Fan Labor: Exploitation or Empowerment?

Hi there. Remember me? Ok, so I’ve been an epic blogging fail lately. But there’s a good reason! I’ve been writing full length things. Like the 2 papers I’m about to share here.

This coming week I’ll be in Copenhagen presenting at the Association of Internet Researchers’ ninth annual conference (Internet Research 9.0). I’m giving two papers, one about Swedish indie fans online and one about friending on Last.fm.

Here is the paper about Swedish indie fans. My collaborator Robert Burnett and I interviewed a number of mp3 bloggers, archivists, indie label guys and musicians. In this, we demonstrate the importance of the (unpaid) work fans do in spreading this music beyond the border of Sweden, making it a globally accessible and appreciated commodity, and we pose the question of whether this is exploitation or empowerment.

There is a critique of Web 2.0 that argues it is based on free labor done by users from which others profit. We argue that this critique has some merit, but undervalues the rewards fans get from doing this kind of work. We identify the costs fan laborers pay and the rewards they receive. In the end, the tension between empowerment and exploitation is one that each fan laborer has to manage on his or her own. We identify three strategies through which they do this: distancing themselves from the scene as outsiders, viewing themselves as peers of those they ‘work’ for, and viewing their work as an investment in a future career.

You can download the paper here.

Come back next week for the Last.fm paper.

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Comments (2) to “Fan Labor: Exploitation or Empowerment?”

  1. This is a great question that I think about sometings. Look forward to reading the paper.

  2. I used this paper for my MA Thesis, which is dealing with economic value of user-generated content, by investigating the user practices of MOG website (I believe you are familiar with it).
    First of all, it directed me towards many (could I say left-leaning authors:) such as Scholz and Terranova, whose insight on immaterial labour was spot on. Secondly, I appreciate you making a distinction between fan labour of indie music fans and typically criticized trivial user-generated content, it is one of the key arguments in my thesis.