In their new book, Spreadable Media, Henry Jenkins and his co-authors assert that they have “Found a Cure for Viral Media!” (16). Specifically, they don’t care for the term “viral” as a description of a piece of media that becomes popular on the Internet. Their alternative is their title: “spreadable” media.
I’m not sure their term is going to happen. Ever since William S. Burroughs declared that “language is a virus from outer space,” “virus” has meant a coded germ as well as a physical one. “Spreadable,” in contrast, has all kinds of possible meanings. Are marketers and content creators really going to start congratulating each other at the water cooler by saying, “Hey, I saw you went spreadable, good job”?
More importantly, the key distinction the authors are trying to make – that “viral” suits only the needs of scared businesspeople, but “spreadable” is the truer metaphor of the people – is only half-true. “Spreadable media” is accurate, but also more business-friendly than “viral media.” Think about it:
Viral = Passively consumed and passed along, outside the conscious control of its audience
Spreadable = Actively consumed and passed along, via conscious choice
“Spreadable Media” is a book for media scholars, communication professionals and people creating and sharing content. (ix) Which pitch better helps this audience get work? The latter. A conscious audience can be communicated with, partnered with, persuaded and massaged. A passive audience can only be manipulated – subliminal seduction is the only seduction possible.