Jonathan Taplin’s Drive for a ‘Digital Renaissance’: DBW Keynote

Jonathan Taplin — film producer and Annenberg director — will lead Digital Book World’s keynotes with a warning: publishing may be ‘sleeping through a revolution.’
Image - iStockphoto: "Man Out of Time" by Best Designs Jonathan Taplin
Image – iStockphoto: “Man Out of Time” by Best Designs


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

‘There’s Just Too Much Damn Stuff’

[dropcap]I[/dropcap]t’s all part of the commoditization of art, says USC Annenberg Innovation Lab Director Jonathan Taplin. “Think about these platforms, whether it’s Amazon or Facebook or Google. They don’t care about content at all. It’s just one more piece.”

Apologizing for doing an interview from his car on the freeway in Los Angeles, Taplin navigates his material with precision:

Jonathan Taplin
Jonathan Taplin

“You used to actually invest yourself with a critic. I was lucky enough when I was making movies that [the late New Yorker film critic] Pauline Kael used to like some of the movies I made. And I had a personal investment in her view of the world.

“But think about online reviews. It’s an algorithm, a computer program that’s averaging 50,000 people who happen to make some off-hand comment.

“There’s no point of view. It’s a very different function.

“Just a commodity. ‘How many likes did it get?'”

Taplin is a man whose theme all but chases him down the highway as he talks. He’s surrounded by examples of how, in his purview, creative content is being devalued by the commercial overdrive of the digital dynamic.

A mention of the “Wall of Content” looming over the books industry today sends him straight to video: “YouTube has 400 hours of video uploaded every minute to that platform. What could possibly be found there? Even if there was some miracle Martin Scorcese among them, you could never find that person.”

The same problem is happening, Taplin says, in the television business. Some observers in publishing today talk of the glut of books in the market.

“And John Landgraf at FX says we’re at ‘peak TV.’ There’s just too much damn stuff. It doesn’t make any sense when you think about how a television show in 1985 could get an audience of 40 or 50 million, and maybe the best, highest-rated show on cable last year, Mad Men, could get an audience of 1.5 million. They both cost the same amount of money, but the audience was 50 times higher before we had this incredible diffusion of too much media.”

He’s referring there to the FX Networks president’s comments last summer at the Television Critics Association’s press tour in LA. The Atlantic’s Megan Garber and her colleagues wrote up Landgraf’s remarks this way:

“The past year saw more than 370 scripted series on television, Landgraf said, including on streaming services; this year, he estimates there will be more than 400. The glut of shows, he says, ‘has created a huge challenge in finding compelling original stories and the level of talent needed to sustain those stories.’ It has also had, he added, ‘an enormous impact on everyone’s ability to cut through the clutter and create real buzz.’”

Sounds like publishing’s Big D problem, right? Discoverability?

“Yeah,” says. Taplin. “Yeah.”

‘To Restore a Sense of Excellence in our Culture’

DBW 2016 logo Jonathan TaplinTaplin’s “Sleeping Through a Revolution” material has appeared in several forms. Many of us know it best from the “Letter to the Millennials” articles Taplin published in the Aspen Ideas magazine at Medium.

In the first, A Boomer Professor Talks to His Students, he approached the material from the intergenerational divide, calling for the “youngers” and the “olders”—as Ashton Applewhite’s forthcoming book on ageism has the terms—to come together i”n a new consciousness of what’s happening to the value of creative content. Taplin wrote:

I know these four elements — courage, intelligence, vulnerability, and compassion — may seem like they are working at cross-purposes, but we will need all four qualities if we are to take on the two tasks before us. One of our tasks is to try to restore a sense of excellence in our culture — the belief that great art and entertainment can also be popular. The second task is for baby boomer parents and their millennial children to form a natural political alliance going forward.”

Read more

There’s more: Read the full story at Publishing Perspectives

By Porter Ander­son

Publishing Perspectives: Jonathan Taplin’s Drive for a ‘Digital Renaissance’: DBW Keynote

Originally published at


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