Processing fads and fashions: An organization-set analysis of cultural industry systems

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Cultural products may be defined tentatively as “nonmaterial�? goods directed at a public of consumers, for whom they generally serve an aesthetic or expressive, rather than a clearly utilitarian, function. Insofar as one of its goals is to create and satisfy consumer demand for new fads and fashions, every consumer industry is engaged to some extent in the production of cultural goods, and any consumer good can thus be placed along the implied continuum between cultural and utilitarian products. The two poles, however, should be intuitively distinct. Movies, plays, books, art prints, phonograph records, and pro football games are predominantly cultural products; each is nonmaterial in the sense that it embodies a live, one-of-a-kind performance and/or contains a unique set of ideas. Foods and detergents, on the other hand, serve more obvious utilitarian needs. The term “cultural organization�? refers here only to profit-seekingfirms producing cultural products for national distribution. Noncommercial or strictly local organizations, such as university presses and athletic teams, respectively, are thus excluded from consideration. A fundamental difference between entrepreneurial organizations and nonprofit agencies is summarized by Toffler: In the non-profit sector the end-product is most frequently a live performance-a concert, a recital, a play. If for purposes of economic analysis we consider a live performance to be a commodity, we are immediately struck by the fact that, unlike most commodities offered for sale in our society, this commodity is not standardized. It is not machine made. It is a handicrafted item…. Contrast the output of the non-profit performing arts with that of the record manufacturer. He, too, sells what appears to be a performance. But it is not. It is a replica of a performance, a mass-produced embodiment of a performance…. The book publisher, in effect, does the same. The original manuscript of the poem or novel represents the author’s work of art, the individual, the prototype. The book in which it is subsequently embodied is a [manufactured] replica of the original. Its form of production is fully in keeping with the level of technology in the surrounding society.1.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationOn Record
Subtitle of host publicationRock, Pop and the Written Word
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages12
ISBN (Electronic)9781134939510
ISBN (Print)0203993020, 9781138167995
StatePublished - Jan 1 2006

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences(all)


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