8: Spreadability in the Publishing Industry

I was interested in the idea that Kes and several others have mentioned in their blog posts of “top-down” and “bottom-up” forces that impact the spreadability of a text, or its ability to be circulated (Jenkins et al 4). As a publishing and editing major, I was particularly interested in thinking about how these concepts of top-down and bottom-up forces work within the publishing industry. 

Publishing houses employ many “top-down” techniques in order to market books that they hope will become bestsellers. These techniques can include advertisements online or in print, public appearances of the author, or even things like having bookstores place displays of the book at the front of the store. Often these are books that are by authors who have had previous success (someone like Stephen King, for example) or that follow the conventions of particular trends (the slew of YA dystopian novels in the aftermath of the success of The Hunger Games).  Publishing houses can’t afford to expend the time and money on these marketing strategies if they are not convinced the book will become a success, so books by emerging authors or works that are less conventional are less likely to be circulated through “top-down” methods. 

Instead, these are often circulated by “bottom up” methods, and sometimes can achieve success in this way. Often digital publishing plays a more significant role. People may discuss books on social media, whether on platforms like Facebook on Twitter or on book-specific sites like Goodreads. Texts that are themselves published in a digital format allow for a higher degree of spreadability because people can share links to the works themselves. This kind of “viral” success can make an author a well-known name before they have a book published, which makes them more appealing to publishing houses looking for authors who already have an established market. Button Poetry, which shares videos of slam poetry reading on their YouTube channels, also publishes books of poetry by the readers whose videos have had a great deal of success, such as Rudy Francisco and Neil Hillborn. Comic artist Sarah Andersen established a following through her website and Instagram that led to the publishing of several books compiling her work. Perhaps the most notable example is author Andy Weir, who originally self-published his novel The Martian online in a serial format and attracted enough attention that the rights were purchased by a major publisher, an the book was eventually turned into a movie. 

Examining the ways in which top-down and bottom-up forces operate within the publishing industry can reveal the ways in which less well-known authors can increase the spreadability of their work—by making it easily shared on social media—but it also demonstrates the degree to which this leaves a great deal to chance and relies on the whims of the readers and the algorithms of social media swinging in the authors’ favor.  

Word count: 481 

Works cited: 

Jenkins, Henry, et al. “Why Media Spreads.” Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture. New York University Press, 2018.