Digital leap from the pandemic - review of the report Rebuilding Europe

Digital leap from the pandemic - review of the report Rebuilding Europe

Since the beginning of Covid-19 pandemic in Cupore, we have been collecting data and reviews on the cultural and creative sector. We have downloaded survival packages, exit plans, lists of best practices, policy briefs and reports of losses to artists around Europe and further beyond. Last January came out a publication which offered visions for the creative and cultural sector to find ways out from the misery. Since the pandemic is also described as a starting point for a cultural digital leap, I read these texts trough the lenses of digitalization.

The European Grouping of Authors and Composers was commissioned by EY (the company until recently called Ernst & Young) to produce a report on the state of the cultural and creative sectors in Europe after the Covid-19 pandemic. Rebuilding Europe presents the situation in the creative sectors before and during the pandemic. It’s a survival plan and report about the recent challenges of the culture sector. I decided to check what kind of role is given in this report to digitalization in the recovery of culture and art. The report is based on databases which include Eurostat Structural Business Statistics, the Eurostat Labor Force Survey, the IFPI Global Music Report 2020 and national statistical bureaus.

The cultural and creative economy before and after the COVID-19 crisis

There has been a lack of statistical data about the effects of Covid-19 in the cultural and creative sectors. We all know that the loss is huge but we will get to know exactly how much the catastrophe costs probably only in a few years. The value of art and culture is sadly often discounted as a side effect of wellbeing or diplomacy. Art for arts’ sake or culture as a basic requirement of a civilized society are hard to describe in figures. Sometimes it is important to look at numbers and euros – culture and creative workers also need to eat.

The influence of the Covid-19 pandemic on the European cultural and creative sectors is devastating. A survey among artists and creative workers conducted in Finland in August 2020 (RUUSUVIRTA & al, 2021) found out that every tenth artist has planned to switch career in 2020 because of the loss of working opportunities and loss of income. The threatening loss of creative potential in societies in the future could be destructive.

Covid-19 is said to have accelerated the digital leap, but already before Covid-19, in Europe, digitalization has been closely connected with creative and artistic work. For example, in 2018, 81% of Europeans used the internet for online culture ­– music, videos and games – more than for shopping or social networking (EY 2021, 19). As mentioned in the report, the entire value chain of creative and artistic work is digitalized. “Culture and creative works now occupy a central place in the digital economy, increasing the visibility of the entire value chain of authors, performers and business partners, and embracing new ways to enlarge audiences. Between 2013 and 2019, the turnover generated by online cultural content, services and works increased by 92% (+12% per year)” (EY 2021, 18).  

Streaming and online meetings, virtual co-creation and online choir performances have become popular ways to be creative and participative since the first months of pandemic in 2020. Europeans started to live and work online. “With the succession of lockdown, curfews and other restrictions, the share of citizens using the internet jumped from 81% on average to 94% in Europe, ranging from 99% in Finland (from 88% before the COVID-19 crisis) to 89% in Romania (from 64% before the COVID-19 crisis)” (EY 2021, 34).

The mix of online and offline activities raised new challenges and opportunities. Acquired skills of digitalization were put into active use when trying to find the audience for online culture and art. Innovative digital management methods and streaming technology were soon put to harness online performances. I still wonder if the drive to seek a streamed concert after working hours will be as strong in 2021, when we probably use more than 50% of our daily working hours on the internet. As was stressed in the report, digital income does not compensate for the loss of physical flows (EY 2021, 34).

A fair and sustainable renumeration in creative sectors has not always been an obvious standard. Unpaid work, for example among young artists in the digital sector, is a fact in too many cases. Young freelancers are forced to produce “reference jobs”, often for free. As the covid-19 crisis has accelerated the implementation of digital distribution models and streamed productions, issues related to the disparity of revenues generated by different forms of online and offline operations have arisen, “particularly with regard to the ability of the Cultural and Creative Industries workforce and organizations to make a living and run sustainable businesses” (EY 2021, 21).

The report reached the same conclusion as did artists around the world: the crisis could lead to an unrecoverable loss of talent, consumer and business confidence (EY 2021, 40). The cinema industry is considering how to bring audience back to theatres. The audiovisual sector and its problems which resulted in slowing down filming and cancelling the premieres, closing cinemas and postponing festivals and all public events, have disrupted the entire distribution and production value chain. (EY 2021, 32) Here digitalization does not help much; even though the increase in online distribution services (a rise in subscriptions in Europe of between 40% and 75% according to the TV-Viewing Trends) is expected to continue, revenues generated by these services are not compensating for the losses from lack of physical exhibition and distribution options.

The literature and publishing industry has both failures and some success. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, digitalization and new production and distribution channels, made possible by technology, have emerged, such as print-on-demand, digitization of archive catalogues and self-publishing, as mentioned in the report (EY 2021, 19). During the pandemic, the digital distribution of literature increased the popularity of audiobooks, but unfortunately it did not raise the income of  authors, as reported in Finland – the copyright fee for audio books is 0,67 euro per copy, while for printed books the average fee is 3,10 euros (YLE 2021). However, sales in some bookshops have fallen by 75%–95% wherever there was a lockdown (EY 2021, 32). In Finland, already in the beginning of pandemic, people were reading more literature than before. Libraries tried to keep their services available and book sales also grew a little.  (WECKSTRÖM 2020)

I must admit that it has not always been easy to combine the two phenomena, culture and digitalization. Digitalization can be a tool or channel of distribution of art and cultural productions. Streaming is easy and participatory online co-creation is fun, but how do we get audiences to pay from digital online production? That’s why it is clear that Rebuilding Europe sees the biggest challenges of digitalization in cultural and creative sectors merely as a question of marketing and distribution, letting digitalization streamlining the workflow and value chain (EY 2021, 19). Finding the real market value for creative works in an online environment is a real challenge. Some of the biggest issues are the intermediary platforms for artistic work. Indeed, there is a big need of professional producers, curators, mediators and also of course proper, user friendly digital tools and platforms for them to use.

Three steps for recovery

The recovery plan in the report provides financial figures. While creative and cultural entrepreneurs have been financially resilient and less supported by governments (EY 2021, 22), financing and massive public funding is the first recovering act in this survival plan (EY 2021, 43). The second act in the recovery plan is empowering – this means for example “implementation of all the recently adopted directives on copyright and related rights in order to enable creators and others to better harvest the value of the online market and new modes of exploitation” (EY 2021, 44). Additionally, developing entrepreneur skills and providing fair renumeration help to make the cultural sector stronger. The third action is connected – as I see it – to the aspects of social sustainability. Leverage means using the “multiplied power of millions of individual and collective talents as a major accelerator of social, societal and environmental transitions in Europe” (EY 2021, 45).

Rebuilding Europe is an extensive study of the European cultural and creative sectors and economy, before and after the COVID-19 crisis. The geographical scope of the study is the EU and the UK, known as EU-28 (EY 2021, 50). A critical reader has to remember that the concept of creative industries is a Western or European model. From a global point of view, Africa for example cannot simply pick and adopt a model, it needs to conceptualize and theorize its own models and approaches to the cultural industries for this discourse to become a useful tool (BEUKELAER, 2016). There is lot of different realities in the so-called creative sectors, creative economy and creative industries inside and outside Europe – particularly in relation to digitalization.

As the report also stresses, inside Europe the COVID-19 crisis has also highlighted existing gaps in the social and economic protection offered to freelancers, whether creative or commercial, including authors, performers, and artists. In many countries, self-employment still prevents people from fully benefiting from the same social and economic protection schemes as full-time employees (EY 2021, 21). Internet access has become an essential service despite the fact that approximately 46% of the world's population do not have access to an Internet connection (UNESCO 2020). Lockdowns have also made the digital divide more apparent. We have to remember that billions of people don’t have reliable broadband internet. This limits their ability to work, study or communicate (UNDP, 2020). This is why, also in Europe, access to culture and education remains critically unequal.

The Rebuilding Europe report stresses the fair and firm economic base for the recovering process. Digitalization surely has a great role in providing a tool, a platform and also a content. High-quality accessible digital content has a key role in delivering culture, art and sustainable digital services. The words “user”, “creative content”, “sustained use of the digital environment” could be good additions to the recovery plan.

Sources:

BEUKELAER de, Christiaan (2016), Toward an 'African` take on the cultural and creative industries? Media Culture & Society 39(4) 2016.

EY (2021) Rebuilding Europe The cultural and creative economy before and after the COVID-19 crisis. January 2021. Available: https://1761b814-bfb6-43fc-9f9a775d1abca7ab.filesusr.com/ugd/4b2ba2_8bc0958c15d9495e9d19f25ec6c0a6f8.pdf  (reviewed 3.6.2021)

RUUSUVIRTA, Minna, KURLIN NIINIAHO, Ari, LAHTINEN, Emmi (2021) Taiteen ja kulttuurin barometri 2020. Taiteilijat ja taiteen tekeminen kunnissa. Cuporen verkkojulkaisuja 67. Kulttuuripolitiikan tutkimuskeskus Cupore ja Taiteen edistämiskeskus. https://www.cupore.fi/en/publications/cupore-s-publications/artists-and-artistic-work-in-local-municipalities

UNDP (2020) Coronavirus vs. Inequality https://feature.undp.org/coronavirus-vs-inequality/  (reviewed 3.6.2021)

UNESCO (2020) Culture in crisis: policy guide for a resilient creative sector https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000374631.locale=en  (reviewed 3.6.2021)

YLE (Finnish Broadcasting Company) (10.9.2020) Kirja-alaa ravistelee ennennäkemätön murros https://yle.fi/uutiset/3-11534693  (reviewed 3.6.2021)

WECKSTRÖM, Kaisa (2020) Korona pisti kulttuuri- ja viihdetoiminnan polvilleen. Statistics Finland Tilastokeskus: Työvoimatutkimus 18.12.2020 http://www.stat.fi/tietotrendit/artikkelit/2020/korona-pisti-kulttuuri-ja-viihdetoiminnan-polvilleen / (reviewed 3.6.2021)

 Photo: Henrik Donnestad/ Unsplash

Marjo Mäenpää

Director, PhD
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Marjo Mäenpää