My rating: 4 of 5 stars
When I worked at MIT’s Technology Review in 2006, I had the pleasure of editing a few pieces from Henry Jenkins that would become part of Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide, his seminal work exploring transmedia storytelling and its impact on the television, film, and publishing industries. In Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture, Jenkins and his co-authors expand on that work, examining the ways stories, content, and other created materials are spread through the Web and other interconnected networks.
This is very much an academic’s book, although the enhanced version does have essays and writing from professionals in the field. It’s main thesis is that people involved in entertainment — from creators on through executives — must change the way they calculate value. Today’s metrics can’t simply rely upon how many people watch, read, or listen to something. They must also understand the value of media that is both easily and often shared. In a networked world, spreadability is as important as watchability, or readability, or listenability.
Like much of Jenkins’ longer works, this isn’t a beach read. It’s meticulous and thorough, which I don’t mean as a pejorative analysis. He and his collaborators are exacting in their language, making sure to avoid some of the well-worn fawning about the power of new technologies. They are careful to articulate the ways in which spreadability can benefit creators, while also examining why it’s not the panacea for all creators.
For those who have been involved in the field, the conclusions and discussions weren’t particularly new or insightful, which was a bit disappointing. Of course, that may be the nature of follow up work. The real insights came from Convergence Culture and Jenkins’ blog, Confessions of an Aca-Fan, where his writing feels very much more tuned to research and applied theory. Spreadable Media’s ideas felt more like a survey course for an audience of entertainment industry executives and creators-in-training.
Still, Spreadable Media is a must-read for anyone who is serious about creating stories and other digital content, whether as a hobbyist or a professional.