Value in Prosumer practices- and in the Information Economy

Lately there have been many attempts to theorize and criticize value creation in online prosumer practices. A lot of people have proposed some version of the Marxian labor theory of value, whereby they have suggested that online content creation should be seen as a form of labor, and that consequently, social media sites like Facebook, twitter, and why not, the Huffington post, expoit their users by appropriating the surplus value that they create. This analysis suggests that, while such an approach could be useful in some cases, it in inadequate as a way of understanding value creation in prosumer practices in general, and as a critique of exploitation in informational capitalism, it definitely barks up the wrong tree. Instead we propose an analysis where the question of value is organized around the crucial link between, on the one hand, an ever more socialized reputation economy, and, on the other hand, financial markets as the ‘places’ where the values are set. This perspective  views social media platforms as instruments that determine the value of the kinds of intangible assets that are subsequently monetized on financial markets. This leads us to suggest that social media platforms are not so much part of the problem as much as they could be part of a solution: they could support a more democratic reputation economy by means of which valuations of intangible assets are democratized.

The whole paper is available here.

5 Comments Value in Prosumer practices- and in the Information Economy

  1. AvatarPoor Richard

    Michel and Adam, I’m not with you on this one. I haven’t finished my reading of the paper, but to begin with this term “prosumer” adds a total of nothing to the centuries-long dialog on economics. Every productive entity in the biosphere, much less on the internet, is both a producer and consumer of goods and services, and thus is a prosumer. But it is symptomatic of a paper that is heavy on terminology and light on substance.

    The only important fact I have noted so far is that one of the revenue streams that is not shared equitably by all the internet value producers is the wealth that a Facebook realizes from the financial markets, such as the appreciation of its stock value. That is an important point but it can be stated in one sentence.

    Also, the arguments against Fuchs’ application of Marx raise some issues worth discussing but I don’t find Adam’s conclusions entirely persuasive. Whatever other means of determining a Facebook’s value might be important, I lave no doubt that labor has value and there is a lot of labor value flowing into the Facebook along with a giant sucking sound….

  2. AvatarPoor Richard

    “Audience value” (as an attractor of ad revenue, investment, more audience, etc) and the value of “audience participation” are two separate things.

    In fact I think the best general approach is to identify all inputs and all outputs of value and then, for each input and output stream, identify the various sources of the inputs and the receivers of the outputs. Only then can the aggregate value of a Facebook be calculated and the fairness of the distributions be judged.

    I am not satisfied that “each Facebook user was a ‘victim of exploitation of surplus value’ to the extent of $ 0.7 a year” or that the “figure on the overall value created by audience participation on
    the internet globally, $ 100 billion… becomes $ 59 per internet user per year.”

    Not all internet users are anywhere equal in their contributions. Some internet users should be paying for their activity and others should be getting paid.

  3. AvatarPoor Richard

    In my earlier comment about Fuchs and Marx I neglected to say that while labor is not measurable in time alone, neither is time irrelevant.

    And while some forms of added value are difficult to attribute to individual actors others are not.

    So I can’t agree that “however the multitude is exploited in creating common resources, labor time is not a good measure of that exploitation.” I can only agree that it is not always the best measure. Those are very different conclusions.

    “A third crucial precondition for the relevance of the labor theory of value is that the realization of
    value occurs in direct commodity exchange on markets where there is a direct correspondence
    between market price and the labor time necessary for commodity production.”

    I think there is some obfuscation here. “Labor theory of value” (either ambiguous or pre-defined in a particular way), “direct commodity exchange”, and “direct correspondence” are all fairly tricky terms to navigate to arrive at a “crucial precondition for relevance.” Whats wrong with indirect exchanges and correspondences, for instance?

    “…the rise of intangible assets as a component of the market value of companies implies that resources like brand, innovation, and flexibility, that are to a large extent appropriated from the self-organized productive practices of the multitude (at least within an ‘negrian’ theoretical framework), are directly evaluated on financial markets.” and “…value created in productive processes is more or less directly
    channeled to financial markets. On financial markets this value is redistributed according to what
    Marazzi call linguistic ‘conventions’…”

    I’m with you there. That seems clear and uncontroversial as a matter of fact. As a matter of equity some question remains.

    “This leads us to suggest that informational capitalism ever more deploys a reputational ‘law’ of value,
    where the value of companies and their intangible assets are set not in relation to an objective measurement…”

    What about numbers of eyeballs, users, keystrokes, hits, clicks, links, and numerous other objective measures of reputation?

    Though I’m only half way through the paper and may be jumping the gun with some of my comments, it may be useful to the author to have a sense of a reader’s thoughts and reactions along the way to that half-way mark.

  4. AvatarPoor Richard

    The second half of the paper beginning at “Value on Social Media Platforms” is reading much better to me.

    The “like economy”: many of the same metrics of reputation I applied to internet brands, like Facebook, above also apply to individual users and friend groups. Some reputation criteria may be indirect, intangible, or relatively arbitrary (non-specific “attention time”, clebrity, expertise, etc.) but many are explicit as numbers of “friends”, “likes”, shares, comments, views, click-throughs, etc. Explicit, tangible metrics are the easiest to capture but are not necessarily more relevant than other intangible and ambiguous influences. You often seem to be saying value is properly indicated either by one or the other.

    The facts in the section on “Facebook and Finance” are not controversial except for raising the question of equitable distribution of this value stream.

    “…the value of social media companies like Facebook does not primarily depend on the number of users that they have, nor on the time that users spend online. It depends on the strength of their brand which is an effect both of the number of users that they have, and on their ability to penetrate the lifeworld of those users ‘vertically’ so to speak.”

    I would argue that user population times attention time *is* a primary factor if it is arguably the stronger of the only two factors described.

    The chart on p 19 showing the lack of correlation between market valuation and user volume only shows that the market valuation process is still largely irrational and based on irrelevant assumptions and arbitrary conventions.

    “If the suggestion is that internet platforms, or even ‘the internet’ as a whole, exploit users by attracting surplus value from their ‘audience labor’, and that consequently this surplus value ought to be redistributed in the form of a basic income, then, as we have seen on page x, there is not much to redistribute. This becomes a rather toothless argument.”

    Only under certain assumptions some of which I have challenged. One implicit assumption seems to be that all users are equal with respect to quantity and quality of labor. In fact, the basic income distribution might be divided unequally among far fewer than “all” internet users.

    “What needs to be re-distributed in a more equal fashion is not the value appropriated by social
    media platforms, but the value that circulates on financial markets.”

    Again a false either-or dichotomy. The answer is not one but both. Or better yet, the answer is all valid inputs and outputs with no artificial and arbitrary externalities. I am not confident that your analysis and recommendations are fully consistent with that degree of neutrality and comprehensiveness with respect to all inputs, outputs, and methods of valuation.

    Poor Richard

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