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Questioning worth: selling out in the music industry

Kerrie Bridson (Deakin University, Burwood, Victoria, Australia)
Jody Evans (Melbourne Business School, University of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia)
Rohit Varman (Deakin University, Burwood, Victoria, Australia)
Michael Volkov (Deakin University, Burwood, Victoria, Australia)
Sean McDonald (Deakin University, Burwood, Victoria, Australia)

European Journal of Marketing

ISSN: 0309-0566

Article publication date: 12 September 2017




This study aims to illuminate the way in which consumers question the authenticity and worth of musicians, leading to a classification of selling out. The authors contribute to the debate on authenticity by attending to the question of worth that is under-examined in existing literature, by drawing upon French pragmatic sociology with specific attention to convention theory to understand conflicting interpretations of worth.


The considerations music fans go through navigating whether artists are selling out and the loss of worth were explored through 22 semi-structured interviews, complemented by focus group discussions (20 participants) and analysis of an online video blog.


The study identified three key themes: “Authenticity and Worth in the Inspired World”, “Selling Out as Loss of Worth” and “Signifiers of Selling Out”.

Practical implication

The emergent themes enable us to understand the worth that consumers place on musical artists, and the clash between the ideologies of the market world and the inspired world. The ideas regarding selling out and the signifiers may apply to other consumption experiences where the clash between the inspired and the market worlds exists and the conflicting ethos of each can lead to a loss of worth and selling out.


In this research, the authors examine situations in which consumers stigmatise as “sell outs”, artists who are marketised under the influence of capitalist social relations of production. As a result, these artists lose their authenticity and worth in the eyes of consumers. In doing so, this research contributes to the debate on authenticity by attending to the question of worth that is under-examined in existing literature.



Bridson, K., Evans, J., Varman, R., Volkov, M. and McDonald, S. (2017), "Questioning worth: selling out in the music industry", European Journal of Marketing, Vol. 51 No. 9/10, pp. 1650-1668.



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