The Mediatization of the Book: Publishing in a Digital Age

Main researchers: Stig Hjarvard and Rasmus Helles

The aim of this project is to analyse current transformations in the book publishing industry in view of the convergence between the book and the broader media culture. In particular, the project will focus on two aspects: (1) the changing relationships between actors (publishing houses, bookstores, authors, libraries etc.) in the book's circuit of production, distribution and consumption, and (2) the transformation of the book as a medium due to the affordances (interactivity, multimedia etc.) of the e-book. Stig Hjarvard primarily will be responsible for (1) and Rasmus Helles primarily will be responsible for (2).

The emergence of the e-book is very visible evidence of the mediatization of the book and the spread of portable, high-resolution computers (iPads etc.) suggests that the e-book has reached its take-off phase after several unsuccessful attempts. This situation offers a unique opportunity to study a new medium in the making. The development of the e-book will challenge established routines of publishers, who will face new groups of actors in both production and marketing of their products: small national publishing houses will have to negotiate with international giants like Google and Apple (Thompson, 2010; Rønning and Slaatta, 2010), and editors will also have to deal with multimedia designers.

However, the e-book is just one aspect of a broader process of the mediatization of the book: the introduction of digital technologies has already radically altered the production of the book (Thompson, 2005), and the distribution (sale, marketing, reviewing) of books has been digitalised through Internet bookstores, often with global reach (i.e., Amazon and Google books). Furthermore, the production and marketing of best-sellers is often a cross-media venture (Squires, 2007). Both (1) and (2) will follow the negotiation, rejection and acceptance of new possibilities from the perspective of publishers and editors, based on the shared hypothesis that the outcome of these choices will play a key role for the restructuring of the publishing industry and the definition of the e-book medium.

Methodologically, the project will make use of qualitative interviews with key actors, observation of editorial processes, document studies and surveys of readers. Through a case study approach, five early e-book projects will be followed. The study will be conducted in cooperation with two major Danish publishing houses, Politikens Forlag and Lindhardt & Ringhof. On a theoretical level, the project will combine mediatization theory and organisational theory (Yates and Orlikowski, 1992, 2002) and address the question about how new media reconfigure old media industries.


Rønning, Helge and Slaatta, Tore (2010). The Book: Between Ink and Hyperlink. Trends in the international publishing industry. Report commissioned by the Norwegian Non-fiction Writers and Translators Association (NFFO).

Squires, Claire (2007). Marketing Literature: The Making of Contemporary Writing in Britain. Houndmills, Basingstoke Palgrave.

Thompson, John B. (2005). Books in the Digital Age. Cambridge: Polity.

Thompson, John B. (2010). Merchants of Culture. The Publishing Business in the Twenty-First Century. Cambridge: Polity.

Yates, J., & Orlikowski, W. J. (1992). "Genres of Organizational Communication - a Structurational Approach to Studying Communication and Media". Academy of Management Review, vol. 17, no. 2, pp. 299-326.

Yates, J., & Orlikowski, W. J. (2002). "Genre Systems: Structuring interaction through communicative norms". Journal of Business Communication, vol. 39, no. 13, pp. 13-35.