The Creative Industries
Indispensable But Risky

What would society and the economy do without creatives?
What would society and the economy do without creatives? | Photo (detail): © Moduar

About one million people work in the creative industries, in 244,000 large, medium-sized or very small businesses, or indeed as individual entrepreneurs. Their annual turnover is around 143 billion euros. In Germany, the creative industries have evolved over the past years to become one of the most dynamic branches of industry.

Andreas Krüger and Matthias Ahrens belong to the generation of new creative managers. They run the Planet Modulor project, an alliance of companies in the fields of art, craft and culture. In the Aufbau-Haus in Berlin’s Kreuzberg district, they are grouped around the company Modulor Material Total. Germany’s biggest provider of model-making and architectural supplies and materials offers production and salesroom space to sewing studios, wallpaper designers, mosaic artists, furniture makers, photographers and sound technicians.

“The Planet Modulor idea is unique”, explains Matthias Ahrens, “and was sparked by customers asking us about the processing or machining of the materials we were selling. This prompted us to track down such companies ourselves, so that we could recommend them to our customers.” It was supposed to be of interest to professional people such as architects, stage designers and advertisers, as well as to ambitious amateurs who like to make things themselves. The building, which is home to the renowned Aufbau publishing house and Planet Modulor, turned an urban wasteland at Moritzplatz, which used to mark the border between West and East Berlin, into a thriving centre.

New approaches to work

Creative people reviving an urban landscape thought to have been deserted – that is also part of an industry that depends like no other on the ability of its market players to display innovation, self-organization and flexibility. New approaches to work emerge here, such as a sewing workshop where customers can do their own sewing, and old crafts are brought back to life – such as glass painting, cabinet-making with high-quality wood and book production with lead type and letterpress printing in the Gutenberg tradition.

What sort of people work in the creative industries? Authors, filmmakers, musicians, visual and performing artists, architects, designers and computer game developers – the majority work on a freelance basis or in small or very small businesses. They are not employed by the public sector (such as those in museums, theatres and orchestras), nor do they work in cultural foundations, but are gainfully employed. A committee of enquiry set up by the German parliament, or Bundestag, once identified eleven sub-markets, including music, film, architecture, design and software development.

Two thirds of the total turnover generated by the creative industries stem from the press segment, the software and games industry, the advertising sector and the design industry. As the committee notes in its report, it is noticeable that it is not the number of self-employed artists that has declined, but the number of small businesses: there are no longer any significant numbers of small music, book and press publishers, retail traders, film production and film distribution companies, advertising agencies and games developers on the market. This decline is offset by growing numbers of design firms, self-employed writers, stage artists, translators, interior designers and sound studios.

Supporting innovation processes

A study conducted by Germany’s Federal Economics Ministry found that two thirds of creative companies support their clients in the initial phase of innovation processes and play an important role when it comes to finding an idea and developing a concept. One in three creative companies work on behalf of industry – they design cars or develop product lines for furniture, kitchen equipment or tableware. Without their input, there would be a lack of impetus for innovation, which is why – the report claims – the creative industries need to be given better support and involved to a greater extent through new financing instruments.

After all, the risks of failure are still very high. People who work in the creative industries are all too familiar with 16-hour days, a tendency towards self-exploitation and uncertainty about when the next job will arrive. “In some cases, the public perception is coloured by a handful of ‘stars’ in the creative scene with very high incomes. The reality, however, is often that fair pay and social security are an alien concept to many working in this industry”, writes the SPD parliamentary group in a petition to the German government aimed at “improving the economic and social standing of those working in the cultural and creative sectors“.

Artists and journalists under pressure

According to figures released by the Künstlersozialkasse, Germany’s social welfare fund for artists which insures close to 180,000 self-employed artists and journalists, average annual earnings are currently 14,000 euros. The petition points out that digitization, “despite all its positive effects, has also [brought about] a serious change in the value-adding chain and thus given rise to considerable pressure on costs and pressure to adapt”. For this reason, it believes that appropriate forms and ways of rewarding artistic and creative work urgently need to be found.

After all, the federal and state governments have realized that promoting culture and artists also stimulates the economy. It has long been recognized that the cultural scene of a region or municipality plays a key part in determining whether companies choose to settle there. Then there is the problem of tight public budgets – if a local authority has to decide between renovating a school or providing a financial subsidy to a local gallery, good advice is hard to come by. When culture and creativity are at stake, both are indispensable.