Culture Industries



Culture industries have been extensively and thoroughly researched lately, particularly as part of the wider concept of the creative economy. Some of the most important, best known, or to our actual focus most relevant items of the relevant literature are listed at the end of this paper. The next few pages do not try to summarise, and even less to augment that body of academic wisdom. The intention is to observe how the treatment of culture industries in the cultural policies in European countries is reflected in the national profiles of Compendium . Besides describing and comparing, the aim is also to propose improvements of the methodological instrument applied by Compendium in this matter[1].

When Compendium is mentioned here, especially in a critical sense, it is not done in third person (them), but rather in the first (we), because the methodological instruments are to a large extent a collective product, developed jointly through the annual workshops of Compendium authors.

How culture industries are treated in Compendium

In the relevant section in the latest Outline for Compendium Country Profiles seven sentences guide authors (in fact ourselves, one another) with regard to composing Sub-chapter 4.2.6. of the Country Profiles: „Culture industries: policies and programmes”.

  • How are the culture industries defined in your country?

  • Please provide available data on the independent culture industries in your country (e.g.  market size, the number and size of such companies, import/export data).

  • Which are the main policies, strategies and measures which provide support for the growth of independent culture industries in your country as well as for the production and distribution of local content? 

  • Which are the main challenges to small and medium sized culture industry companies in your country?

  • Are there specific training and education programmes available for culture industry professionals?

  • Please identify cases of public, private or third sector partnerships which are part of new "creative industry" strategies.

The instructions do not start with a definition or delineation. In the actual turbulent stage of this cluster of concepts this is a right and sober approach. Before an internationally agreed definition is settled, we should be contented to find what is meant by culture industries in the countries in Europe.

Nevertheless, inevitably, the subsequent five guiding questions of the Outline contain specific implications, both about the industries, and about the policies vis-à-vis these industries.

Implication about industries: Culture industries characteristically are independent, are embodied in (typically small and medium sized) companies and (besides occupying a certain market size) they administer import and export; also they are liable of entering into public, private or third sector partnerships.

Implication about policies: Cultural policies (are supposed to) support growth of the independent culture industries, particularly the production and distribution of local content. It is also supposed that these policies comprise training programmes for culture industry professionals. Cultural policies may be associated to eventual broader "creative industry" strategies.

How culture industries are treated elsewhere

How does the concept of culture industries, as derived from the Compendium Outline to its authors, relate to other approaches?

An early significant statement on the subject, the Essen Declaration dated in 1999, is genetically connected to the Compendium brain trust. Therefore similarities with the Outline are no surprise:

“The term ‘culture industries’ refers to all businesses and independent contractors operating in the fields of culture, the arts and media (private-sector culture industries, products and services); it is a term which clearly calls for constant redefinition to take account of local, regional and national contexts. The axioms underline the economic and cultural importance of the private culture industries and point to many ways in which these industries might be strengthened by economic, culture and urban-development policies, particularly in the context of local and regional development strategies.”

The Outline is different by not limiting culture industries to private businesses as strictly as the Essen Declaration did. At least not explicitly, although „independent” might be interpreted in this sense. Most national profiles in the Compendium, however, do not emphasise this sectorial limitation.

The most often cited study in this subject area,  The Economy of Culture in Europe by KEA, has a rather different approach. By discussing “the economy of culture” they start with multinational corporations. KEA examines which world companies in publishing, broadcasting, music, games and fashion are based in Europe. 

When discussing policies, KEA highlights those European countries that „have developed a reputation in nurturing creativity in certain areas”. Most of the examples refer to the spheres of big business in culture: film and publishing industry, fashion design etc, adding tourism to the list. The KEA study identifies digital based technologies as being one of the main drivers of change in the cultural and creative sector. This explicit focus is absent from the Compendium approach – which has not prevented a few Compendium authors from reporting about developments in the creative digital and computer sector in their countries.

How culture industries are treated by the EU

The Compendium is a Council of Europe project. At the same time, it is confronted with the same dilemma as practically every undertaking in Europe (not just cultural): the European Union is increasingly dominating the scene, with effect also to those countries that are not (or not yet) related to the EU. Therefore it is inevitable to observe how the EU treats culture industries.

In spite of the frequent rethoric references, there are few high level EU documents where culture industries as such – in their entirety – are addressed. In the absence of these, the  Communication on a European agenda for culture in a globalising world issued in May 2007 can be considered as the most relevant source about the attitude of the European Union vis-à-vis the culture industries.

The title of the relevant chapter of this document is worthy of attention: 3.2. Culture as a catalyst for creativity in the framework of the Lisbon Strategy for growth and jobs. The use of catalyst implies more than the usual claim that the culture industries – or the broader circle of the creative sector – grow quicker than other sectors. This expression suggests that other sectors will grow quicker if culture is considered and used as a catalyst. This is explicitly expressed also in the Introduction, referring back to another high level document: „As was recognised by the conclusions of the 2007 Spring European Council, creative entrepreneurs and a vibrant cultural industry are a unique source of innovation for the future. This potential must be recognised even more and fully tapped.”

What follows from this approach is that in addition to examining branches of culture industry one by one (which, admittedly, is what most of the country profiles manage to accomplish), one should analyse the inferential effect of culture on creativity and innovation.

Are culture industries mediators in this process of catalysis? Or they are just one of the targets, among all other sectors of the economy (albeit the most exposed and receptive) of the catalytic effects of culture, especially of the arts, which are defined as the core of creativity by several theories on the creative sector? If so, how to detect this process while examining national cultural policies for the Compendium profiles?

Treating culture industries in interaction with other areas of culture is indeed an appealing approach. Although we have derived it now from a top level EU document, one sees little evidence that the Union has adopted this stance towards culture or the culture industries. It is not even certain that most of the officials have realised, understood (or meant?) what the above cited interpretation of the Communication implies. The cultural activities of the Union still are largely done in a relative isolation from the remaining areas, especially from the core activities of the EU. 

Emphasising the instrumental potential of culture or culture industries has considerable risks, and is anathema for many. The menace (and temptation) is always there that culture and culture industries are valued only in terms of their contribution to employment, economic growth or other political goals. Yet dangers are also great if we turn a blind eye to these effects.

When culture industries are opposed to pure culture

The frequent division of the cultural scene into money-making and subsidy-addicted domains can be accepted as a convenient rule of thumb. But this division runs serious risks when it is applied for categorical classification.

This binary division can easily lead to labelling, simplification and prejudice. The first – money-making – group would essentially correspond to culture industries. Partisans of this dual approach tend to suggest that it is the second group (only) where the real value is, and which deserves the exclusive attention of decent cultural policy makers. Such separation works against efforts of improving marketing skills in areas where this would serve the interests of culture. Greater is the harm by neglecting the fruitfully useful interactions between pure culture and commercial culture, indeed nourishing self-fulfilling prophecies. In the sense that “non-profit” culture will neglect its audience and self-sustaining potential, and commercial culture will turn even more commercial.

When such a division is applied seriously – which is all too often the case – this has damaging cultural policy consequences. Large segments of cultural life do need protection from commercial compulsions. This does not justify, however, the extension of such an insulation to entire genres. On the other hand, if entire branches are treated as mere “industries”, their value added will be financial value only. 

Cultural policy attitudes towards culture industry[2]

The recent upgrading of the status and importance of culture industries – and of the economic importance of creativity – has led to the re-formulation of culture policy paradigms. The process has various stages:

1. As a first stage on the road toward encompassing the concept of creative sector, the focus of attention is broadened from the nucleus to the peripheries. Next to the “artistic core”, and to heritage issues, the culture industries get increased attention.

2. Discovering and conquering new dependencies is the next phase. Fashion design, advertisement, architecture, computer games etc. Mapping of both the culture industries, and the broader circle of creative or copyright based branches, is often a first step towards re-formulating cultural policies.

3. A third degree is when cultural policy-makers concentrate on the catalytic radiation of culture into the economy.

The new dimensions of culture policies find their manifestations in the re-positioning of culture:

1. The application of the extended demarcation of creative sector lends cultural protagonists a new status. Culture is less prone to be treated as the decorative annex to governmental (regional, municipal) policies. Calling the sector “creative” instead of “cultural”, makes one associate you to the quickest growing segment of the economy.

2. The symbolical and psychological re-positioning can turn into factual increases, not only of political weight, but also in public resources earmarked for the sector.

3. An even more spectacular manifestation of the increased weight of cultural policies is when indeed, new fields are attached to the culture portfolio in the administrative structures.

The new environment produces two kinds (two generations) of culture policy strategies. And a third one, which is tactics, rather.

1. If we conceive strategies as the medium and long-term action plans of achieving the goals contained in cultural policies, the first stage of updated strategies translates the broadened scope of cultural policies into operative measures. What to do for the progress of those areas of culture that communicate directly with the economy? And what to do with and for the newly acquired branches?

2. A more ambitious kind of strategy goes beyond the juxtaposition of strategies of various subsectors, or beyond the listing of related projects. This more sophisticated level of strategy screens the various segments of culture for potentials of the catalytic radiation for increased creativity in the economy. Or, more broadly, in the society. Going even further, fields of the economy are screened in search of areas where cultural injection can effectively boost creativity and economic success.

3. The third stratagem is that of lip service. The references to the culture industries and the creative sector often serve for tactical purposes; to justify increased funding, even for the mediocre and sterile culture making. This phenomenon is no rare deviation, and neither is it limited to mean personalities or tactical superminds. This lip service has been generally and innocently applied all over the sector. It is fed by the naïve belief that the increased emphasis on culture industries will automatically channel more subsidies for all segments of culture.

How culture industries are defined in Compendium

Turning our attention towards the manifestation of culture industries in the latest edition of Compendium, we find two sorts of definition in the country profiles: conceptual and taxonomical. The conceptual definition describes the criteria of belonging to the domain, by identifying characteristic features. The taxonomical one delineates the scope of culture industries by listing branches that are included under this umbrella in the respective country.

With regard to both kinds of definitions, most countries have reported a general shift towards the broader realm of creative sector, at the same time adding new areas to the sphere. In the broader definitions the use of intellectual property (copyright protected content) is the common denominator. In spite of this converging trend between countries, time has to come yet when Compendium could base its comparative analysis on a generally agreed definition.

The economic aspect is present in most of the definitions. However, profit- or money-making is not formulated in a categorical manner. Even the most outspoken UK definition is moderate, stating that creative industries are “those that have the potential to create wealth and jobs”.

As far as private ownership is concerned, only the German definition of Kulturwirtschaft contains this criterion. The Canadian definition, on the other hand, specifies that it includes both private and public culture industries. The other definitions do not refer to ownership. 

How dimensions of culture industries are determined in Compendium

A considerable number of country profiles present figures that demonstrate the dimensions of culture industries in the given country. The indicators, however, represent a wide scale. Very few of them allow for reliable cross-country comparison. This diversity is illustrated in the following table.

industry &
core copyright
copyright and
     AT LV
national %
enterprise %
      SR SP
nationjal %
   HU LV
national %
national %
value added
exports national %
profit rate


The table contains the indicators with which the dimension of culture industries is expressed in the national profiles of the Compendium. Keeping the essence of the terms, certain harmonisation has been carried out, e.g. turnover stands for output or sales etc. “National %” stands for percentage of the respective value in the national total. E.g. “employees national %” means the percentage of cultural employees in the entire work force of the country. By the way, if the international standard of employee classification ISCO-88 was generally applied and accessible to researchers, this would serve for a very precise and reliable comparison tool.

Several profiles used indicators to express the dynamics of culture industries. E.g. the growth of employment in culture industries between 2000-2004. Adding these would have made the table even more crowded. Besides, the applied timespans vary enormously.

No concrete figures are cited, no statistical comparisons are made, as the subject of this paper is not the comparison of culture industries in Europe but the methodology of such comparison. Although several respectable attempts have been made for such comparison, it will take serious methodological harmonisation before Compendium will boast reliable and digestable analytical comparisons in the field of culture industries. 

Disregarding individual culture industries

The decisive majority of space accorded to culture industries in the country profiles is occupied by separate sectors: film industry, sound recording, publishing etc. The methodological questions of presenting these branches are not treated in this paper, the subject of which is the entirety of culture industries. Especially, how they are treated by cultural policies. Besides an overall handling of culture industries in cultural policies, distinct, and often very different policies may exist with regard to book publishing, cinemas or the use of built heritage for cultural tourism. Some of the culture industry sub-sectors or branches are so large that their methodological problems deserve separate attention.

Focusing on the integrated treatment of culture industries

Indeed, presenting the culture industries of a country, including the relevant cultural policies, can be accomplished by describing the branches of this industry one after the other. The Outline for Compendium Country Profiles does not insist on an integrated approach: the Compendium authors did not encourage one another to transcend the plural in “culture industries” – this paper does so.   

If there had been expectation towards the authors to detect whether the above mentioned catalytic interactions exist, we would have had to give instructions as to the ways of identfying them. How to establish whether catalytic effects are radiating from culture (including culture industries) towards the rest of the economy?

Some profiles have nevertheless found traces of policies geared to the strengthening of such interactions. The best specimens of upgraded cultural strategies, highlighting the innovative and creative potential of culture, have been made in conjunction with ministries in charge of the economy. To quote a few attempts where the development of a broader scope of culture industries was targeted in a focused manner:

  • The United Kingdom is determined to making the country the "world's creative hub", which goal is served by a number of dedicated, joint governmental actions, like the Creative Economy Programme or the Creative Exports Group.

  • The eleven initiatives jointly elaborated and managed by the Danish ministries of culture and economy to promote the interplay between culture and business.

  • The equivalents of these two ministries co-operated in the Netherlands, too, producing the joint document Our Creative Capacity, and running a €15,5 million programme with the same name.

  • The CultuurInvest initiative of the Flemish government, applying a scale of various methods supporting culture entrepreneurs in a number of sub-sectors.

One must establish with melancholy, that these good practices on governmental level have taken place in countries that are anyway on top of the competitive ladder. Little was accomplished in the eastern regions of Europe. Browsing the Compendium profiles, signs of the recognition of the need for integrated and concentrated efforts for the development of culture industries can be found in the chapters on Estonia and Serbia.

Péter Inkei, October 2008 

Selected sources

  1. Culture Industries in Europe, 1999. The “Essen Declaration”,
  2. International Measurement of the Economic and Social Importance of Culture, 2006, OECD,  
  3. The Economy of Culture in Europe, 2007, KEA,
  4. European Agenda for Culture, 2007. Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions on a European agenda for culture in a globalizing world,
  5. Library Dossier Cultural Industries, 2007. An internal device in the service of the Members and Commissions of the European Parliament,
  6. The cultural and creative industries, 2010. A review of the literature by Justin O’Connor, 2nd edition, Creativity, Culture and Education,
  7. Creative Economy Report 2008, UNCTAD,


[1] This paper was prepared for the 2008 annual meeting of Compendium authors, held in December in Baku.

[2] This section is based on Tactical or Essential Conversion of Cultural Policies?