Thursday, April 5, 2012

NMN Assignment 3: The Evolution of Publishing

The next step in the evolution of publishing begins with the toolsJ.K. Rowling sit in a cafe where she penned the first Harry Potter novelThe first publishers of Harry Potter: Bloomsbury Publishing's UK OfficeBoxes of the new Harry Potter novels from the printersHarry Potter fans fill a bookstore as they rush to buy the next novelHarry Potter fans remix the copyrighted material to create original works
MuggleNet, a Harry Potter fansite, helps fans share stories in their fan fiction sectionHeather Lawver creator of Harry Potter fansite, The Daily Prophet, organized a boycott against Warner Bros.Fan fiction writers collaborate to improve their work and help each otherWarner Brothers' version of The Daily Prophet on display at their Wizarding World theme parkLawver's Daily Prophet site shares its title with the newspaper in Harry PotterFans scramble to get their hands on the newest novel
Remixed fan art posted on MuggleNetWarner Bros. current Harry Potter WebsitePottermore is designed to "give back" to fansPottermore's "Terms and Conditions" for User Generated ContentFansite the Leaky Cauldron features remixed artJ. K. Rowling official passes the writing and publishing torch to future authors
J. K. Rowling's planning sheet for Harry Potter and the Order of the PhoenixThe availability of publishing tools is forcing the publishing world to evolve

Traditional publishing methods are costly and force publishers to critically evaluate each submission to see if it is worth printing in hopes of earning a profit (Shirky, 2008, p. 97). This has lead to many excellent novels being rejected, including J.K. Rowling’s original Harry Potter, which was denied by eight publishers before being accepted by Bloomsbury UK (Lawless, 2005). These publishers missed the opportunity to get a share of the best-selling series in recent history and one that helped make its author a billionaire (Watson, 2004).

After reading the Harry Potter novels, fans were inspired to create their own works remixing aspects of Rowling’s fictional universe. Unable to wait for the next novel, fans began writing their own versions of the tales and published them on fansites such as MuggleNet. Other fans would read the stories and comment or offer suggestions for improvement which improves the story by building on more than just one author’s expertise (MuggleNet, n.d.). Apart from adhering to basic fansite guidelines about sexuality, violence and profanity, no submission is rejected due to the poor marketability (MuggleNet, n.d.). This is a stark contrast from the traditional publishing model and it prevents gems such as Rowling’s original work from being overlooked.

However, the world of remix culture is not always filled with fans and supporters. When Warner Bros. learned that fans sites were using their copyrighted material without permission, their lawyers sent threatening letters to everyone involved, including children posting on the sites (Lessig, 2008, p. 209). The fans, including Heather Lawver, creator of The Daily Prophet fansite, was shocked that Warner Bros. was attacking its own fans and enlisted the help of the fan community to boycott their products (Lessig, 2008, p. 207).

The backlash caused Warner Bros. to review the way they interacted with this passionate community of fans (Lessig, 2008, p. 209). They decided to allow the fansites to continue because the fans were not profiting off Warner Bro’s material (Lessig, 2008, p. 209). Warner Bros. may not have realized that the fansites were actually helping to build the Harry Potter brand without any cost to the company.

Twelve years later, J. K. Rowling, Warner Bros., Bloomsbury and other copyright owners have joined together to create a free, collaborative area for Harry Potter fans, called Pottermore (Rowling, n.d.). This new site opens to the public later this month and will feature previously unreleased content (Rowling, n.d.).  The site will also be used to advertise and distribute Harry Potter ebooks (Rowling, n.d.). Pottermore was not available in 2000 when the original lawsuits threatened fan sites, but could have eliminated the need for them.

The remixed culture not only help to publish more work faster, it helped encourage Warner Bros. to interact with its fans better and to produce online collaborative work spaces. Rowling used traditional publishing to producer her novels, but her fans can publish themselves. When they remix the stories and publish them, fans are not only writing the next chapter in the Harry Potter saga, they are writing the next chapter in the evolution of publishing.

Access Flickr photos here

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Flood, A. (2012, March 27). Pottermore conjures Harry Potter ebooks [Electronic version].
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Jordison, S. (2011, June 23). Pottermore gives away JK Rowling's marketing genius [Electronic version]. The Guardian. Retrieved April 3, 2012 from

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Lawless, J. (2005) Nigel Newton. Bloomberg Businessweek [Electronic version]. Retrieved April 4, 2012 from

Lessig, L. (2008).
Remix: Making art and commerce thrive in the hybrid economy. New York, NY: Penguin Press.

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Shirky, C. (2008). Here comes everybody: The power of organizing without organizations. New York, NY: Penguin Press.

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  1. Great post. I like the way the Flickr narrative complements the blog post - well done. I heard Seth Godin talk about publishing on Q April 3, 2012 and something he said stuck - The internet turns scarcity into abundance. Books were scarce and now they're easily accessible. Being able to participate in your favorite story used to be hard; now it's so simple that a third grader can excel at it. Thanks for the reminder that there is a richness and benefit to remix culture, even to the cultural industries that feel threatened.

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