Bryan Dollery, Media Management MA student, department of Culture and Media, Arcada UAS
Supervisor: Dr. Matteo Stocchetti Examiner: Dr. Nathalie Hyde-Clarke
Improved accessibility to computers and the internet means lower entry barriers for many sectors. For some writers, this means that the dream of getting their story, comic or poetry out into the world is much closer to becoming a reality – as made by evident the vast bodies of work available to us today. This is a result of the digital transformation of the self-publishing landscape.
My initial thought was that this is a positive thing, that “more” can only be good: more freedom to write, more books published, more literature for people to read. This kind of assumption, however, is perhaps too often and too easily reached when considering the digital transformation of any industry. So, in this thesis, I set out to explore how the digital turn has changed the cultural practice of storytelling, as well as approach the social issue of literary pluralism in the digital age.
Pluralism is a term that is difficult to define without a given context. The bottom line, however, is that pluralism is generally concerned with the benefits that multiplicity and diversity can provide. Literary pluralism, then, is concerned with the benefits that a variety of available literature can bring about. This led me to ask the question: how has self-publishing in the digital age impacted literary pluralism?
If pluralism is to do with the benefits that variety encourages, then identifying the importance of literature was necessary before proceeding. This is where I turned to the work of cognitive psychologist Jerome Bruner, examining culture and the construction of realities. Narratives, he argues, are vital for both of these things. We all understand the world around us in our own ways, and narratives are something that feed and shape that understanding. As a cultural product, literature is rife with narratives like those of the hero, the damsel in distress, the lone wolf, and so on. However, “narratives” are not synonymous with “stories” themselves – several, more subtle narratives also permeate our culture: neighbours are nosy; trolls live under bridges; finding a penny brings good luck etc.
Narratives organise experiences in time – “lived time”, as Bruner puts it, and exposure to narratives means access to cultural meanings that we employ to shape our own realities. A rich culture, therefore, makes a variety of narratives available so that we can strengthen and broaden our world view. This is the importance of literary pluralism.
Measuring the impact that a digitally transformed self-publishing landscape has had on literary pluralism is far too big a challenge for one thesis. Nevertheless, more academic attention is needed in this area so that we may better understand the cultural role played by today’s massive collection of self-published literature. I focused my study on the places where self-published works are disseminated – digital publishing platforms.
I chose Patreon as my main case study because membership platforms have so far received little academic attention. Furthermore, an initial investigation of writers’ Patreon accounts showed that many of them use and promote other channels, including social media and digital bookstores. A study of self-publishing in the digital landscape would not be complete without mentioning the largest player in the field. The amount of self-published works available from Amazon is practically countless. Amazon’s publishing platform allows independent writers to get their book on the virtual shelves of the world’s largest online store. Patreon, by comparison, has no such store front. As a membership platform, Patreon instead gives creators a place to gather their following and appeal for financial support in the form of small, long-term contributions.
By conducting semi-structured interviews with 15 independent writers who use Patreon, I was able to gain insight into their motives, ambitions and publishing practices. Around 40 other publishing platforms and services were also discussed by the interviewees, providing even more insight into the cultural practices that occur today in the digital self-publishing landscape.
Drawing from the theories of reality-construction and technological ambivalence, my thesis explores the cultural practices surrounding digital publishing platforms with an aim to begin a broader discussion into the state of literary pluralism today. It is my hope that academics continue to probe the digital self-publishing landscape in search of more answers about its impact on our culture.
Bruner, J. (1991) The Narrative Construction of Reality, Critical Inquiry. [PDF] Available from semiootika.ee. Accessed 5th October 2019.
Bruner, J. (2004) Life as Narrative, Social Research, vol. 71, no. 3, pp. 691-710. [PDF] Available from Available from Pro Quest ABI/Inform Global. Accessed 5th October 2019.
Feenberg, A. (1990) The Ambivalence of Technology, Social Perspectives, vol. 33, no. 1, pp. 35-50. California: Sage Publications.
Feenberg, A. (2012) Function and Meaning: The Double Aspects of Technology, Special Inauguration Issue, vol. 1, no. 1. ISEL Academic Journal of Electronics, Telecommunications and Computers.
Hawthorne, S. (2014) Bibliodiversity: A Manifesto for Independent Publishing. Victoria: Spiniflex Press.
Kallio, H. et al (2016) Systematic methodological review: developing a framework for a qualitative semi-structured interview guide. [PDF] Available from onlinelibrary.wiley.com. Access on 30th January 2018.
The full thesis may be downloaded from Theseus.fi from December 2019.
Are you looking for tools to manage the rapidly changing media industry? Or do you find yourself in the media industry struggling to see the bigger picture? Learn more about our MA in Media Management here: https://www.arcada.fi/en/master/media-management .