Produsage and Electronic Word of Mouth
The emergence of social networking sites with inbuilt participatory functionality has conflated consumer and producer roles in media engagement, creating the user who also produces content, the ‘produser’ (Bruns 2008). ‘Produsage’ refers to the active interaction with and contribution of creative product to online platforms by non-professionals who would otherwise be considered consumers (Hinton & Hjorth, 2013, p. 61). The ease of digital self-publication through online platforms enables new routes of content production that bypass selection and dissemination by traditional gatekeepers such as publishers, galleries and museums. This article will examine the interplay between produsers within the locational intimate public of Young Adult enthusiasts based in Australia and established, financed publishers.
The phenomenon of blogging demonstrates this shift to the production of content ‘created outside of professional routines and platforms’ by amateur produsers (OECD, 2007, p. 8). Fashion, food and interior design blogs exemplify how the capacity to publish displays of consumption and taste online can allow an ordinary consumer to build an audience,
that historically was only available to institutionally located professionals… by means of publicly consuming: choosing, evaluating, and engaging with clothing (in our focal example) and posting accounts of this consumption that garner a large audience of strangers. (McQuarrie, Miller and Phillips, 2012, p. 1)
McQuarrie et. al. (2012) call this potential ‘the megaphone effect’ (p. 1). The megaphone effect allows produsers to generate what Kietzmann and Canhoto call ‘electronic word of mouth’ amongst peers within a subculture operating online (2013). Positive electronic word of mouth can result in free outsourced publicity, amplify brand recognition and increase sales for consumer brands and products featured on consumption-based blogs (Kietzmann and Canhoto, 2013, p. 1). Conversely, negative electronic word of mouth communicated through social media can have significant financial costs; for example, the 2009 Sons of Maxwell trilogy of protest songs ‘United Breaks Guitars’ by country singer David Carroll, whose guitar had been broken on a United Airlines flight the previous year, amassed 2.3 million views within twelve days and resulted in a public relations embarrassment that cost the airline an estimated $180 million (Sons of Maxwell, 2009; Kietzmann and Canhoto, 2001, p. 1; Ayers, 2009).
I should have flown with someone else / or gone by car / ‘cause United breaks guitars
In 2013, self help publisher Hay House published United Breaks Guitars: The Power of One Voice in the Age of Social Media, a book by David Carroll about the impact that the viral ‘United Breaks Guitars’ song had on his struggle for compensation (Sons of Maxwell, 2012). Thus, this example of the negative potential of electronic word of mouth also illustrates how user created content can converge new and traditional media.
Book Publishing, Intimate Publics and Networked Communities among Australian Young Adult Literature Enthusiasts
In the public imagination, book publishing – the business of the production and distribution of books for purchase by the public – embodies the traditional producer-content-consumer model of media production. As recently as five years ago, an article in Publishers Weekly dismissed Twitter ‘more of a time suck than anything else’ (Deahl, 2010), but since then there has been widespread adoption of participatory social media platforms across the book publishing industry as important sites for potential business opportunities (Driscoll, 2013, p. 104), through the emphasis of publishing as a ‘commercial enterprise founded on fostering human interconnectedness… Reading is always a social act’ (Davis, 2012, p. 13). The recent 2015 Sydney Writers’ Festival featured the live production of The Book of Days, an illustrated anthology including festival patron contributions via typewriters in-situ and via Twitter using the hash tag #SWFBOD.
Now, maintaining in a social media presence online is ‘almost mandatory for publishers’ (Driscol, 2013, p. 103), with publishers using social media to generate intimate publics based on common interest in a genre, series or other aspects of book publishing. The active online community of Young Adult literature enthusiasts based in Australia is a robust example of the co-creation of social media marketing both by large financed publishing houses and invested produsers for the increased recognition of Young Adult literature, which generates an intimate public with the geographic awareness of a networked community. The Young Adult division of Penguin Books Australia, Penguin Teen Australia, hosts a fortnightly semi-structured discussion of Young Adult titles on Twitter using the hash tag #PTAChat. The result is the online simulation of ‘hand-selling’, a technique that publisher Colin Robinson listed as one of the ‘Ten Ways to Save Publishing’ in 2012. See the below demonstrative conversation from a PTA Chat that took place July 2014:
The characters referenced in the above conversation are from the Bloodlines series by Richelle Mead and the Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan respectively, both of which are published by Penguin. The above interaction demonstrates how consistent social media interaction allowed Penguin Teen Australia to make a recommendation based on their knowledge of my own individual preferences. This intimate public has taken on the locational significance of a networked community, with the associated strengthening of online ties depending on the likelihood of offline interaction (Haythornthwaite and Wellman, 1998). Via the produsage of Twitter users @speconspecfic and @TheBookishManicurist, who launched a similar fortnightly Twitter chat about Australian Young Adult literature using the hash tag #OzYAChat in May 2014. This peer-led social media initiative assumes an intimate public based on geographic, cultural and temporal commonality, as well as a common interest in Young Adult literature. The #booksfortradeau hash tag is an Australia-based book swap that capitalises on the potential difficulty and cost of international shipping for the Young Adult readership, many of whom are in full time secondary or tertiary education. In-person events such as the annual national Penguin Teen Australia publicity tour PTALive and the recent TeenCon panel at the Sydney Writers’ Festival increases the integrity of these online interactions. The tweet from book blogger @Genie_withaBook articulates an awareness of this intimate public’s geographical grounding:
Outsourced Publicity by the Book Blogging Produser
The Australian Young Adult fiction intimate public that is so active on Twitter extends into long-form blogging as well. The potential positive electronic word of mouth in the form of book reviews, discussion posts and author interviews that appear on these blogs, both as part of bloggers’ self-designed posting schedule and as blog tours organised by publishers, function as free outsourced publicity, as design practices in the video gaming industry foreground produsage as an exercise in minimising development costs (Banks and Humphreys, 2008, p. 404). From the perspective of the intimate public, however, the unpaid labour of book blogging is not exploitation. As well as the presumed ‘intrinsic reward of creativity’ (Benkler, 2006, p. 97), producing content as a book blogger provides the opportunity for early access to desirable content, in the distribution of Advanced Reader Copies of upcoming books for review. For example, the recent TeenCon panel at the Sydney Writers’ Festival involved a panel of three book bloggers and one book ‘vlogger’ (video blogger): these produsers had reached sufficient celebrity status within the subculture to sell out a ticketed panel at a literary event. Additionally, produsage can generate ‘social status within a networked community’ (Benkler, 2006, p. 97): see the recent call-out of ARC requests from HarperCollins Australia via Twitter below:
Like the Australian book blogging community, there seems to be a significant sense of community facilitated by social media amongst Australian Young Adult authors, embodied in the #LoveOzYA hash tag which has emerged on Twitter and on Instagram in the last fortnight, introduced by the author Ellie Marley. Additionally, author Kirsty Eagar voluntarily promotes other Australian authors through the ‘Where the Magic Happens’ interview tag on her professional blog. The focus on Australian peers suggests a similar awareness of the locational nature of the Australian Young Adult intimate public.
There is a myriad of discussions surrounding the intersection of social media and self-publishing, self-branding and the phenomenon of successful digital self-publication being folded into the traditional publishing process and backed by big publishing houses (for example, the widespread success of Fifty Shades of Grey by EL James) that are beyond the scope of this article. Book publishing and its avenues of publicity are transforming. I have examined the produsage of book blogging within the Australian Young Adult geographical, cultural intimate public. With extensive engagement in regular Twitter chats and the promise of new events to strengthen online connections with offline interactions (the TeenCon panel discussed above, for example, was the first of its kind), there is a sense of energy and productivity within the community: the produser is active and keen to contribute in the Young Adult book publishing sphere.
‘The Books of Days.’ (2015) Sydney Writers’ Festival. Retrieved http://www.swf.org.au/component/option,com_events/Itemid,124/agid,4716/task,view_detail/
‘Family Day: TeenCon 2015.’ (2015) Sydney Writers’ Festival. Retrieved http://www.swf.org.au/component/option,com_events/Itemid,124/agid,4681/task,view_detail/
‘PTA Live Perth’ (2015, June 3) Penguin Teen Australia. Retrieved http://www.penguinteenaustralia.com.au/content/1898/pta-live-perth
Ayers, Chris (2009, July 22) ‘Revenge is best served cold – on Youtube.’ The Times. Retrieved http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/law/columnists/article2051377.ece
Banks, John and Sal Humphreys (2008) ‘The Labour of User Co-Creators: Emergent Social Network Markets?’ Convergence 14(4), 401–418. Retrieved http://con.sagepub.com.ezproxy2.library.usyd.edu.au/content/14/4/401.full.pdf
Benkler, Y. (2006) Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Bruns, Axel. (2008) Blogs, Wikipedia, Second Life, and Beyond: From Production to Produsage. New York: Peter Lang.
Carroll, David (2013) United Breaks Guitars: The Power of One Voice in the Age of Social Media. Carlsbad, CA: Hay House.
Davis, Mark. ‘Publishing in the End Times.’ In Emmett Stinson (ed.) (2013) By the Book? Contemporary Publishing in Australia. Clayton: Monash University Publishing, 3–14.
dbinks (2015, May 31) ‘An offering of #LoveOzYA from the #YAMatter conference’ [Instagram] Retrieved https://instagram.com/p/3UpZyuupJn
Deahl, Rachel (2010) ‘Who’s Got Pull in the Publishing Twitterverse.’ Publishers Weekly. Retrieved http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/digital/content-and-e-books/article/43104-whos-got-pull-in-the-publishing-twitterverse.html
Driscoll, Beth. ‘Twitter, Literary Prizes and the Circulation of Capital.’ In Emmett Stinson (ed.) (2013) By the Book? Contemporary Publishing in Australia. Clayton: Monash University Publishing, 103–119.
Hinton, Sam and Larissa Hjorth (2013) Understanding Social Media. New York: SAGE Publications.
Eagar, Kirsty. (n.d.) ‘Where the magic happens.’ [Weblog feed] Retrieved http://www.kirstyeagar.com/category/where-the-magic-happens/
Genie_inabook (2015, May 24) ‘The Aussie YA book community is amazing! ‘we’re all here for books’ #teencon’ [ Tweet] Retrieved https://twitter.com/Genie_inabook/status/602357382224547840
HarperCollinsYA (2015, June 3) ‘Aussie bloggers, if you haven’t read The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly yet, DM us now, we’ve got some book love to share’ [Tweet] Retrieved https://twitter.com/HarperCollinsYA/status/605924671930834945
Haythornwaite, Caroline and Barry Wellman (1998) ‘Work, Friendship and Media Use for Information Exchange in a Networked Organisation.’ Journal of the American Society for Information Science 49(12), 1101-1114.
Kietzmann, Jan and Ana Canhoto (2013) ‘Bittersweet! Understanding and Managing Electronic Word of Mouth.’ Journal of Public Affairs 13(2), 146–159. Retrieved http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com.ezproxy1.library.usyd.edu.au/doi/10.1002/pa.1470/full
McQuarrie, Edward F., Jessice Miller and Barbara J. Phillips (2012) ‘The Megaphone Effect: Taste and Audience in Fashion Blogging.’ Journal of Consumer Research 40(1), 136–158. Retrieved http://jcr.oxfordjournals.org.ezproxy1.library.usyd.edu.au/content/jcr/40/1/136.full.pdf
Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) (2007) Participative Web: User Created Content. Retrieved http://www.oecd.org/sti/38393115.pdf
Robinson, Colin. (2012) ‘Ten Ways to Save Publishing.’ The Guardian. Retrieved http://www.guardian.co. uk/books/2012/oct/12/ten-ways-to-save-publishing-industry.html
Sons of Maxwell (2009, July 6) United Breaks Guitars [Video file] Retrieved https://youtu.be/5YGc4zOqozo
Sons of Maxwell (2012, May 14) I’ve Got a Book Comin’ Out (United Breaks Guitars Book) [Video file] Retrieved https://youtu.be/IOw3Qg46mXg
Swancott, Sophie [SophieSwancott9] (2014, July 2) ‘@PenguinTeenAus If you had to choose one YA character to be your RL best friend, who’d it be? #PTAChat’[Tweet] Retrieved https://twitter.com/SophieSwancott9/status/484275626241556480