As the year nears its end, Beyond the Book is looking back at the last twelve months of our programs. In this edition of our three-part review for 2018, CCC’s Chris Kenneally considers how digital transformation has led to unexpected consequences, good and not so much.
In the human body, fatigue can lead to physical weaknesses as well as to mental decline. Fatigue makes us angry and fickle, it lowers our capacity for good judgment, and it can leave us vulnerable to making poor or improper decisions. News fatigue may be having similar effects on the body politic, argues Ariana Tobin, an engagement reporter at Pro Publica, an independent, non-profit newsroom that produce investigative journalism on a range of topics including government and politics, business and the environment. As 2018 opened, Tobin foresaw a day when the news audience would choose to turn away from the firehose of news pouring out at them.
“I think it may have already started happening, honestly. I used to work in audience analytics. I had a job where every day my responsibility was to look at what was happening on terms of page views, where audiences were coming from, what they were clicking on, what topics they gravitated toward. If you take any look at the numbers, you can already see it happening. We know that people are getting tired,” she said. “I think that as journalists, that’s part of our responsibility to our audiences: to figure out how the news is resonating, whether what we are producing is actually making it into the hands of the people who could use it.”
In the spring, “data harvesting” by Cambridge Analytica was revealed. The company had legally collected information on the personal interests of as many as 50 million Americans from Facebook’s open online platform, then later used that data to shape advertising and messaging in the 2016 US presidential campaign.
Data hoarding has made good business for Facebook, Google and Twitter – as well as for a host of opportunistic data brokers and data dealers. Their financial gain is often your privacy lost, says author B.J. Mendelson. In his 2018 book, Privacy, Mendelson makes the case that your personal life is up for sale.
“Tech companies have done a wonderful job – fortunately for them, unfortunately for us – of painting themselves as cuddly and friendly and promoting all these wonderful things. But the bottom line has always been, and since 1994, that your data equals a whole lot of money, and they’ll do whatever it takes to get as much of it as they can,” he said.
After an interval of more than a quarter of a century, the International Publishers Association Congress returned to India in 2018. In 1992, IPA members had arrived in a nation with a developing economy that relied heavily on foreign aid. In 2018, India numbers among the G-20 gathering of wealthiest nations in the world and boasts the planet’s fastest-growing economy.
As much as India has transformed over the last 25 years, so has publishing. National barriers to the flow of information have largely fallen, while the ubiquity of mobile devices places a virtual global library in nearly every human hand. Yet the core concerns of IPA endure. In an age of fake news, censorship and piracy, says IPA President Michiel Kolman, publishers can be stewards of truth and quality.
“Trust in reliable, high-quality information is now even more important than ever before,” noted Kolman. “And it’s the publishers around the world that have risen to this challenge and are publishing what I would call trustworthy information, as they have been doing for ages. That’s true for science publishers, for trade publishers, or educational publishers. It only illustrates the importance of publishing today.”
At a gala evening in the New York Historical Society’s palatial headquarters in June, the Audio Publishers Association announced the winners of the 2018 Audie Awards, the Oscars of spoken-word entertainment. Neil Gaiman won an Audie for narration by author. Other winners included Bruce Springsteen, Trevor Noah, and Ann Leckie.
No wonder, really, that the publishing world has rolled out the red carpet for audiobooks. Revenue from audiobook sales has more than doubled since 2012, yielding a welcome digitally-driven boost to publishers’ bottom lines in an otherwise tight book market.
“CDs are having kind of a slow slide down. They’re still a big part of what people do, and there are still a lot of people that like to listen on them. But digital is where the growth is,” explained Michele Cobb, APA executive director.
The steady decline in demand for recordings on compact discs hasn’t led to the business losses seen in music and video because of the arrival of a now ubiquitous device, she said. “The smartphone. We’ve all got one, we’ve all got audiobooks on them. We are also starting to see a lot of activity around the smart speaker or your Google Home device. A lot of people are listening in the evenings, listening to children’s stories, listening to audiobooks.”