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This word is becoming fairly common but can be confusing, as it has two meanings. It was coined in 1980 by the futurist Alvin Toffler — in his book The Third Wave — as a blend of producer and consumer. He used it to describe a possible future type of consumer who would become involved in the design and manufacture of products, so they could be made to individual specification. He argued that we would then no longer be a passive market upon which industry dumped consumer goods but a part of the creative process. Derrick de Kerckhove has called this mass customisation, in which everybody is in effect a member of a niche market, something Internet e-commerce is encouraging through cutting out the middleman between maker and buyer. This sense of prosumer has been taken up by some marketing people, but remains limited in its application.

The second usage describes a purchaser of technical equipment who wants to obtain goods of a better quality than consumer items, but can’t afford professional items (older terms for goods of this intermediate quality are semi-professional and industrial quality). Here, the word is a blend of professional and consumer. Prosumers of this sort are famed for their enthusiasm for new products and their tolerance of flaws and, from the marketing point of view, have much in common with early adopters. This usage is common among those selling video equipment, digital cameras, and similar goods (and the examples below illustrate this sense). Some manufacturers treat the SOHO (Small Office, Home Office) market as being much the same thing.

DVDwiz represents the first truly professional-quality DVD authoring software available to the prosumer and consumer markets, offering the unique creativity level and compatibility so far only available to professionals.

Business Wire, Sep. 1999

To make his next movie, Camera, Martini gathered a handful of friends, some consumer-friendly but higher-end digital video (DV) cameras (so-called “prosumer” models), a high-powered PC and off-the-shelf editing software.

USA Today, Mar. 1999

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 20 Nov. 1999

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
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Last modified: 20 November 1999.