The Digital Communications Circuit

Robert Darnton envisioned the journey of textual transmission from author to reader as the communications circuit which depicted the role of different agents in the value chain such as printers, publishers and booksellers. These relationships were depicted by Darnton as a schematic model. One of the objectives of the Book Unbound project is to Darnton’s model and make it relevant to the contemporary publishing milieu. This will be achieved by the creation of an interactive infographic which will demonstrate how each relationship in this circuit has been modified by technological and digital disruption and intervention. These shifts have allowed for a multiplication of associations between each node, and the infographic will showcase how each one of these scenarios may be enacted.

Original DarntonBy the late twentieth century, changes in the publishing value chain and industry structure call for alterations to the communications circuit.

In Anglo-Saxon publishing, the figure of the literary agent has intervened in the circuit, playing a crucial intermediary role between the author and the publisher. This role includes business management, rights sales and contract negotiation, but also often an editorial function. In an environment in which publishing staff frequently change, agents also provide continuous relationships to authors.

In this period, publishers frequently outsourced work, including editorial, design, marketing and publicity, and sales. Wholesalers and distributors played an important role, as has the rise and rise of multi-purpose retailers selling books, such as supermarkets, stationers, and online companies – notably Amazon.

In the late 20th century, with the growth of global conglomerates, marketing-led publishing, and the profit incentive, readers have increasingly been configured as ‘consumers’.



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