The desire to escape reality and lose oneself in a piece of literature remains an integral part of popular culture. In order to maintain this relevance, the literary industry has facilitated change in the nature of the profession by adapting to the rise of social media. Three examples of this adaption are The Harry Potter franchise's use of convergence, Fifty Shades of Grey's origin in participatory culture and young adult author John Green's social media spreadability enhancing book sales.
Pottermore. 2017. The Sorting Hat Quiz. Retrieved April 7, 2017. from www.pottermore.com
Figure one: sorting hat quiz converging a concept from the book into an interactive digital social media.
J.K Rowling author of the globally renowned Harry Potter series converged the type and duration of her wizarding world stories into an online platform titled Pottermore. Rowling’s digital entertainment and publishing company marketed as a "safe, unique online reading experience," used convergence to transform the original print content into easily accessible social media.
Media researchers, Lievrouw and Livingstone, devised three theories to consider new media; artefacts, communication practices and social arrangements (Flew, 2014, p.6). Pottermore gives audiences the ability to access the wizarding world on new artefacts including mobile devices and computers. A new communicative practice is also available involving additional stories and interactive content. The site gives opportunity for innovative social arrangements as consumers gain the ability to interact with other members and the executive team on a public forum.
The theology behind convergence involves both a change in the way media is produced and consumed (Jenkins, 2006, p.174). In this case content is able to be produced and consumed daily, a flexibility previously unavailable to the literary industry under the print medium. Henry Jenkins, researcher and author in this area, states 'convergence represents a cultural shift as consumers are encouraged to seek out new information and make connections among dispersed media content’ (Jenkins, 2006, p.176). This idea is reiterated by Pottermore CEO Susan Jurevics who stated "We also have the challenge of staying on top of all of the digital trends that are not only what users are using, but really also what publishers are using to consistently innovate."
For Pottermore constantly finding innovative ways to engage audiences with new quizzes as seen in figure one, stories and engaging initiatives is crucial. In comparison to Rowling's content convergence another current trend is to find online amature authors utilising participatory culture to profit from both their story and pre-established fan base.
Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James has revitalised the literary industry by utilising participatory culture in the original production and distribution stage. Participatory culture is a term used to explain the “involvement of users, audiences, consumers and fans in content creation” (Fuchs, 2014, p.53). This paradigm shift from distribution to circulation signals a movement towards a participatory culture, one which sees the public not as simply consumers of preconstructed messages but as people who are shaping, sharing, reframing and remixing content in ways previously unimagined (Jenkins, Ford & Green, 2013, p.5). This model is often considered to oppose mass media as it relies on the contribution of audiences to create the media they desire rather than major media organisations dictating what is published (Fuchs, 2014, p.56). Social media has allowed consumers freedom over how they respond to and consume media (Hanson, 2016, p.32).
In the case of E.L. James she utilised fanfiction.net, an online fan site where amateur authors can write stories based on characters from popular media, to write her story originally titled Master of the Universe, using characters and situations from Stephanie Myers Twilight. This story was then adapted for publishing as Twilight links had to be changed for copy right purposes. When discussing with Vanity Fair what Fifty Shades of Grey’s success meant for the literary industry London-based agent Lorella Belli spoke of how on these sites all readers contribute to the editing process of the stories. This form of informal mentor ship gives an author the ability to constantly adapt their work to the audience (Fuchs, 2014, p.53). Belli went on to explain “Most of the original fans are actually very happy for the author because it’s almost like they’ve helped [them] achieve financial success." In this way the contributors feel important to the process (Fuchs, 2014, p.52).
The global success of E.L. James’ novel has given publishers a new outlet to seek potential best sellers. Another literary agent, Holly Root, agreed expressing the positive marketing outcome acquired when recreating a fanfiction into a novel is the story already has an audience awaiting its release. For the literary industry while fanfiction is creating an opportunity it is also risking the industry integrity. These fanfiction authors generally have no qualifications and therefore underqualified by industry standards. This could impact global advancement as education of languages and society comes from reading the written word (Fuchs, 2014, p.54). Even with this in mind for the time being the success of Fifty Shades of Grey has opened up a whole new market for fanfiction adaptions.
Established authors, such as Young Adult fiction writer John Green, have their own fan base. Social media allows authors to interact with audiences through an ‘array of online communication tools’ to ‘facilitate informal and instantaneous sharing’ (Jenkins et al., 2013, p.7). This content exposure is referred to as spreadability. Spreadability combines the platforms used to share content, the commercial constructions supporting or restricting post spread and the appeal to audiences the content possesses (Jenkins et al., 2013, p.7). When promoting upcoming book The Fault in Our Stars, John Green was able to achieve Best Seller status before the novel had been published due to his use of social media. His posts to Twitter, Tumblr and a community forum YourPants.org followed by a video, as seen below, on his YouTube page enabled this success (Gow, 2011).
vlogbrothers. (2011, June 29). The Fault in our Stars [video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3xFT8XXXR8&list=PLB5DD35E0E090B84F&index=22
Figure two: John Green's promotional YouTube video about new book The Fault in our Stars.
The purpose of the post was to create excitement about his upcoming book by dropping the title. The end goal of spreadability is to gain action or active engagement from audiences (Jenkins et al., 2013, p.7). In order to achieve preorders Green offered to sign all first print preorders. This incentive was successful with The Fault in Our Stars reaching "number-one on both Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com a year before the book was published." For the literary industry as a whole fans want two-way communication to be open between themselves and the author. When asked about this paradigm shift author Nihar Suthar suggests "Fans like to see your personality outside of just an author, and the more they can relate to you, the more they will follow you and read your work in the future." Authors who adapt to this new model are becoming or remaining successful and therefore helping the literary industry stay up to date.
Social media has facilitated significant change in the literary industry for both the profession itself and the authors working within. The industry has adapted to this change by utilising convergence, participatory culture and spreadability among other theologies to ensure this medium stays up to date with the needs of modern audiences. The professionals discussed including John Green, J.K. Rowling and E.L James have reformed the type and duration of literacy work while utilising new skills, production and distribution channels as well as enabling audience communication. Social media as a whole has given this industry a new platform to share content and new fan bases.
Flew, T. (2014).New Media (4th ed.). South Melbourne, Oxford University Press.
Fuchs, C. (2014). Social media as participatory culture. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.4135/9781446270066.n3
Jenkins, H. (2006). Culture and Convergence: Where old and new media collide. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org.ezp01.library.qut.edu.au/stable/j.ctt9qffwr.9?seq=6#page_scan_tab_contents
Jenkins, H., Ford, S., Green, J. (2013). Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org.ezp01.library.qut.edu.au/stable/j.ctt9qfk6w.5
Hanons, J. (2016). The social media revolution, Retrieved from http://ebookcentral.proquest.com.ezp01.library.qut.edu.au/lib/qut/detail.action?docID=4518806