1.2 – The World Wide Web as publication medium

1.2 – The World Wide Web as publication medium The publishing industry is diverse, publishing products for many different media. Depending on the definition chosen, the products of publishers could be said to include such things as software, records, CD-ROMs, and so on, as well as the more obvious examples such as books, magazines, and newspapers. The evolutionary changes within the publishing industry come in part from the way that the industry has adapted itself to, and absorbed, the various new media.Digital publishers are a subset of the industry as a whole, distinguished from print-based publishers by their use of digital content, which they package and publish in various non-print forms. This content can be recast from different editorial points of view and in a variety of formats (CD-ROMs, screen-savers, searchable databases, etc.).

The underlying digital substrate permits digital publishers to establish a symbiotic relationship with computing technology, allowing them to

embrace all prior electronic media, enhance, empower and automate them, speed them up, recombine them, and output the results in any desired alternate medium. […] Though in the future other new media will be developed, they will always be children of the computer (Lias, 1982:28) Control of content is the cornerstone. In recognition of the value of digital content, the big players in the digital publishing field have been using their corporate clout to corner the market on electronic copyright for a wide variety of material. Bill Gates has made significant investments in this area, as evidenced by the recent purchase of the Bettmann Archives by Corbis Corporation, a company controlled by Microsoft: Corbis already owns the electronic rights to artwork from a number of famous collections such as the National Gallery of London and the Library of Congress. The company plans to digitize a portion of the Bettmann collection, and it will continue to license images to outside producers and publishers. […] “This just shows how much Gates values content. […] It’s better to be a content owner than a licensee” (Reid, 1995) At this level within the digital publishing sphere – the level of the conglomerates – we can see similarities with the approaches taken by book publishers within the print publishing sphere. Book publishers recognize the value of their backlists, building them up over time. The backlist is considered a kind of “legacy,” a reliable source of ongoing revenue, which publishers can draw upon to help finance other parts of their overall operation. The “digital content controllers” have a similar legacy in the storehouses of digitized material that they control. And if “content controllers” are the book publishers of the digital realm, then webzine publishers are amongst the magazine publishers of that realm.The World Wide Web demonstrates the full transformative power inherent in this digital medium. An intimate blend of content and computer technology, Web pages have become a near-universal interface to a full range of digital material. There are Web interfaces to video-cameras, providing live images of the surf on some distant beach, or the level of coffee in a coffee-pot in England.(1) There are Web interfaces to dictionaries, to phone directories, to library catalogs, to real-estate listings nationwide. The immediacy and the generality permitted by the Web allows publishers to offer their readers a wealth of new services. 1.2.1 – From products to services As noted in the introduction, the publishing industry has seen a gradual shifting away from permanence and towards ephemerality throughout its history. In parallel with this shift, there has been a move away from a product-based marketing approach to a more service-based approach. This move has come in response to changes in industry as a whole, as the broader marketplace has become more service oriented. However the move is also in part the result of changes in the nature of the materials produced by publishers over the years. Magazines, newspapers, and, most recently, their online counterparts, all have about them significant service aspects for their consumers.

In some ways magazines and newspapers are the ephemera of the print publishing industry: most deal in material which is highly time-sensitive (newspapers and weekly newsmagazines such as Maclean’s, Time, and Newsweek being the most obvious examples). It is this very timeliness that magazine and newspaper publishers are selling. What magazine and newspaper readers are paying for when they select an issue of Maclean’s or the Globe and Mail from the newsstand is not so much the publication as a product, they are buying the editorial service of having had the world’s news of that day or week selected, condensed, summarized and explained for them, in one easy-to-read package, produced for sale while the news is still current.

Niche-oriented special interest magazines and newspapers provide another example of the services performed by magazine and newspaper publishers for their readers. (2) These publishers match the needs and interests of a particular demographic or psychographic profile with information of interest to that group.

For most magazine and newspaper publishers, subscribers are not the only target market. These publishers rely on income from advertising for a large portion of their revenue: Mogel cites figures for a typical consumer magazine (Mogel, 1988:173), where 22% of revenues derive from advertising sales. For this target market – the advertisers – magazine and newspaper publishers stress the service aspect almost exclusively, as exemplified by the ads found in Folio magazine. A typical example is one recent ad placed on behalf of Forbes magazine, in the May 1995 issue of Folio. The ad highlights the demographic profile of Forbes subscribers, noting that “Forbes delivers influential leaders & affluent consumers, [with] $232,000 average income [and] $2,180,000 average net worth.” Potential advertisers are reminded that their ad in Forbes can “reach 735,000 active subscribers cost-effectively with Forbes ride-along program inserting up to 25,000 monthly.” Advertisers seeking a print vehicle will chose the magazine whose demographics most closely match their own target market. What they are buying is not a product, but the service of reaching their target market effectively.

The reliance on advertising as a source of revenue reaches its peak with the so-called “controlled circulation” magazines. Such magazines are distributed free of charge to a selected market, and publishers cite their circulation figures and the demographic profile of their readers when approaching potential advertisers.

Seen from this perspective, webzines are the ultimate in controlled circulation publications. Their geographic reach is (essentially) global. Their demographic profile is, however, somewhat more difficult to determine. Webzines have no direct control over where their publication is distributed: it is available anywhere that the Internet exists. Anyone with a Web browser can access virtually all material put up for publication on any Web server. Where distribution is concerned, the webzine publisher must take a much more passive role than his print counterpart.

Two ways in which webzine publishers can be proactive is by cultivating a specific image for their publication or by selecting a particular niche or area of interest for their webzine to address. In doing so, publishers attempt to establish a reputation, for the timeliness of their publication, for its depth of coverage, or for its expertise within the chosen field. If they are successful in carving out their niche, the publishers can – like their print counterparts – cite circulation figures (in the form of “hit” rates) for their pages and set off in search of advertisers who want to reach the target market that the webzine has attracted. Like their print counterparts, what webzine publishers are really selling is the service of reaching a certain target market effectively. In fact this service is virtually the only thing they can sell in the Internet marketplace of today.

1.2.2 – Demographics of the World Wide Web Although webzine publishers have a certain amount of control over their publication’s image or target market, they must still work within the confines of the existing marketplace: the World Wide Web itself.

The Web is still a long way from providing a representative cross-section of the population as a whole. In a recent article in InfoCanada Magazine (subtitled “How do you sell to a market that’s 90 per cent techie male?”) Carl Stieren had the following to say about the demographics of the World Wide Web today:

The most widely-quoted studies are those of the Graphics, Visualization & Usability Laboratory at Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. Georgia Tech’s second Internet survey showed 90% of 3522 Web surfers surveyed are male, with an average age of 31. That’s down from 94% male surfers shown in the first survey by Georgia Tech a year and a half ago. More impressive was the educational profile of Web surfers, with 34% holding a bachelor’s degree as their highest level of education, 23% more holding a master’s degree, and 13% more with a Ph.D.And what about Canadian users? The Georgia Tech surveys show that 6% of Web users were in Canada, about half the percentage of those in California.

Mike Rissa & Co., of Helsinki, Finland, had 547 responses to his survey, from 11 countries in December, 1994. Rissa confirmed the second Georgia Tech survey, showing 90% male users of the Web, and a median age of 31. The student/educational/government sectors combined were only 31 % in Rissa’s study, however, compared with about 51% found by Georgia Tech. When asked what type of Web information they would be interested in, business ranked only fifth, behind newspapers and magazines, computer related information, research, and free time (entertainment, sports) (Stieren, 1995)

It is likely to be some time before the demographics of the World Wide Web reflect the demographics of the general population. The “high tech” requirements for access (a personal computer in the home or office, an account with an Internet Service Provider, and enough technical knowledge to resolve and overcome installation glitches) are still significant enough to filter out a substantial percentage of consumer households. Footnote 1: The surf at Sunset Beach in Hawaii is at http://satftp.soest.hawaii.edu/sunset.html. The Trojan Room coffee-pot is at http://www.cl.cam.ac.uk/coffee/coffee.html. (back)Footnote 2: Mogel speaks of “the trend away from the general-editorial classification and towards the specialized [in the field of consumer magazines.] The specialized magazine offers a direct appeal to its readers that other mass media cannot match” (Mogel, 1988:4). (back)

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The world wide web’s a stage

The Wasted Day Collection are from Hull. Both members of the acoustic duo have acquired disabilities. Jade experiences mobility problems and chronic pain due to prolapsed disks and Tim has a diagnosis of schizophrenia.The two used to gig regularly in pubs and clubs. But now, no-longer well enough to continue, they’ve had to be innovative in finding new ways of getting their music heard.

On a recent edition of the Ouch! Talk Show, Jade spoke about doing live performances from her home for an online US radio station.

“I feel quite safe in my living room, so we tended to make it into a gig space. It was a lot easier than getting out and about and falling off a stage. If I was ill, I could just come downstairs.

“Unfortunately, we used to have to start our gigs at about three in the morning and finish them about 8 because [the fans] are over in America. We were making ourselves ill trying to keep that audience.”

Finding themselves unable to continue gigging through the night, Jade and Tim are now focusing on writing and recording new material, selling music and merchandise online and producing a podcast, where they invite other musicians to collaborate with them live.

Podcasting is a cheap and straight-forward way of broadcasting yourself to anyone who wants to listen. If you know where to promote your show, it’s also a remarkably useful way of targeting a specific group.

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