This article contributes to a political economic theory centred on the concept of “audience labour”. First, the previous use of the concept of audience labour is briefly traced and the process of rethinking the concept as the basis of a political economic theory is begun. Second, a theory of the audience labour process is developed, drawing on previous theories of audience activities of cultural consumption as productive activities of signification and adapting Marx’s theory of the human labour process to the audience labour process. Third, a political economy of audience labour is outlined. As a theory of the basic processes through which communicative capital can control and extract value from audience labour, it describes the exploitation of audience labour and accumulation of communicative capital through distribution relationships of rent and interest. Finally, the continuing centrality of audience labour exploitation in the digital era is discussed.