‘Amplified Publishing’: Kate Pullinger Leads a New Exploration

In News by Porter Anderson

The author, university professor, and evolving-media specialist opens a new project in creative work and the digital context.

Detail of a project image by Alex Williamson for Bristol+Bath Creative R+D

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

‘How To Find an Audience?’
While one of the main tenets of Amplified Publishing at this point is that we don’t yet know exactly what we mean when we say the phrase, Kate Pullinger does know what her key interest is in this, her latest project in exploring creativity and technology.

Kate Pullinger

“Creative work, yes,” she says, “but also the bottom line. I’m interested in helping creators in the broad publishing sector figure out how to earn a living.”

And the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic has played a role here. The program had been expected to start last spring, and the fellows with whom Pullinger is working had dinner in March 2020, only of course to find things put on hold.

So we’ve had a full-year delay,” she says, “but interestingly I think all the issues that we talked about last March in the pandemic have really expanded and extended what people are doing online. And that’s always been at the core of what we’re interested in with this project.

“Now, I think that the post-COVID world is something we’re all thinking about, as well. What will be the future of the high street? What does retail look like?”

What Amplified Publishing is trying to discern is how creative forms could be developed to reach audiences through technologically enriched means. What has the emergence of Zoom and Teams and other platforms during the pandemic meant in terms of a potential for creativity and its search for audience? Has that “digital acceleration” ended? Or is there more to be found once the world of conference calls and panel discussions stops owning the Zoom world?

Is there more—better yet, isn’t there more—that we could do with these communications technologies?

“Creators are asking themselves questions about how they want to live, as well as how to make a living.”Kate Pullinger, 'Amplified Publishing'

Where she starts to look at the issue is by turning around, if you will, not to face the creator but to face the people the creator is looking for: “How to find an audience” is, as her writing on the project points out, the common denominator.

“We live in a world where everyone with access to technology can publish,” the opening backgrounder says. “From YouTubers to Instagram-influencers, from gamers watching each other play online to writers self-publishing, content is everywhere. And yet, the biggest company with its most promising title and the podcaster putting their first episode online share the same problem: how to find an audience?”

The program is one of four “pathfinder” themed creative research-and-development projects operating under the aegis of a corporate-and-university partnership, the Bristol+Bath Creative R+D collaboration, a £6.8 million initiative (US$9.6 million) that “seeks to forge connections and partnerships in Bristol and Bath” in England’s West Country by “sharing knowledge, creating crossovers, and even greater opportunities in what’s already one of the most vibrant clusters in the United Kingdom.”

Pullinger says she’s is especially pleased with the program’s support from such sponsors as BT (formerly British Telecom); Epic Games; the Bath-based media company and digital publisher Future; BBC Research & Development; and others.

The Amplified Publishing program’s background materials tell us:

“Digital technologies have fostered the proliferation of new platforms for publishing as well as new platforms for broadcasting, and the rise of video streaming has further dissolved the boundaries between these two modes.

“The music and games sectors include publishing as part of their workflows, though what publishing means in practice varies widely across these sectors. New models of content creation in virtual, augmented, and mixed reality environments further adds to the possibilities for blue sky research. The rise of audio along with voice activation via smart speakers in the home also provide multiple opportunities for R&D.

“While the COVID-19 crisis has delivered rapid change, increasing our use of video conferencing tools, pushing teaching and learning online, boosting sales for some sectors, while decimating delivery models for others, we are asking big questions: What does ‘publishing’ mean in the 21st century? How will the increased availability of seamless and synchronous visual and audio media enhance and expand traditional media, like books and magazines? What does personalization offer to both content creators, their publishers, and their audiences? With the rise of visual storytelling, what is the future of reading?

“And, most importantly of all, who are our audiences, where are our audiences, and what does our audience want? Through this pathfinder, we aim to bring trade publishers, games and music publishers, Web, online, video, audio and broadcast publishers together with tech sector innovators to see what kinds of responses to these challenges can be created.”

Pullinger: The 2021 Luesebrink Winner

If you’re new to the Canadian-born, London-based Pullinger, her work is valued in many parts of the world publishing industry because of its sheer range and because she’s a very grounded, real-world publishing professional whose work lies in both traditional areas of the business and in some of the reachiest realms of experimental storytelling.

Just named the 2021 winner of the Electronic Literature Organization’s Marjorie C. Luesebrink Career Achievement Award, Pullinger is the author of eight novels, the most recent being Forest Green (Random House Canada, 2020). Her Governor General’s Award-winner  The Mistress of Nothing (Serpent’s Tail) was published in 2009.

She’s also a creator of the long-running Inanimate Alice digital storytelling and teaching program with Ian James Harper in Canada and, in Australia, Mez Breeze Design.

In her two-year Ambient Literature program—which deals in “situated writing and reading practices”—she explored stories that use a smartphone’s GPS functionality to know where a user is, while in Letter to an Unknown Soldier, she and Neil Bartlett led the creation of an epistolary World War I national memorial focused on the beloved sculpture of the letter-reading British soldier on Platform One at Paddington Station.

She’s a professor of creative writing and digital media at Bath Spa University as well as director of the Centre for Cultural and Creative Industries at the university.

And when it comes to the “cluster” of creative industries that the Bristol+Bath Creative R+D consortium is designed to support, “publishing is the biggest” of those industries, Pullinger says.

“So we’ve got this research phase” in which “we’ll foster these conversations to the best of our ability, and see what comes up out of that in terms of new partnerships and relationships. And there’ll be some traditional research outputs like academic papers. There’ll also be lots of non-traditional things,” as well. That phase of the work is to crest in July.

“Then that leads into Phase 2, in which we’ve got some £200,000 (US$282,000) to commission prototypes. And that will be an open call, so it’s not limited to the people in the research cohort.”

More will be known as the project moves forward, and Publishing Perspectives will cover its progress.

In the meantime—the project’s question-asking meantime—Pullinger is asking, “What technologies or platforms will be our go-to places for absorbing and meaningful content in 10 or 20 years?

“The pandemic has forced many businesses and organizations, large and small,” she writes in an article about the work, “to focus on their digital provision while job losses across many subsectors of the creative industries are forcing a new wave of entrepreneurs to jostle for position.

“Creators are asking themselves questions about how they want to live, as well as how to make a living.”

Issues engaged here include data ownership and tech corporations; the climate crisis and sustainable technology; representation and diversity—”Who is missing from this conversation?” Pullinger asks.

And what, she asks, will “the broad publishing landscape look like in another 10 years’ time?”

More from Publishing Perspectives on Kate Pullinger and her work is here, more on the Inanimate Alice project is here, and more on the UK market is here.

More from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.