Sunday, April 20, 2014

"The Digital Revolution"

This reading, written by John B. Thompson, is a chapter of his book “Merchants of Culture: The Publishing Business in the Twenty-First Century” that published in 2010, well into the post-web, post-google times. 

Author’s information:

 “John B. Thompson is Professor of Sociology at the University of Cambridge and Fellow of Jesus College, Cambridge. He has held Visiting Professorships at universities in the United States, Canada, Italy, Spain, Mexico, Brazil, Chile, China and South Africa.  His main areas of research are contemporary social and political theory; sociology of the media and modern culture; the social organization of the media industries; the social and political impact of information and communication technologies; and the changing forms of political communication.  Recent publications include Ideology and Modern Culture (1990), The Media and Modernity (1995), Political Scandal (2000), Books in the Digital Age (2005) and Merchants of Culture (2010).  He was awarded the European Amalfi Prize for Sociology and the Social Sciences in 2001 for his work on political scandal.  He is currently working on the impact of the digital revolution on the book publishing industry.”
source: University of Cambridge-Sociology-All Sociology Contacts

“Merchants of Culture”, where the chapter is picked from, is a book written by John B. Thompson that published in September, 2010. It’s a great introduction, a meaningful discussion and an excellent conclusion of the publishing industry that cover the major changes over the past decades. It’s like Mr. Phil Simon said on GoodReads, “If you want to understand the history of publishing and why its future is in doubt, buy this book and read it.” Hence, the book targets on people who are professional or interested in knowing or researching the history or the future development of publishing industry field.

There are over hundreds of reviews about the whole book that can be found in GoodReads, but I didn't find any materials that are specifically related to the Chapter 9 itself. 

The Article:
When the third technological revolution came at the end of the 20th Century, not only professionals in publishing industry, but also many organizations and people of various background had foreseen the huge change that would happen in the field- but they were too optimistic- the concerns about the Internet economy made the first digital revolution in the publishing industry not develop as expected-it almost failed.

With such mixed feelings between expectation and anxiousness, people could only devote their hope to more digital devices and the new generation growing up in the digital era. During the uncertain waiting, the situation finally began to change since 2006- although the proportion of e-books still weighed so little in the whole publishing field- there was no doubt that the improvement of digital revolution become incredible. That should all thank to the broad utilization of new digital tools. As a result, the future of the publishing industry turned more confusing.

For those people who were skeptic for the digitalization, they still didn't believe that e-books could replace the plenty functions of print-on-paper books. Moreover, they argued that the digitalization in publishing was totally different from that in music industry. They insisted that print books had more significance than simple fast-food entertainment.

In the chapter 9 of the book “Merchants of Culture”, Prof. Thompson claimed that digital revolution had already happened under the fake appearance of calm. In addition, he argued that it was the revolution of process instead of product- that was so-called the “hidden revolution”. It included four levels of aspects that digitalization were influencing the publishing industry, which in fact showed that publishing had previously been impacted by the digital revolution silently. However, generally, the development of e-books still had four major problems: hardware, format, rights and price. Based on these four questions, Prof. Thompson discussed about seven possible technological improvements in the future.

About the relationship between the technology and publishing, Prof. Thompson used reference publishing and scientific & scholarly journal publishing as instances to explain the adaptation processes and methods. What’s more, he spent couple pages repeatedly emphasizing the necessity of building digital archives systems for publishing business under the technological environment- it would help to set up publishers’ own profiles and increase the efficiency of running the industry.

At the end of the chapter, Prof. Thompson also mentioned about the severe threat that the copyright problem was faced with under the digital revolution and he provided three suggestions. Additionally, for the consideration of the publishing industry, he analyzed the price crush caused by corporations like Amazon to traditional publishers and offered some thoughts.

Thompson, J. B. (2010). Merchants of culture: the publishing business in the twenty-first century. Cambridge, UK: Polity. Retrieved from:
Book Reviews about “Merchants of Culture” in GoodReads page:
University of Cambridge-Sociology-All Sociology Contacts page:

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