Audience Commodity

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Christian Fuchs:

"Internet 2.0 is characterized by this antagonism between information commodities and information gifts.

The Internet gift commodity economy can be read as a specific form of what Dallas Smythe has termed the audience commodity (Smythe, 2006). He suggests that in the case of media advertisement models the audience is sold as a commodity. ‘Because audience power is produced, sold, purchased and consumed, it commands a price and is a commodity. . . . You audience members contribute your unpaid work time and in exchange you receive the program material and the explicit advertisements’ (Smythe, 2006: 233, 238). Audiences would work, although unpaid; the consumption of the mass media would be work because it would result in a commodity, hence it would produce that commodity. Also the audience’s work would include ‘learning to buy goods and to spend their income accordingly’, the demand for the consumption of goods and the reproduction of their own labour power (Smythe, 2006: 243ff.).

With the rise of user-generated content and free access social networking platforms like MySpace or Facebook and other free access platforms that yield profit by online advertisement, the Web seems to come close to the accumulation strategies employed by capital on traditional mass media like television or radio. The users who ‘google’ data, upload or watch videos on YouTube, upload or browse personal images on Flickr, or accumulate friends with whom they exchange content or communicate online on social networking platforms like MySpace or Facebook, constitute an audience commodity that is sold to advertisers. The difference between the audience commodity on traditional mass media and on the Internet is that in the latter the users are also content producers: there is user-generated content, the users engage in permanent creative activity, communication, community building and content production. That the users are more active on the Internet than in the reception of television or radio content is due to the decentralized structure of the Internet that allows many-to-many communication." (


Essay by Christian Fuchs: A Contribution to the Critique of the Political Economy of the Internet

More Information

  1. Smythe, Dallas W. (2006) ‘On the Audience Commodity and its Work’, pp. 230– 56 in M.G. Durham and D.M. Kellner (eds) Media and Cultural Studies Key Works. Malden, MA: Blackwell. (Orig. pub. 1981.)
  2. Prosumer Commodity
  3. Produser Commodity