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In this afterword, I ask what comes after the attention economy. I revisit Lyotard’s concept of the postmodern to discuss and reinterpret the postdigital beyond mere historic periodization. On the basis of this framework, I ask what will replace the attention economies of large platforms as large language models are entering the scene.

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The mobile app economy is premised on the work of intermediaries like the Danish app agency Monocle, which build apps for and upon the frameworks of Big Tech platform companies while selling apps to local markets. Recently, the integration of advertising and user data into apps has further integrated Big Tech platform companies into the app economy. Analyses touching upon the relationship between intermediaries and platform companies tend to posit this relation as either symbiotic or exploitative, in both instances neglecting the agentive power of local app developers. This, however, glosses over the crucial work of brokerage that such intermediaries perform in liaising with and translating between different markets. This chapter shifts the perspective to the intermediaries and their role as triadic brokers as they navigate spaces of opaqueness, and highlights how companies such as Monocle give shape to software materialities and user-data entities when brokering between local markets and transnational economies dominated by multinational platform companies.

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In debates on media governance over the last 50 years, anxieties of audience measurement have recurrently occupied centre stage. But platformization of the legacy news business has reconfigured the past regime of enumerating audience. This chapter makes sense of the emergent regime by forwarding the idea of enumerative accountability. I posit the current regime of enumerating news audience in the history of audience measurement associated with newspapers and broadcast news in India. This helps me to distil recurrent and incremental challenges of accountability and transparency in the business of audience measurement and how this plays out in digital news markets.

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Rethinking the Political Economy of Digital Markets

This interdisciplinary collection rethinks the political economy of the digital market by asking what came before platforms and suggesting what might come after them.

By unpacking the concept of ‘platform economies’ into locally embedded variations of digital markets, the book identifies what is new about contemporary platforms and what is characteristic of wider historical, social and economic currents.

The diverse team of authors employ various analytical approaches, including in-depth ethnographic studies, and theoretical and analytical reconceptualisations of platforms and the industries they encompass.

Tapping into current themes including the decolonisation of the internet, this book offers a timely assessment of the implications of emerging reconfigurations between technology, information, society and markets.

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This chapter applies classic organization theory to outline inherent legitimacy issues with the multi-sided market model of digital media platforms. Drawing on resource dependence and institutional theory, it argues that the lean outsourced platform structure is highly efficient but creates problems of legitimacy. Using YouTube as an illustrative case, it outlines three key legitimacy problems arising from mismatches between platform operations and environmental demands: problematic content, users and practices. It discusses YouTube’s strategic response as a shift from pure advertising intermediary towards cultivation of brand-safe and highly aligned creators integrated with e-commerce. The chapter concludes that integrating insights from organizational theory can explain how the platform model’s pursuit of efficiency leads to compromised legitimacy, requiring evolution of the model itself.

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This chapter provides a framework for examining the ‘economic ontology’ (Mäki, 2001) of contemporary platforms through a historical and conceptual lens. In doing this, it integrates concepts from media theory and Marxist political economy, emphasizing the connective and coordinative function that platforms play in mediating transactions. The chapter’s overarching goal is to contribute to a more general history of the relationship between media and capitalist accumulation. To do this, the chapter foregrounds ‘connectivity’ as a core theme for understanding the recurrent intertwining of profound changes in media and markets, culminating in contemporary forms of platform-centric strategies of accumulation.

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How do universalizing discourses celebrating platforms’ empowerment, freedom, and self-reliance perpetuate themselves despite evidence challenging them? What kind of work is the notion of the platform doing to further, sustain, or reproduce that universalism? Drawing from ethnographic case studies, this chapter suggests this universalism persists because platforms are only a particularly literal, intense and absolute embodiment of a social imaginary that we have known for centuries, secular but mystical, premised on the exaltation of ordinary life.

This ordinary life hinges on a moral order we understand intuitively and take as common sense, where it is rightful that each of us tends to their own needs as they see fit; where we extol the ways of knowing ordinary experience provides; and where popular choice is the seat of the ultimate, and ultimately only, legitimacy.

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In this chapter I analyse the Steam platform and the third-party websites that utilize its infrastructure as a monetary network that transforms game items into units of transaction comparable to conventional money. I address the way in which the business model of Steam has evolved from that of a storefront into that of a ‘tangled market’, and in extension of this I describe how this quest to integrate player-driven economies into the platform’s revenue model has extended beyond the platform into a wider system of third-party websites where game items are traded, gambled, and rewarded in ways that increase their status as units of transaction. I discuss the characteristics of game items in comparison to other type of commodity money foregrounding their ‘contingency’ on the platform from which they originate.

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Through an account of the development of Alibaba, China’s leading e-commerce and tech firm, in the past two decades, this chapter argues that platformization, the process in which a company expands into multiple interconnected markets with significant implications for the existing socioeconomic institutions, is not simply a result of applications of digital technology or the reorganization of the corporate structure. It is instead premised on multi-faceted transformations of broad social economic structures, institutions, and norms. Set in this framework, this chapter demonstrates that Alibaba’s growth has taken place as a set of historically and culturally specific processes and relations constituted by constantly shifting and interacting forces in China in responding to the global convergence of technological and economic development.

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In this introductory chapter we address the concept of platform as it has been developed in the context of platform studies. We identify four overarching themes in the study of platforms: materiality, operations, economic framing, and governance. In extension of this we present two principles for situating platforms: historicizing and provincializing platforms. The first concerns the historically specificities of platforms in the form of predecessors and historical trajectories, while the second concerns the specific economic, social and cultural contexts that shape platforms. We argue that applying these dimension to the study of platforms bring attention characteristics and phenomena that otherwise remain hidden. Finally, we present the individual chapters of the volume and how they play into our ambition of historicizing and provincializing platforms.

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