The numbers tell a persuasive story. According to the latest DCMS stats, the sector, which spans a diverse range of disciplines from fashion, architecture and marketing to film, videogames and publishing, grew through the recession and is now worth nearly £77 billion. Jobs increased by 5.5% between 2013 and 2014, double the rate of the economy as a whole, and nearly 16% since 2011. Creative service exports totaled £17.3 billion, soaring by 34.2%, between 2011 and 2013 and outperforming the rest of the UK economy by nearly 15%.
By some estimates, the creative industries account for as much as 10% of jobs in the UK, and up to a third of jobs in London. Intellectual property, the ideas and content that fuel the sector, can be an elusive concept for policymakers. “Government agencies are fifty years out of date on this, used to collecting data on physical things“, says Andy Pratt, Professor of Cultural Economy at City University London. “They don’t measure the stuff that really earns money these days. Immaterial things.” Whether it’s “Grand Theft Auto,” Harry Potter Books or music by Coldplay, products that come straight from the human imagination are generating revenues that often dwarf those of “serious” industries like manufacturing.
Government agencies don’t measure the stuff that really earns money these days. Immaterial things.
Even the most sanguine stats underestimate the sector’s full impact. For instance, industrial companies are starting to move from mass production to flexible production, something moviemakers have been doing for years. In standard industry, there is a slow turnover of product, whereas creative companies often create several new products a week.“ Economists have been saying for years that the creative economy is somehow wrong,” says Pratt. “Now they have come to realise it’s the old economy that wasn’t responding to reality. Part of the DNA of the creative sector is to manage risk and innovate in response to the massive uncertainties of today’s economy. They are children of the current age.”
Structurally, the sector is remarkable for having a ‘triangle shape’ – a handful of giants on top, almost no middle-sized companies and scores of small companies with fewer than ten employees, and self-employed people. Creative entrepreneurs work intensely on contracts and projects that often have a short life and reconfigure regularly, hiring contractors depending on current needs. “Being ambitious is not the same as wanting to grow”, argues Dr. Chris Bilton, Reader in Cultural Policy Studies at the University of Warwick and an expert on management in the creative sector.
“For many creative entrepreneurs, ambition is directed towards innovating new products or improving quality rather than becoming larger.“