. A newer concept, emerging more readily as a field of study in 1970 (Foss, 2005), it is apparent that images are read in the same way as words, and these images provide meaning in a similar way. Fundamentally, an image is able to communicate a message through sensory expression of cultural meaning (“Visual Rhetoric,” n.d.), though this message relies on context to move from the arbitrary into reality.

Visual rhetoric, more specifically, is described as how visual images communicate meaning as opposed to aural or verbal communication (“Visual Rhetoric,” n.d.). In fact, any image or representation in open to interpretation, influenced by a variety of connotation and denotations that each viewer imposes. Though social context and cues come into play, other factors inform the perception of an image. For example, if you were to look at an image with a caption, you would be taking in the linguistic message alongside the visual message. Without the caption, only the pure image is left (Barthes, 1977), though this idea of purity can be argued as arbitrary as even the creator uses their own contexts to shape the content. Stripping the image of text, we impose our own context, or in the case of listicles, the context the author gives us. A listicle starts with text as a basis where a topic is chosen and a certain number of facts or bullets are added. Then, images are found and added to the text illustrating the listicle’s idea, though perhaps departing from the creator’s original idea of intention. In this sense, the text adds fresh information to the image (Barthes, 1977), but in a way that changes the original meaning and audience perception. Though the photos generally seem to be used to create more visual interest in an already pared down article, this type of tactic brings up the question of what is the true message and what is the perceived context?

According to Barthes (1977), text can guide the reader through the images message causing them to avoid some aspects of the message and receive others. This meaning changing shows that context can fundamentally change content.

Four Examples of Rhetoric and Context in Photos

  1. Screen Shot 2014-02-25 at 9.59.55 PMThe Infamous 2011 Vancouver Riot Photo: In the Bored Panda List, “20 Interesting Facts About Love,” a photo of two young people kissing on the ground amidst riot police was used to illustrate the fact “Love Is All That Really Matters.” With this caption (and ultimately context), the reader is “forced” into identifying that the message of this image is one of romance. Without the caption, the meaning is far less clear, and ultimately, the true meaning behind this story is not as romantic as it may seem. Rather, as exposed after this image had gone viral (CBC News, 2011), the male in the photo was trying to calm the female down after witnessing the stress of the 2011 Vancouver Riot. Though this could be perceived as a testimony of romance, the context was forced by placing the image into prescribed container.
  2. Screen Shot 2014-02-25 at 10.02.28 PMSailor Kiss in Times Square: Similar to the story above, this photo from 1945, though not explicitly in a listicle at the time, was made to seem like a story of passion and a reuniting of lovers. The true story? In the midst of celebration, the sailor pictured was spontaneously grabbing every woman and kissing her. In the listicle linked in title, this photo is classified as one of 10 war photos that “changed the world forever.” Here, even the title is skewing the context.
  3. Screen Shot 2014-02-25 at 10.01.07 PMBrazzers Meme: This meme bases its message off associations with the adult entertainment company Brazzers. By superimposing the “Brazzers” logo on images, the context is changed quickly from a wholesome high school image, to one that can be perceived as raunchy. Based on cultural meaning, those familiar with Brazzers identify the connotations of this sign and change the meaning, playing with the rhetoric of the image.
  4. Screen Shot 2014-02-25 at 10.03.42 PMDeceptive Weather on Social Media: Natural disasters automatically attract media attention—so much so that hoaxes are often created surrounding them. This example of real and “not real” images (with the “not real” image deemed as such by the source as it is an image created for a movie) from Hurricaine Sandy show that, placed within the rhetoric of a storm, an audience can be lead to believe that something vaguely similar to actual happenings is a reality. Skewing the meaning through captions and hashtags perpetuates this false context.

Even this tongue-in-cheek listicle here is shaped by the context of this essay. The title gives the reader and idea of what to expect and how to further chunk the already parsed information. This list of examples acts as an example in and of itself of the interplay between listicles and visual rhetoric.

After looking at examples of images taking on different meanings through the contextualization of a list, I started thinking about other examples of images fitting an idea. Photo essays are one more traditional example. In a photo essay, a photojournalist tells a story through pictures imposing their own rhetorical perceptions within the narrative. Much like the online lists seen today, photo can be given new or different meaning through context in a photo essay. Unlike today’s listicles, the photo essay is generally from a specific individual’s point of view, or framed through the context of a news organization or magazine—someone or thing that already has a distinct voice of perspective. This makes it more of a narrative or recounting of events from a journalistic perspective, whereas listicles online with images are generally from no specific point of view allowing them to become “general” information rather than framed through a personal lens which allows the reader to see that a certain slant to the story may be apparent.

Ultimately, meaning is fluid. Through visual rhetoric and an examination of content versus context, it is apparent that what readers perceive can be shaped by the environment it is placed in. Essentially, as Barthes (1977) notes, all representations are influenced by interpretations and all images are subject to each viewer imposing their own contexts to create their interpretation, rendering no image as pure. Though things like photo essays, and traditional articles with images and captions can be seen to skew the context of a photo, listicles take this idea to an extreme with their easily digestible information and spatially appealing arrangements. Listicles illustrate visual rhetoric through removing an individual’s own interpretation of an image or idea by imposing the author’s interpretation onto the image, changing the way it is perceived. This ultimately demonstrates the ability of listicles to shape content and perceived framework and showcases how author’s can use this fluidity of imagery and context to achieve a desired result.

Works Cited

Barthes, Roland. (1977). Rhetoric of Image. In S. Heath (Ed.), Image, Music, Text. New York: Hill and Wang.

CBC News. (2011). Vancouver riot’s ‘kissing couple’ tell their story. CBC News. Retrieved from: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/vancouver-riot-s-kissing-couple-tell-their-story-1.983560

Foss, Sonia. (2005). Theory of Visual Rhetoric. Handbook of Visual Communications: Theory, Methods, and Media. Retrieved from: http://www.sonjafoss.com/html/Foss41.pdf

Gailey, Amanda. (2013). How has technology changed the way we think about reading? [Blog Post]. Being a Human in A Digital Age. Retrieved from: http://segonku.unl.edu/beinghuman/?p=1688

Konnikova, Maria (2013). A List of Reasons Why Our Brains Love Lists. The New Yorker. Retrieved from: http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/elements/2013/12/a-list-of-reasons-that-our-brains-love-lists.html

Larson, Lindsay. (2012). Visual Fluency and the Consumer Experience: How Image Features Alter Preference and Subject Familiarity. The International Journal of the Image. Retrieved from: http://ijx.cgpublisher.com/product/pub.202/prod.105

Nordquist, Richard. (n.d.). Grammar & Composition: Listicle. About.com. Retrieved from: http://grammar.about.com/od/il/g/Listicle.htm

O’Leary, Brian. (2012). Context, Not Container. In H. McGuire & B. O’Leary (Eds.), A Futurists Manifesto. United States of America: O’Reilly Media.

Pope, Cath. (2013). Infographics: Content for the Eight Second Attention Span [Infographic]. Curated Content. Retrieved from http://www.curatedcontent.com.au/2013/08/21/infographics-content-for-the-eight-second-attention-span/

Thompson, Derek. (2010). 7 Reasons Lists Capture Our Attention (and Confuse Our Brains). The Atlantic. Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2013/12/7-reasons-lists-capture-our-attention-and-confuse-our-brains/282414/#disqus_thread

Vidyarthi, Neil. (2011). Attention Spans Have Dropped from 12 Minutes to 5 Minutes—How Social Media is Ruining Our Minds [Infographic]. Social Times. Retrieved from: http://socialtimes.com/attention-spans-have-dropped-from-12-minutes-to-5-seconds-how-social-media-is-ruining-our-minds-infographic_b86479

Visual Rhetoric. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved February 23, 2014, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Visual_rhetoric

Bricks vs. Clicks: How Publishers Are Affected by the Loss of Traditional Booksellers

One of the most prominent concerns in publishing today is the competition between printed books and ebooks. However, the means through which books are sold, rather than the general containers for books, is the more pertinent issue for the publishing industry (Shatzkin, 2014). With the loss of Borders and other brick-and-mortar bookstores, more and more book sales are being made online, helped in part by ebook sales (Pressman, 2014). While that may not initially sound like a bad thing for publishers, the online retail environment does not provide a level playing field. In fact, it introduces more obstacles. Continue reading “Bricks vs. Clicks: How Publishers Are Affected by the Loss of Traditional Booksellers”

Libress: the marriage of the university library and press as a viable relationship for academic publishers

In its heyday, during the postwar economic upturn of the 1950s, the North American scholarly press received generous subventions from parent universities and governments,
and also attracted A-list editors from trade publishing houses. Its longstanding mandate to publish the peer-reviewed scholarly journals and monographs of professors and PhD candidates at its research facility was therefore (relatively) easy, until a series of subsidy setbacks began in the 1980s. Magnifying the negative impact of slashed funding was the web, from which eventually spawned the open access movement that threatens the scholarly publishing ecosystem of today.

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When truth is truly irrelevant

Samsung paid $1 billion in nickels to Apple.
A linebacker defends a gay classmate against a bully.
And when the superstar American basketball player LeBron James was still in high school, he met his idol Michael Jordan.

Events or news can be condensed to the size of a meme and spread quickly through social networks. Does it still matter if the story is true? Yes. And no.

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The Unexplored Potential of the Internet as Art Medium

marcel duchamp fountain

Oh, Fountain. Go to any first-year art history course and Duchamp’s urinal-turned-art-piece will be one of the most debated topics of the term. There are always those students who insist the merit of any work of art is in the skill of the execution, of which Duchamp demonstrates none. But the concept—a critique of the posh High Art world—always prevails and Fountain is hailed as one of the strongest works of the European avant-garde.

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On the importance of viewing book porn

By Kaitlyn Till

Book porn is online media that celebrates and fetishizes both the purchase and ownership of books, and the aesthetic of an arranged collection of reading material. Like the subset of twenty-first century music fans dedicated to collecting and displaying vinyl albums, book porn creators and sharers are passionate about collecting the physical artifact and promote the creation and sharing of media that celebrates the “old” technology.

Online book porn can be divided into four categories. The first is collections of images and videos of libraries, bookstores, and other book-related places—often grandiose and far beyond the means of the viewers to replicate, such as the images found at Bookshelfporn. This is the often unattainable, always inspirational imagery that a subgroup of devoted bibliophiles binges upon; these are the infinite stacks filled with so many books that the titles are unreadable for their distance and extent. These images may be of either the place as it naturally is (such as an enormous library with a traditional organizational scheme), or are staged for maximum visual appeal with less functionality in mind—such as the extent of rainbow-organized book collection images.

Rainbow library

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In the Public Eye: The Intermediary Role of a “Recursive Public” in the Free Software Movement

Free Software, as a movement, has transformed the public’s idea of how technological information should be developed and distributed. Approaching software infrastructures in a contained and linear fashion has been overshadowed by collaborative and capricious programming methods; more and more, veils of secrecy around source codes are seen as conservative and regressive practices. With networks of free software creation broadening daily over the seemingly infinite Internet space, technologists have worked endlessly to understand and support this dominating model. Standard practices have been outlined by the Open Source Initiative (http://opensource.org/osdhttp://opensource.org/osd), but it seemed necessary and appropriate to develop a specific discourse for these unsteady and murky waters. Continue reading “In the Public Eye: The Intermediary Role of a “Recursive Public” in the Free Software Movement”

Shattering the Bounds of Reality – The Oculus Rift v.s. The Book REVISED

Amanda Peters

The old adage of “seeing is believing” is being proven wrong every day. Augmented reality is becoming a thing of the past, quickly replaced by virtual reality the likes of which we’ve never before experienced. We’re now living in a digital age, and the lines between what’s real and what isn’t are blurring every day.

I want to harken back to my previous essay with this one, expanding in a different direction on the idea of memory spaces and experience in the context of how unreal but immersive experiences influence our perception of the world. With the ways electronic media is conferred and experienced advancing and changing on almost a daily basis, traditional media (read print, in this case) is seen as lagging behind.

The real question, however, is whether or not this is the truth. Perhaps the real argument here is that the constant bombardment our senses are being submitted to by technology seeking to fill the real world with the viscera of fictional universes will lend itself to the revival of simple print. That the battle between print and technology is, at its foundation, more about the consumer’s acceptance or resistance to being robbed of agency. With virtual media remaining a prescriptive experience – as it has been since its inception – it could be argued that we are moving back towards a model in which the consumption of passive media like print out of a desire to regain control over how we interact with our forms of entertainment.

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