Pinning down the Creative Industries in a positively uncertain way

Defining what is and isn’t part of the  ‘creative industries’ has been vexing not a few people across the world at least since the UK’s DCMS came up with its list of thirteen in 1998.  Today’s ACEI conference panel on the topic was no exception although renowned cultural economist David Throsby rightly pointed out the concept was well established by the time Ken Livingstone and the GLC set out to foster employment in the arts (search a library to see if you can find a copy of the 1985 report ‘ The State of the Art or the Art of the State‘).

The DCMS, by lumping in ‘software’ with broadcasting. film, music etc., has led a host of agencies and Government departments to count a new program to count the size of the national debt in with say, Grand Theft Auto.  Unhelpfully this means that in some reports, rises or falls in software output as a whole mask what is happening in what we might consider to be the truly creative part of the software business.  AH HA! I hear you object, what about the creativity in, well, pretty much every industry.  Well coming to the rescue Prof Trosby has a handy ‘quick test’ to help distinguish creative industries from ‘industries-that-use-creativity’.  It goes like this:

An industry is a creative industry if it involves: creativity + symbolic value + IP (intellectual property).  Many industries (e.g. software as a whole) may use two of these i.e. creativity + IP but not exhibit the third – symbolic value.  On this test Grand Theft Auto is in, SAGE Accounting is out.

Speaking of what’s ‘in’, ‘experience industries’, a term which has been around for a while, may have to give ground to the new kid on the block: ‘positive uncertainty’.  Borrowing a term from counselling (I suspect by accident) in this context it means many (though not all) of the cultural experiences we seek place a positive value on uncertainty.  Not knowing the outcome of a tense thriller (like a football match) is half the fun.  This, of course, somewhat goes against orthodox ‘rational expectation’ economic theory which assumes the more information consumers have about a prospective product/service purchase the better.  In reality of course we want both – we want to know in advance if its a good film, but we don’t want a ‘spoiler’ to undermine the discovery process if we go to see it.

Finally just when we thought it was safe to walk the streets without  ‘complex derivatives’ bringing bankers to their knees, ‘option theory’ rears its head as a way of putting a value on uncertainty.  Hey ho, I guess there are a few underemployed investment bankers who reckon they can short-sell films – oh wait a minute they already are (See April 23rd post)!

Have a good weekend.

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2 Responses to “Pinning down the Creative Industries in a positively uncertain way”


  1. 1 Hugh Mason June 19, 2010 at 8:07 pm

    Thanks for this helpful piece. I’ve long had a professional interest in seeing a clearer definition for the Creative Industries and welcome any ideas that shed new light, so I am intrigued by your definition of “creativity + symbolic value + IP”. Please could you expand on what does or doesn’t constitute “symbolic value”?

  2. 2 robinmacpherson June 20, 2010 at 2:40 pm

    glad you found it useful. I should stress that this quick test isnt mine – I was reporting David Throsby’s remarks but, for what its worth, here’s my take on ‘symbolic value’.

    In this context the distinctive feature of cultural goods is that their value to the consumer lies wholly or mainly in the meanings, emotions and other non-tangible benefits ‘consumption’ of them brings. Picasso’s painting Guernica captures the material horror of aerial bombardment but also evokes the evil of fascism, provoking an emotional and intellectual response in viewers (though not necessarily always the same one).

    In that sense a football match also has symbolic value in providing drama – allowing the spectator to invest emotionally in the hope/fear of winning/losing and, perhaps, the aesthetic beauty of a deft pass or anatomy-defying save. But the former is also a piece of intellectual property, albeit with a unique and in one sense unreporducible form, although of course it can be reprodcued as a poster/card etc. and commercially exploited. Both are unique (the game cant be play again in the exactly the same way, though it too can be ‘copied’ on video) and the direct experience of them is considered superior to the copy. Some might say there is a lot of (performative) creativity in a football match so it might meet the first two tests but there isnt, arguably, any IP emobodied in the individual acts of ‘creation’ as there is in a painting. There is IP in the recording (hence SKY sports is a very profitable business) but again, agruably, that IP exists only by artifically exclusing others from recording an event which, in principle, any decent recording of would be as good as any other.

    Anyway leaving football out of it the key thing is that you cant really ‘use’ a film, or a record or a book for anything other than experiencing the symbolic value of its content – its all about meanings. These in turn depend on your ability to (in the broadest sense) ‘read’ meaning into the object/experience. A book in a language you dont read (say Latin) is useless (other than to prop up a table leg) and a book about golf maybe of little value to non-golfer, so symbolic value ie relational, and volatile – a film like Heaven’s Gate may be seen as having little or no audience (value) when first released but gradually be rehabilitated to become a classic. A sleekly designed can opener that doesnt work will neve be rehabilitated as a can-opener (though it might become valuable as a symbol of a certain design style).

    Ill stop there as I may be making things less rather than more clear…


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