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!