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Convergence - a done deal? Publishing gone? - El.pub Analytic No. 7

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Contents: Introduction | Types of convergence | Convergence in practice | Problems | Entertainment and media 2001 - 2005 | Conclusions


Convergence has been discussed as a technical driver, in fact it has taken the form of a market development. One could ask whether the publishing industry still exists. The idea that digital content will lead to a homogenisation of culture with no distinction between books, films, TV and music has been discussed since the middle '90s. Much of the discussion has centred on the expected results of the digitisation of different types of content and the subsequent distribution in digital format.

Types of convergence

A number of different aspects of convergence can be identified. The ability to create content on a computer as though it were in a traditional medium both in the sense of production and performance is technical convergence. Artists can create and print images as though they were painting, engraving or drawing with traditional tools. Film makers can create actors and scenes in the computer and transfer them to cinema screens as though they were filmed performances of live actors. Composers can create musical scores and generate an audio output as though they had employed and recorded live musicians. Although this methodology is generally neither sufficiently cost effective nor of sufficient quality to replace traditional methods it is moving in that direction.

Economic convergence concerns the new business models and economics of production and distribution that are changing the composition of companies that have traditionally produced content. In the past companies have tended to specialise in a particular medium, basing their competitive edge on mastery of relevant technology and distribution and support to the creators in that medium. Technological convergence is changing that rationale and, it is the thesis of this article, has already changed the information / entertainment industry significantly.

Platform convergence is the idea that a ubiquitous device will replace the cinema, TV, print, PCs, audio systems, and all the other means we have for viewing and listening to content. Recently this idea has been reversed and the concept of lots of devices differentiated by colour, 'skin' and mobility has been suggested. At present there is little evidence that technology can produce a single device meeting the usability needs of everyone either now or in the foreseeable future. Nor is there any evidence that consumers are keen to buy a mass of devices that all do essentially the same thing. The TV and the PC in various forms are likely to live alongside books, CDs, newspapers and magazines for some time.

Various other types of convergence have been suggested, notably convergence of culture between different societies in the world and a view that technological convergence can make the transfer of content between media an automated process. As to the first, it is clear that in historical terms different cultures impact on each other at different times and create fashions for particular types of entertainment, but it is just as clear that new cultural movements can occur at different places in a spontaneous manner without homogenisation. The development of German expressionist cinema in the 1920s and 1930s and the French 'nouvelle vague' film makers of the 1950s and 1960s certainly weren't imported from Hollywood.

Transferring content between media is not new. Books have been transferred to the stage, opera and cinema without any need for digitisation. However, the transfer requires a great deal of new artistic endeavour to be successful and there is little evidence that the content creators can easily shift from creation in one media to another. Certainly few content creators in the technical or financial sectors are also active in entertainment, and there is little overlap between visual artists, composers and wordsmiths.

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