Challenging Boundaries: Fans and Cultural Industries

Cornel Sandvoss

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3 Citations (Scopus)


The possibly most notable feature distinguishing cultural industries from other industry sectors is that they are confronted with a very particular type of customer: fans. In contrast to consumers operating by the sober rationale of the marketplace imagined in liberal economic theory, the consumption of the texts and goods produced by cultural industries can only be understood through the analysis of its emotional and affective underpinnings and associated forms of enjoyment. In turn the vast majority of fan objects are found within the textual and symbolic realm of contemporary, commercial popular culture. The implications of the resulting interplay of fans and cultural industries are far reaching. The inadequacy of classic economic models to understand these implications is illustrated by two seemingly contrary observations: emotionally and affectively engaged consumers make investments in the form of financial capital, labour and curatorial activity that seem sparsely warranted by objects’ use value; leading, for instance, to widely publicised occasions of fan memorabilia being sold for hundreds of thousands or even millions of pounds (Geraghty 2014; cf. Sandvoss 2005a). And yet, much of the cultural industries encounter difficulties in monetising their output. Indeed, much of it is accessed by users for free: the business model of the most popular forms of entertainment continues to be based on providing free content and services to audiences and users by selling advertisers access to these groups - a model that remains largely unchanged from commercial broadcasters to online services such as search engines, video portals and social media sites.When businesses seek to employ a traditional model in which content is being sold to customers the evasion of the intended payment mechanisms through the easy reproducibility of nonmaterial cultural objects, as in, for example, cases of audio and video file sharing, leads to the de facto though not de jure free accessibility of the products of cultural industries. The question of value - monetary and otherwise - therefore requires very different approaches in the analysis of cultural industries. In simple numerical terms, the significance of cultural industries to the overall economy - and hence its wider significance to contemporary consumer capitalism - appears modest: possibly reflecting some of the monetisation issues mentioned above. According to a 2013 report by the Centre for Economics and Business Research, cultural industries account only for about 0.4 per cent of the gross domestic product in the United Kingdom. And yet, in our everyday experience cultural industries are at the heart of consumer culture: they evoke passion and loyalty among fans, providing a model of affective engagements that facilitate emotion, enjoyment and the integration of products into users’ identity positions; a capacity sought to be emulated in other industry sectors, as both the extensive efforts of sponsorship in realms of popular culture from sports to music and film, and the wider role of popular media as carriers of advertisements, powerfully illustrate. In order to explore the particular relevance of fans to cultural industries, it is thus necessary to explore how affective attachments in fandom are constituted and which practices they give rise to.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Routledge Companion to the Cultural Industries
EditorsKate Oakley, Justin O'Connor
Place of PublicationAbingdon, Oxon
Number of pages14
ISBN (Electronic)9781315725437
ISBN (Print)9780415706209
Publication statusPublished - 5 Jun 2015


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