Is content really king? Postscript on Michael Bhaskar
In a previous post (‘Is content really king‘, 19 March 2011) I challenged the notion that ‘content is king’. I argued that ‘generally, content is no good on its own. That is, it needs always to be embodied in some way. It is here (even with digital publications) that the traditional book crafts – design, typography, indexing, and so on – come into play…The cliché ‘content is king’ will probably live on: somehow propositions such as ‘the ability to republish extant materials offers some advantages, provided other parts of the publishing mix are put in place’ don’t have the same ring. But the truth is, it is a phrase with little force behind it.
Recently I ‘ve been reading The Content Machine by Michael Bhaskar (Anthem Press, 2013). In Chapter 3 (‘How content works’), Bhaskar proposes ‘frame’ as the best term to complement ‘content’. He uses the term to encompass what above I call ‘traditional book crafts’ and much else as well – including, for example, the technology of reading (for example, a computer screen) and aspects of commercial context such as branding.
I think his conception’s a good one. Bhaskar argues that the advantages of preferring ‘frame’ to terms such as ‘container’ or ‘media’ include the following:
- ‘the subjective aspects of our media experience are built in from the start’ (the term used the psychology of perception);
- frames come ‘with specificity. Media is an abstract idea ill-suited to analysing specific examples. Frames incorporate the abstract and the concrete…We can talk about ‘The Book’ or ‘The Web as frames but also the Grenville folio’;
- ‘content creators or intermediary actors carefully design frames to achieve precise results…spending a great deal of time getting them right’.
It is the third of these that is most pertinent to our own publishing. It captures why we use suppliers such as The Running Head to design text. As Bhaskar says, ‘Not only do works have a subjective component but this component helps constitute works, telling us how to receive them; moreover these subjective elements don’t happen randomly but are purposefully created’. Yes.