4AAVC101: Digital Economy and Audiences (at KCL)


These are my notes for 4AAVC101 at King's College London for the 2017-2018 school year. The lecturer, Nick Srnicek, is the author of two excellent books at the intersection of technology and leftist politics: Inventing the Future (with Alex Williams), and Platform Capitalism.

The usual disclaimer: all notes are my personal impressions and do not necessarily reflect the view of the lecturer.

Taught by Dr Nick Srnicek, Lecturer in Digital Economy in the Digital Humanities department at King's.

  1. The Digital Economy (September 26)
  2. Cognitive Capitalism and the Attention Economy (October 03)
  3. The Value of Data (October 10)
  4. Peer Production (October 17)
  5. The Rise of Platforms (October 24)
  6. Reading week (October 31)
  7. Advertising and the surveillance economy (November 07)
  8. The data industry (November 14)
  9. The sharing economy (November 21)
  10. Digital Workers (November 28)
  11. The Future of the Digital Economy (December 05)

The Digital Economy - week 1

(I didn’t attend this lecture because I didn’t consider the possibility of auditing this course until the following week. What follows is a summary of the readings listed in the course handbook.)


The Second Economy from McKinsey Quarterly, 2011

A fairly light and business-friendly read about the digital economy. The most salient takeaway I got is that technology is not just an industry, but an intelligent system (akin to a nervous system) underneath the entire economy. The challenge, now, is not greater production, but rather better distribution of the prosperity that it can bring us.

Platform Capitalism by Nick Srnicek

This was in the “Recommended Reading” section which could be seen as a bit of a cheeky way of boosting sales of his book (it’s relevant to the course, obviously). I read this over the summer and thought it was excellent. You can find some of my notes, attached to specific passages from the book, on Bookmarker.

Cognitive Capitalism and the Attention Economy - week 2


Cognitive Capitalism by Yann Moulier Boutang (chapter 3)

So I started reading this from the beginning and realised that I didn’t just want to read chapter 3, I wanted to read the whole book, which I didn’t have time to do just yet. Luckily, the reading is summarised quite nicely in the lecture notes below.

The Ecology of Attention by Yves Citton (chapter 1)

Notes from the introduction:

Chapter 1

I now want to read this whole book too, which is a little concerning given that I have so many other readings and (as I’ve been reminded by this book) only a finite amount of attention.

Post-script: I have indeed read the whole book, and my notes are, as always, on Bookmarker.


(I missed the first few minutes because the room number was “S-1.06” and I interpreted that as S DASH 1.06 and thus spent several stressful minutes around a very empty first floor that was completely devoid of any classrooms and asking everyone who passed by if they knew where the classroom was, to no avail. Luckily I then noticed that there was a basement floor whose room numbers were prefixed by S-1. I still think it’s a very confusing system.)

Cognitive capitalism

The attention economy

The Value of Data - week 3


Learning to Immaterial Labour (PDF) by Mark Coté and Jennifer Pybus

On the source of MySpace’s ridiculously high valuation at the time of its acquisition by News Corporation ($580 million).

Free Labor: Producing Culture for the Digital Economy (PDF) by Tiziana Terranova

On knowledge work in the new digital economy and how it relates to classical Marxist ideas. I need to re-read this more carefully but it seems really, really good.

Digital Labour and Karl Marx by Christian Fuchs

It’s a 400-page book (in the Recommended Reading section) so I haven’t had a chance to get to it yet, but it looks pretty awesome and I’m stoked to read it.


Peer Production - week 4


The Wealth of Networks (PDF) by Yochai Benkler, chapter 3

Summarised in the lecture.

The limits of peer production: Some reminders from Max Weber for the network society

Using Max Weber’s theories on bureaucracy to confront weaknesses in contemporary views on the power of peer production to challenge hierarchical structures.

Only including the ones I’ve read or want to read.


The Rise of Platforms - week 5


Matchmakers by David S. Evans and Richard Schmalensee (chapter 1)

No notes for this yet.

Bridging differing perspectives on technological platforms by Annabelle Gawer

The economics perspective (two-sided markets, which lets us understand competition) and the engineering perspective (the technical architecture, which lets us understand innovation).

Only including the ones I’ve read or want to read.


- week 6

Advertising and the surveillance economy - week 7


Big other by Shoshana Zuboff

A paper on surveillance capitalism. Challenges the idea of technological determinism when it comes to big data (it’s shaped by the contours of capitalism etc etc). Focuses on Google’s data extraction practices, as understood via publications written by Google’s Chief Economist Hal Varian. Also distinguishes between the economics of high tech corporations (high rev/employee ratio) and the giants in older industries (e.g., Detroit automakers). References Arendt. The “Big Other” as the catch-all term for a totalitarian, computer-mediated surveillance system from which we cannot escape; the biggest consequence is a shift from the means of production as the determinant of power to the means of behavioural modification. The upshot of this kind of technology embodied in a corporation is the undermining of “the historical relationship between markets and democracies”. Pretty great & well worth reading.

The Secrets of Surveillance Capitalism by Shoshana Zuboff

Similar to the paper above but written for more of a popular audience. Says that demanding privacy from surveillance capitalists constitutes an existential threat, and that we are ceding our sovereignty and capability for individual self-determination to corporations like Google (which capture “behavioral surplus”). Also quite great.


The data industry - week 8


Networks of control by Wolfie Christl and Sarah Spiekermann (chapter 5)

A report from 2016 (link to PDF). A very long and thorough chapter on the data broker industry. Proposes an interesting concept: customer lifetime risk (analogous to CLV) resulting from corporations using our personal data in ways we may not anticipate (and which may harm us). Goes into the problems with hashed email addresses (they lull you into a decidedly false sense of security) which I thought was right on the money since I’ve come to similar conclusions myself while dealing with customer/partner-provided hashed emails at Macromeasures … Overall, excellent report & very uncanny to read given how much of this world I had to see in firsthand through Macro :/

The like economy by Carolin Gerlitz and Anne Helmond

On the one-way flow of data (esp likes/shares) from users (for tracking + popularity metrics) & how that’s walled off in Facebookland.


The sharing economy - week 9


The Sharing Economy by Arun Sundararajan (chapter 2)

Haven’t been able to get my hands on a copy of this yet. Going to try to read it for my dissertation, though.

What’s Yours Is Mine by Tom Slee (chapter 4)



Digital Workers - week 10


(Not) Getting Paid to Do What You Love by Brooke Erin Duffy (chapter 3)

Described as

An illuminating investigation into a class of enterprising women aspiring to “make it” in the social media economy but often finding only unpaid work

in the press materials. Didn’t read.

Labor in the Global Digital Economy by Ursula Huws (chapter 5)

Going to read this at some point for my dissertation.

Same as above


On the subjects of the digital world. Introducting basic Marxist theories of class & exploitation and applying them to the digital economy, without too much explicit mention of Marx (presumably to avoid the associated semantic baggage).

The Future of the Digital Economy - week 11


Splinternet by Scott Malcomson (chapter 3)

Didn’t get around to this.

Platform Capitalism by Nick Srnicek (chapter 3)

Read this over the summer. Notes in Bookmarker.

The Stack by Benjamin Bratton

In the Recommended Reading section. Haven’t read it yet (it’s an imposing 528 pages) but it seems quite seminal so I’m going to work through next semester.

Who Owns the Future? by Jaron Lanier

In the Recommended Reading section. I read this over the summer and was wildly disappointed. Brief review on Goodreads (longer one coming soon, hopefully).

Socialize the Data Centres! by Evgeny Morozov

its In the Recommended Reading section. An interview with journalist Evgeny Morozov. One of my favourite New Left Review pieces ever. I came across this issue over the summer, while going through old NLR issues at Housman’s, and was very intrigued by the title of this specific piece. Notes in Bookmarker.

Will the Internet Fragment? by Milton Mueller

In the Recommended Reading section. Haven’t read this yet but it looks interesting.

Platform Cooperatism (PDF) by Treboz Scholz

In the Recommended Reading section. Haven’t read this yet either but Scholz’ work has been on my radar for some time (he co-edited Ours to Hack and to Own