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On Kindle Publishing: Readings in Mass Communication

In January of 2011, I started taking a class called “Readings in Mass Communication” in pursuit of my Master of Professional Writing degree at the University of Oklahoma. It’s an interdisciplinary theory course that combines lectures and select readings in the academic literature to explore the changing role of mass communication in society, its withering credibility, and the role of today’s rapidly-changing technology in that shift.

The professor came from a newspaper background and the majority of the students in the program owed their allegiance to the college’s journalism school. That frame of reference shaped the conversation some, so when we talked about the credibility crisis in mass communication, we were primarily discussing the credibility crisis of journalists and public relations professionals and news shows.

As the discussion unfolded, though, I came to recognize clear parallels between the changing state of news media and the publishing industry. The technology developed in the last decade has allowed a massive upheaval in the established ways of doing business, the importance of centralized distributors is collapsing, and the most successful participants in the new market have established themselves not through the authority of a central source but by participating effectively in the digital supernetwork and encouraging discussion of them and their products within local networks.

And nowhere is that industry shift more visible than in the rise of the Kindle publisher. I’ve discussed Kindle publishing here before, and while it represents just one of many new (and viable) distribution methods available to the self-published or indie-published author, digital publishing through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing provides a clear and powerful look into the future of the publishing industry.

Over the following weeks I’ll look at several examples of major participants in the Kindle publishing phenomenon, then discuss how new technology has impacted each of their stories, what their stories reveal about the credibility and authority of traditional publishers (and how that differs among writers, readers, and distributors), and finally look at the role of the supernetwork as the new medium for mass communication, and how Kindle publishers can best engage with it.

It should be an interesting conversation. I’m looking forward to the things I’ll have to research to fill it out, and I really like the idea of having a complete take on the topic down on paper.

I’d originally intended to address the topic of copyright pretty heavily in the discussion, too, but my preliminary research into that topic revealed a lot of legal opinion and a lot of personal opinion, and virtually nothing in between. I think an investigation of the process of Kindle publishing, rather than the legal incentives and risks behind it, will reveal far more about the topics we really want to discuss.

So come back Thursday and we’ll talk about J. A. Konrath (you knew that was coming), and a couple others.

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