Saturday, October 10, 2009

Cherry-picking in the creative industries

Am I the only one who thought Mark Deuze's essay was a little weak? And this despite the fact that I agreed with a lot of his conclusions -- I just wanted him to take it further. Take his case studies, in which he cherry-picks four examples that support his argument and presents them as more "symptomatic" than "representative," without ever exploring whether less optimistic examples might be equally symptomatic of the industry climate he describes. While I won't dispute that his examples are symptomatic of the merging of media consumption and production processes, I think his argument is incomplete without an examination of the equally symptomatic negative effects.

Sure, Bluffton Today merged a daily paper and community news site to create a participatory, transparent news product. But what about papers like The Washington Post, which has significantly increased user-generated content both online and in the hard copy of the paper (with blogs, online chats, contests and sections like the XX update in the magazine, which reproduces content generated on the XX Factor website) and is still hemorrhaging money and subscribers? The creation of Counter-Strike is an uplifting example of collaborative work to improve a popular gaming program, but there's a fine line between modification and piracy and there's plenty of evidence that not all game modifiers are as conscientious as Minh Le and Jess Cliff.

As for the Amazon case study, I found it a little baffling. Was he really suggesting that Amazon's popularity is partially due to its enabling people to upload product photos? Or its supposedly unique customer-first attitude? There are plenty of online marketers with great customer service, and an unscientific study of people in the room with me suggests that user-empowerment ranks well below size, comprehensiveness and price in terms of Amazon's attractive qualities. The CPB group has had tremendous success with its interactive campaigns, but the same technology that enables so much of this interactive advertising can also be turned against a product, as when Chevrolet created an interactive campaign where people could create mashups of previous Tahoe ads to promote the 2007 Tahoe SUV. It was pulled days later, after the site was flooded with anti-SUV ads.

Ultimately, I have no qualms with Deuze's main arguments. The boundaries between makers and users of media products are blurring. Consumer empowerment and corporate profit-seeking are both features of this developing environment. New media are unpredictable and constantly evolving. But I think in Deuze's failure to examine any but "best practice" examples, he missed an opportunity to explore the greater complexities of this changing media environment.


  1. Deuze's optimism is indeed, er... "optimistic"? I got faint shudders reading about these case studies thinking back to my own stint at a media company trying to leverage exactly these kinds of initiatives. Reading about successful case studies is all well and good, but being mired in a company that is trying to replicate these things was not so fun. We actually had a meeting once in which we were tasked with coming up with something that could "go viral" to boost our site numbers in 3 days -- and over the weekend no less. The kicker was that we didn't actually have a budget to do anything of substance. Our management loved the fact that our site was built on user-generated content and participation, but thought that meant that we didn't actually need money or resources to maintain it. I'd love to see a case study on my old company -- research project anyone?

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  3. At least Deuz isn't a conspiracy theorist like McChesney or Siochru and Girard who pessimistically fail to look at examples of media participation as the decentralization of power from "Global Oligopoly." I definitely agree that Deuz's ideas could have been strengthened by examples challenging his thesis but you're right, Laura, even though his writing style isn't the best, he's got some note-worthy ideas that are much less dubious than some of the other authors we've read. I actually found his point to be strongest in the case study you seemingly found the least credible, Amazon.

    While Deuz did touch on Amazon's creative element, I interpreted his focus to be more on the company's increased transparency in marketing efforts for the site and associated publishers. I thought this was one of his strongest examples because he looked at a company that wasn't completely consumer-centric and showed how active receivers can keep the corporate landscape honest.