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What is Cultural Industry?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 23, 2024
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Cultural industry refers to the various businesses that produce, distribute, market or sell products that belong categorically in creative arts. Such products could include clothing, decorative material for homes, books, movies, television programs, or music. This industry is a very large category for certain types of businesses.

For example, a store that sells CDs, formerly called a record store, belongs to the cultural industry. It employs salespeople to sell CDs, managers to run the store, and buyers to choose which CDs to sell. It also may employ people to construct or distribute advertising. The CD store may be an independently run store, or may be part of a larger chain of CD stores.

The sales of CDs are dependent upon other parts of the cultural industry. One needs artists to record music. One also depends upon distributors who sell the music, recording studios that record the music, and numerous other industries that are considered cultural. A company must exist to actually manufacture CDs, so this becomes part of the industry as well.

A growing field in cultural industry is the various producers of websites and stores selling or producing creative material. For instance, instead of purchasing CDs at a store, a consumer may use something like Apple's iTunes to download songs or albums for their MP3 player. Alternately, they might visit one of the many websites that now offer either free or low price streaming video of popular television shows. They may choose to shop at places like Amazon, instead of hitting the local bookstore.

The term cultural industry is sometimes confused with the term culture industry. Culture industry is a concept created by Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer and is related to Marxist philosophy. It posits that popular culture is factory-like in structure, and through this culture, standardized goods are manufactured to pacify the populace. These “creative” goods don’t represent real creativity, but rather a watered down “acceptable” form of creativity that is mass-produced.

Cultural industry on the other hand, is not really a value-based term. It merely refers to businesses involved in the production, sale, distribution and creation of works of creativity. While some individual businesses might determine certain goods necessitate mass production, other forms of this industry are more highly selective. An artist’s studio, where one can buy originals is certainly not representative of the culture industry concept advanced by Adorno and Horkheimer.

Language & Humanities is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Language & Humanities contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

Discussion Comments

By Proxy414 — On Mar 04, 2011

I am thankful for the diversity of music with all its genres and types from all over the world. Even within the US there are a myriad of different art forms which come together to form a vast melting pot and a beautiful mosaic of many cultures, all driven and supported by the cultural industry.

By JavaGhoul — On Mar 02, 2011

If all that a culture is is "culture industry," and is a mechanized system designed to produce goods, as Marx supposed, then why is there a cultural industry? I think Marx had a very narrow view of societies and meaning. There is more to life than goods and machines. We are recognizing that more than ever today, where capitalism has landed us in a bad spot, and information overload leaves us wanting more.

By SilentBlue — On Feb 28, 2011

The fine arts and specialized forms of culture that make up the higher human functions are deemed to be worthy of the term "cultural." These define and shape the zeitgeist and ethos of a given people group, and determine who they really are as a culture. People interested in cultivating these deeper hobbies and endeavors will spend money on the cultural industry, because it is an important part of everyone's life.

Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen


With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Language & Humanities contributor,...
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