Software and Artificial Scarcity in Digital Media

John L. Sullivan


This article outlines a critical research agenda for understanding software as a key element in the development and structure of online media markets.  First, I argue that media technologies are increasingly becoming software-driven and web-enabled, thereby blurring the distinctions between media hardware and software.  Second, I explore some of the techniques that media companies have utilized to commodify digital media distribution by creating artificial scarcities within the software code itself (via user interfaces as well as the underlying physical and technological supports for the distribution of media on the Internet).  As more media consumption occurs via software interfaces, forms of artificial scarcity such as paywalls, search engine traffic redirection, application programming interfaces (APIs), and other software tools are increasingly shaping our experiences with audiovisual media.  These technological controls allow corporations to restrict access to media content, thereby enabling differential pricing models and expanded policing of digital copyright.  The implications of these trends for political economic studies of media industries are explored in the conclusion.

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