Digital Natives Aim to Demystify Digital Publishing

Article ImageImagine being a Digital Native--part of a generation that has never known a world in which the internet didn't exist. From the time you could work a mouse, you were instant messaging your friends and asking Google questions about your homework. Eventually, you probably got a smartphone, and now you can text your friends while in class or scan a bar code in a store to find the best price on your next purchase. And you're also making your way into the workforce.

In many cases, though, Digital Natives aren't just waiting around and watching the world change. They are taking charge and helping make sense of the changing digital landscape for others, as interpreters of sorts. Take, for instance, the case of Appazoogle, run by a group of graduate students-or in some cases, recent grads-who are attempting to "demystify the new digital frontier."

A group of friends from Emerson College in Boston--all with their sights on publishing careers--has gotten together to create this "technology blog by book people" that is dedicated to exploring "the intersection of consumer-based technology, e-tail, and data companies (Apple, Amazon, and Google). ..."
"The blog began as an extension of a class ... so our core team is all Emerson students and alumni," explains Leah Thompson, an Appazoogle writer as well as a publishing professional in the Boston area. "However, some of us are also working professionals in the field, and all of us have experience as interns or are now interning in various aspects of the industry."

"The digitalization of media conjures ambiguous reactions from publishing professionals--digital is at once intimidating, exciting, promising, and frightening. Our goal is to alleviate some of that hyper-emotional response through a thoughtful discussion of the various changes publishing is undergoing," says contributor Keira Lyons, who is still pursuing her M.A. in the Writing, Literature, and Publishing program.

Jen Bray--another Appazoogle writer, grad student, and intern at Wiley-Blackwell-notes that digital technologies are opening up many more opportunities for people pursuing careers as well as readers. "At the end of the day, more people are reading. And if they are using an e-reader to do that, that's great, no matter how much I value the printed form," she says.

Michelle Manafy, editor of Dancing With Digital Natives: Staying in Step With the Generation That's Transforming the Way Business Is Done, finds it "heartening" that young writers would start a site such as Appazoogle. "It looks like they seek to maintain their relevancy as digital publishing emerges and just the simple fact of them launching this is so Digital Native of them," says Manafy, who is also the director of content at FreePint Ltd.

She adds that "back in the day," before user-created content on the web became the norm, students right out of college would not usually consider going out on their own in the publishing world; however, nowadays it's pretty common. "You're fresh out of school, or in the case of most of these students, still in school, and yet you have not only the confidence but the means-i.e., the free, easy tools and the means of dissemination of content-to do something like this," says Manafy.

"They have the confidence not only to do this but the confidence that their opinion matters and this is really consistent with [members of] the generation that has grown up voicing their opinions about anything and everything in social networking environments since as long as they can remember," she adds.

Appazoogle isn't the only site trying to decode the digital revolution. MoJo Revolution-MoJo being short for mobile journalism-is a one-page website written by City University London student Myressa Markham for a school project. "When I see projects like Myressa Markham's MoJo, I have high hopes for the continued evolution of journalism," says Manafy. "It is easy to focus on the negative aspects of any change and to be certain, we give something up in exchange for what we gain. Yet the opportunity to get information into the hands of people wherever they are is an exciting one. It does require a significant re-think in the way that information will be consumed however. MoJo offers some keen insight into how to view the mobile journalism opportunity."

Like Appazoogle, Markham's site is attempting to establish itself as an authority on this topic, and like Appazoogle, she is positioning herself as a filter. "This is an optimal way to position yourself-as the filter-as the means by which an issue is discussed, discovered, disseminated," points out Manafy when discussing Appazoogle. "When we look at the future of publishing, you have to think about finding ways to be the filter."

Natives want publishers and journalists to be trusted partners, says Manafy, and that's an idea the industry is not quite accustomed to. "We have definitely been the respected expert, not the trusted partner, and for the Digital Native, that collaboration, that partnership piece, that friendship piece is essential; they don't necessarily trust you because you are a brand or because of your resume or because someone else says you're an expert. They trust you because you form a relationship with them," notes Manafy. "That's a lot harder and it's not something we are good at-we don't have experience at it. And I think it's going to be a real challenge."

Going forward, the tricky part for publishers who want to monetize their content is coping with the fact that Digital Natives grew up with free content. "It's not their fault. We basically took things we had been charging for for decades and started giving them away for free online," explains Manafy. Back at Appazoogle, Thompson says she and her colleagues have yet to seriously consider monetizing their site. "We've had conversations about whether we might want to feature ads or try other monetizing strategies, but we're not at the stage where we're able to make those decisions yet. Appazoogle is still young. The future is wide open," she says.

Thompson also describes the site's current goals as "short-term"; these include finding the best layout for content, getting the word out, and networking within the blog community. "As we get past these initial hurdles," she says, "we're starting to look toward the future, but our plans-for now-are modest. Our goals are to increase our site views and increase our followers."