The David versus Goliath battle faced by Australian creative industries and what they might do to win (Part 1: We’re tiny!)

Recently, BYP Group came across a statistic:  Ninety-nine percent (99%) of NSW creative businesses are freelancers and small businesses.[i]  An overwhelming majority of these small businesses had fewer than 5 or 6 employees.

This is the first part in a series that will examine some of the ramifications of this and explore strategies for resolving issues caused by this widespread lack of scale.

In future blogs, we will look at:

Part 2: The impact and implications Disruption has for the creative sector

Part 3: New media models for harnessing the Internet to create scale for creatives

Part 4: Australian creative economy needs, especially those in the arts and cultural sector

Part 5: How a new media model solution might look in the arts and cultural sector

 

Key Points

  • Australian creative industries (CI’s), artists and arts organisations are predominantly very small
  • Being small, most should concentrate on niche strategies and/or strategies that offer them the benefits of scale
  • Disruption has changed the media landscape with implications for the small CI or artist
  • This ‘new paradigm’ has created new business models to achieve scale for independent screen creators or ‘YouTubers’
  • These new business models also address many of the needs of independent Australian artists
  • We explore two business models, the Multi-Channel Network (MCN) and the Online Original Content Channel (OOCC) and imagine how they might apply to the Australian arts and cultural community

 

 

Part 1: We’re tiny!

 

There are several inferences we draw from the preponderance of micro-businesses in the NSW creative industries:

  1. The rest of the Australian CI’s are similarly small
  2. Australian creative industries (CI’s) predominantly exist in a ‘gig economy’
  3. Australian CI’s are likely to face problems of ‘scale’
  4. Conventional business strategy for dealing with being small is to ‘go niche’
  5. Australian CI’s will need to think hard about their unique selling points (USP’s) to compete

 

  1. The rest of the Australian CI’s are similarly small

We will infer that the rest of the Australian CI’s are similarly small, and where they are not, they are likely to soon follow.  This is a common trend for the larger centres of a sector to lead trends across the sector.

  1. Australian CI’s predominantly exist in a ‘gig economy’

With the overwhelming proportion of Australian CI’s being freelancers or micro-businesses (below 6 people), it is safe to assume that Australia has an agile creative workforce, responsive to the needs of the economy.  One suspects too, that many are ‘tele-commuting’ from outside of the expensive Australian capital cities.  The Illawarra (roughly 1.5hrs south of Sydney), Blue Mountains and Central Coast regions all experienced a rapid jump in creative roles between the 2011 and 2016 censuses.

One potential negative of this ‘gig economy’ (and there are several) is the volatility in workflow this can cause, and lost efficiency in needing to spend much of one’s time winning business.  At BYP Group we are very familiar with this issue…

  1. Australian CI’s are likely to face problems of scale

The above issue is essentially a problem of scale.  ‘Scale’ is short for ‘economies of scale’.  For those not familiar with the term, it means the efficiencies and cost-savings gained by being larger.  For example, if you are a lone freelancer designer and you need a large format printer, a lot of its time is spent idle.  More can be gained from that asset if it were used more, e.g. by others in your business, or businesses nearby like in a shared workspace, perhaps reducing the price of access to the printer.

The problem of scale is not unique to Australian CI’s.  Australian businesses in general, except perhaps in mining, banking and superannuation, frequently have difficulty competing internationally because they are so small and have reduced efficiency and competitiveness across several fronts.

  1. Conventional business strategy for dealing with being small is to ‘go niche’

The conventional business strategy to deal with this issue is to focus upon a niche.  If you are not in a niche, there will be many competitors who will outbid each other on cost in a ‘race to the bottom’.  The people that win these types of races are those with the lowest costs.  In the creative industries, the main costs are generally labour and office space.  Being in a niche means you can avoid this issue by competing on a narrower front.

  1. Australian CI’s will need to think hard about their unique selling points (USP’s) to compete

However, being in a niche means you have to truly understand what it is that makes you different in a way that is meaningful to the marketplace (your audience, viewers, patrons or consumers) – i.e. something the market is willing to pay for (thus the ‘S’ for ‘selling’).  Marketers have long worked out that the thing to try to identify is what makes your business truly unique, such that your market cannot go anywhere else to get what you offer.

One traditional problem with the niche has been that, frequently, the niche is too small to provide a living to the creator.  You make the best silver and orange toed socks for ferrets in the world?  It’s just a shame that it has a market of only 30 people in the country.

Of course, the Internet has revolutionised things in two important ways:

  1. The Internet is international, expanding the potential market for the niche creative content, making many more niches viable for creators.
  2. Through improving communications between buyer and seller, reducing costs of distribution and replication (especially of digital goods), the world has gone from one of relative scarcity, to one of relative abundance (at least in First World Nations), especially for goods that are not differentiated. (There’s that idea again – ‘different’).

 

With the above points in mind, in subsequent sections, we will look at:

 

 

[i]BYP Group estimates based on ABS Counts of Australian Businesses, including Entries and Exits, Jun 2012 to Jun 2016.