Review: Spreadable Media

Spreadable Media by Henry Jenkins, Sam Ford and Joshua Green tries to provide conceptual and empirical depth to the circulation of new media content.  Rife with examples, it shows how audiences increasingly construct their own media environments and negotiate with consumers. Published several years after Convergence Culture, it is a critical afterthought of our new media ecology.

 If it doesn’t spread it’s dead!

Spreadable Media is a concisely written book that stands out through its examples rather than its theoretical scope. The authors claim that spreadability – no, not like peanut butter  – is better suited to describe many phenomena today than viral marketing or memes which root in pseudo-scientific debates. Their own metaphor tries to turn attention to the circulation of content that may be sticky but also circulates because audience members demonstrate its relevance. The book is well up to date on fandom which often serves to illustrate the cases. As in Convergence Culture, the dispersion of content over different platforms (or transmediality) and increased, grassroots participation are central.

Brand advocates are included in the book as important players in the cultural circulation of media content as they appraise content and judge its value.  I found these ideas of tastemakers and appraisal to be one of the more relevant points of the book. Whereas other authors have mentioned the role of big name or celebrity fans or players, connections to appraisal – a term that stems from the art world and valorization of objects – are rare.

Does it stick?

The examples in the book are up to date and relevant. Readers of Jenkins blog will certainly recognize many of them, such as the activists of Avatar and the Mad Men Twitter role-players. Viewed through the lens of spreadability, these examples are relevant once more but the discussion is similar. The book is timely in its discussion of crowfunding and especially the transnationalism chapter presses the reader to think about the cultural membership and citizenship of fandom. Still, it remains a set of inspiring examples rather than a coherent discussion. Much like the idea of spreadability – generating new ideas and circulating them, making them stick – the book offers food for thought but little advice for upcoming scholars on how to research this landscape and conceptualize it.

While the book reads wonderfully, it ultimately left me hanging a bit. The set-up is a node of examples  and known theories rather than a coherent argument. Still, this also underlines the ideas of spreadability as a haphazard phenomenon and a bringing together of disparate knowledge. I have no doubt that the book will inspire media professionals with its exemplary practices of audience and industry relations, but I feel that scholars may have craved for more. Personally, I enjoyed the online essays (or enhanced book) more than many of the chapters because they often achieved great depth through one interesting case. I wonder if the book would not have worked better as an edited volume rather than in the format that it is in now.

Still, I recommend all media scholars to read at least the introduction of the book to judge the relevance of ‘spreadability’ themselves. Many of the examples are very timely so if you need a state of the art or a fast introduction to today’s participatory culture and its diversity, this is the way to go!

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3 thoughts on “Review: Spreadable Media

  1. I appreciate the review, Nicolle. You might be interested to know that we were told, when the original manuscript came in, that it was 70K over the maximum word count. All the online pieces you refer to in your review were originally to be in the book itself. We intended to write a book with both a through-line argument and that could operate as an edited collection.

    Our publishers convinced us to disconnect the two, with the idea that the deep (but short) case studies from all the scholars who worked with us on this project would make for ideal “spreadable material” themselves, and that the press would be willing to make them freely available and easy to share. So, given that was very much in line with the argument we’re making in the book itself, we embraced it.

    So thanks a lot for pointing some attention toward those pieces, and this aspect of the project. We certainly hoped the project made more original contributions to the scholarly discussion than you found about how to understand the phenomena of how things spread online, while in the process bringing together a range of theoretical work that provides the underpinning for understanding an environment where audiences play a more active role in circulating content. And we intended for there to be a through-line from describing a spreadable landscape (in the introduction and first chapter) to looking at the nature of appraisal, engagement, participation, content creation/design, distribution, and transnational flows in the subsequent chapters, while still allowing each to be teachable chapters in themselves…But sounds like we fell short on that front for you. Sorry for that.

    But we sincerely do appreciate your pointing the way toward the online pieces, and your vote of confidence that perhaps the book has something to teach those in the media and marketing industries.

    • Thanks, Sam! I’m very surprised that you found your way to this humble blog and responded with such detail and enthusiasm. Reading your background, it all makes sense to me. Though I would’ve favoured an unabridged version of the book, I understand the word amounts like no other and also agree that it partly attributes to your concept. Whether migrating some of the content online was the best choice to cut words, is something that I’m unsure about but it helps that you signpost it very often in the book. Again, I think it’s a valuable contribution to the field especially when read in its entirety with the online essays. Let’s hope everyone finds their way to them! :) And again, thanks for expressing interest and responding!

  2. Understood, Nicolle. We’re not sure, either, but we hope it gives more chance for visibility of those pieces as standalone content not solely read in relation to where they fit into our particular argument in the book. Just appreciate your putting some deep thought into the structure for the project as a whole and drawing attention not just to the book itself but a larger conversation on these issues happening within and beyond academia for which we hope the book acts as an introduction.

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