Publics and Publishing in Transition
Assessment Task 3
Question 4: When publishing changes, so does society. Investigate and compare the impact of two publication technologies, one pre-1900 and one post-2000, on a specific aspect of society (e.g. education, politics, creative industries, science, entertainment, social relationships).
Publishing is the process of making produced literature, graphics and information public. Throughout history, the evolution of the publishing industry has been a primary catalyst for enabling societies to flourish and ultimately develop into the modern world we live in today. It is true that when publishing changes, so too does society. This statement can be made explicit by investigating and contrasting the impact that both the printing press and the Internet have had on various aspects of business.
The advent of the printing press was the pinnacle for what the publishing industry is today. It changed the way information and knowledge itself was thought of, structured and disseminated, while indeed having a profound impact on many aspects of business. “So much that we think of as characteristic of the modern world economic, social, religious, political is built on the foundation provided by print as a medium of communication”. (Finnegan, 1978) Invented by businessman Johannes Gutenberg in 1436 in Southern Germany, the printing press in its most simple form was based on existing screw presses and used replaceable wooden or metal letters to transmit texts, the earliest being mostly bibles and other religious texts. The printing press has been hailed “one of the most revolutionary inventions in human history”. (Dittmar, 2011)
Prior to Guternberg’s printing press, the practice of book making relied on a person hand copying the words and images for every copy, and books were made out of cleaned, smoothed animal skin called parchment. With this manual labour being very expensive, books were nothing other than a luxury for the rich. Gutenberg’s invention was a much faster method, meaning less labour costs and ultimately changing the possibilities for information and ideas to be distributed. With books being more readily available throughout Europe and at a much lower cost, the demand for more books drastically increased and the publishing tool proceeded to spread rapidly around the globe. “Eisenstein refers to a “knowledge explosion”, accompanying the ‘Northern Renaissance’ of the fifteenth century, with the literature of the period, involving writers from Marlowe to Rabelais speaking of the ‘intoxication’ of the availability of written knowledge”. (Bawden, 2000)
One of the ways that the printing press impacted on business was in the way that this new publishing tool greatly reduced the cost of the book. Dittmar says “The printing press was one of the most important access cost-reducing inventions in history”. (2011) With this mass cost reduction in an entire industry as it was, a large sector of the population were now able to afford to purchase books, meaning people wanted to be educated so they could read them. “Printing encouraged literacy in the population and eventually brought about a deep and lasting impact on many people’s lives”. (Dittmar, 2011) Being educated with text books meant people were well equipped for working in businesses when they left school. This broad increase in the education of the populace of Europe and the greater world meant business practices could broaden. “Historical research suggests that print media transformed the ways ideas were disseminated, promoted the accumulation of human capital, and played a key role in the evolution of business practices”. (Dittmar, 2011) The expanding book publishing trade and a better educated population meant more job opportunities as well as increased incentive to start new businesses, boosting the economic climate at the time.
The printing press played a pivotal role in the teaching and implementation of literary and other skills that were useful to business merchants. Such skills included being able to do mathematical equations to calculate prices of goods, interest rates, profit rates and exchange rates (Dittmar, 2011). It is clear that the printing press revolutionised the world and impacted in many ways on the business sector of the 15th Century in Europe, emphasising the extent to which society is changed when publishing changes.
Similarly, social media is a post-2000 publishing tool that has extensively impacted on the publishing industry and continues to change the practice of business as an important aspect of society. By first understanding what the term social media manifests of, one can better understand how it has impacted on business as an aspect of society. Andreas Kaplan and Michael Haenlein defined social media as “a group of Internet-based applications that build on the ideological and technological foundations of Web 2.0, and that allow the creation and exchange of user-generated content”. Social media can be distinguished from other forms of media in that it is heavily dependent on user-generated content. The value of social media as a hugely successful publishing platform is both dependent on the technology of social media and the constant information uploading and sharing of users.
Popular social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, as well as blogs, have impacted on and virtually transformed many aspects of society, and one of those aspects that it has been particularly useful for is business. Small businesses as well as large, multi-national companies can benefit from implementing social media into their business marketing and advertising plan. When businesses use social media, the customer/company relationship is strengthened by creating a platform for increased dialogue between the company and the customer, where customers are not only fed information but can actually comment back. In a recent study conducted by Wildfire, where over 700 marketers from all around the world were surveyed, it found that the top three reasons for why a ‘fan’ on Facebook has value are: new customer recruitment, higher conversion rates and more frequent purchases. It found that 85% of worldwide marketing managers believed engaging in dialogue was the largest benefit of using social media in their marketing plan. (Heaton, 2012)
It has been suggested that the frequency that businesses actively use their social media accounts, such as updating their Facebook status, and posting on Twitter, is directly related to increased sales. This is most likely because of the way social media more directly reaches the customer, as well as the advent of online shopping meaning social media is a way of linking to the sales page of the business. It is now all very practical, easy and direct marketing to sell a product to the customer at home behind the computer screen. Oglivy ChatThreads Social Media Sales Impact Study 2011 investigated “Does investing in social media create business value?”, and found that “Social media exposure is directly linked with increase in sales. Integrated social media (social content and one or more other channels) exposure is linked with significant increases in spend and consumption - for example, social media - PR exposure was associated with a 17% spend increase compared to the prior week without these”. (Kamal; Carl, 2011)
Businesses that use social media also have the benefit of timeliness. This means being able to post important advertising messages to all of the company’s customers within a matter of seconds. Timeliness is important for publicists who are trying to promote a product, person or idea through creating and implementing a media strategy, and the industry is very dependent on timing. The Huffington Post recently published an article that emphasised social medias role of timing in publishing practices, saying how advertising should now be done slowly over time rather than attacking the customers all at once. “Social media has also changed the timing of marketing campaigns. Instead of creating a blitz campaign of shock and awe (advertising driven), today we need a sustained campaign of community building and long-term exposure” (Burke, 2011). It is evident through investigating social media as a post-2000 technology that it has beyond any doubt been a major influencing technology on the publishing industry, and the business sector of society.
If we compare these two publishing technologies’ impact on business as a significant aspect of society, it is apparent that there are many similarities but some differences in the way they impacted on business. Despite being invented in two very contrasting contexts, both the printing press and social media have reduced costs for businesses. The invention of the printing press meant it was much cheaper for society to both produce written works and purchase them. This allowed business, society and the economy to flourish as pamphlets and other advertising was more accessible, and as more people were educated business and technology could prosper and more businesses be opened. Likewise, social media reduces costs for businesses today in the way that it allows for free, instantaneous advertising rather than having to spend money on advertising in the mass media which is very expensive. Both the printing press and social media have impacted on businesses by increasing revenue, however in very different ways. Unlike social media, the printing press was a new publishing tool that allowed for people to learn the skills necessary to work in a business or be a business owner, such as calculating interest rates, profits and other basic costs. Social media is a publishing tool that also enhances revenue for businesses, but this is done by social media providing more exposure for the business when used properly and then enabling a platform to provide direct links to online stores.
By investigating these two publishing technologies, the printing press and social media, it is overtly apparent that they have both had a remarkable and long lasting impact on the publishing industry, being a vital aspect of the evolution into all that publishing is today. Both technologies have reshaped society as it was prior to their invention, and created new publics with the possibilities that they have enabled. It is also clear that the printing press and social media, while being technologies invented in entirely different contexts, have and continue to have a particularly phenomenal impact on the business sector of society, and after all business is a fundamental component of the foundations of a functioning society. Therefore, by investigating both of these publishing technologies, one can see that both the printing press and social media have both utterly changed society, proving that it is certainly true that when publishing changes, so too does society.
List of references
Bawden, D., Robinson, L., 2000, “A distant mirror? The Internet and the printing press”, Aslib Proceedings Vol 52, No. 2, ProQuest Central, pp.51-57
Dittmar, Jeremiah E., 2011, “Information Technology and Economic Change: The impact of the Printing Press”, Quarterly Journal of Economics, Vol.126(3), pp.1133-1167
Finnegan, R., 1978, “Communication and Technology” in Open University Course D101, Making Sense of Society, Unit 8, Block 3, Communication pp.96
Fauzia, B., 2010, "Publicity and Social Media: A Match Made in Heaven", posted online at huffingtonpost.com, accessed 9 June 2012
Heaton, Gavin., 2012, "Business Impact of Social Media" Wildfire posted online at socialmediatoday.com, accessed 9 June 2012
Kamal, I; Carl, W; Ogilvy & Mather; ChatThreads., 2011, "Does investing in social media create business value?" posted online at ogilvyoneworldwide.com, accessed 9 June 2012
Kaplan, Andreas M.; Michael Haenlein., 2012, Users of the world, unite! The challenges and opportunities of Social Media” Business Horizons 53 (1): pp.59-68