Published Feb. 25, 2020, 11:23 a.m. by Moderator

There is no lone description that can cover the full breadth of the creative economies. John Howkins used the term to describe the evolution of the economy from an industrial-based economy to a knowledge-based economy, in his book, ‘The Creative Economy: How People Make Money from Ideas’ (Howkins 8, 2002). There are many definitions out there and as the industry continues to evolve creating new forms of technology such as virtual reality and artificial intelligence, the definition will only be limited by human imagination.

Throsby describes the creative industries using a concentric circles model (Throsby 217, 2008). Creative actions and their processes are at the center. The second circle comprises creative industries that create and dispense content of artistic nature such as broadcasters, motion pictures, and publishers.  Throsby considers these as the real creative industry as ideas control a huge chunk of their production process. The outermost circle comprises creative industries that are linked or complement the creative industries in the second circle. These include advertising, travel & tourism, fashion design and structural design.

  The basic definition describes creative economies as a concept that covers anthropological creativeness, knowledge & skills, intellectual property rights, and technological innovations. The creative economies are knowledge-based and they include public relations, structural design, graphic arts and crafts, fashion, cinematography, music-making, theatre arts, broadcasting, software & app development, and online publishing. United Nations Conference on Trade and Development sums it up as “all the processes in the creative economies including commerce, employment, and production. Creative economies are diverse and provide the biggest opportunities for new forms of employment (, 2019).

United Nations Conference on Trade and Development also states that in 2016; creative economies contributed 56% of the gross domestic product in developing economies. In 2017 creative economies employed 54% of total employment in developing economies. The value of the creative economies increased from around $200 billion in 2002 to over $500 billion in 2015. Architecture, cinematography, photography, fashion & design, interior design and jewelry contributed over half of the total creative goods exported in developed countries and over 70% in developing countries. (, 2019).

The rise of creative economies has no doubt brought many benefits to the developing economies as well as the developed economies but it has also brought the worst of modern capitalism with social evils such as underage workers, low pay, poor working conditions, and modern slavery. Multinationals in the creative industries have been accused of looking the other way when it comes to worker’s rights especially safe working conditions and fair wages. Karl Marx described capitalism as the ‘exploitation of workers to make profits’.

Multinational corporations have taken over the creative industries controlling at least 80% of the industries. A single multinational corporation could own companies in all the different sectors of the creative industry. In most countries, the media companies own television channels, recording labels, public relations & marketing firms. This creates a virtual monopoly where workers’ rights are not respected.

Is the current boom in the creative economies only benefiting those at the top echelons while the workers remain as poor as they were before the creative economies boom? This paper is going to explore the development of creative economies around the world and analyze their impact on workers’ rights. This will be done by analyzing creative economies' statistical data and research findings in North America, Asia and Europe.

The Financial Value of Creative economies around the world

China’s economy has evolved and its creative economies contributed $463.9 billion in 2016 which was a 13% increase compared to 2015. This accounted for 4.14% of gross domestic product (GDP). China’s rise as a creative economy powerhouse has been nothing short of a miracle. In 2002 China’s creative economies were valued at a modest $32 billion and in 2014 it was valued at a staggering $191.4 billion. The creative economies had grown by over 600%. China’s creative economies sector is now four times bigger than that of the United States. The combined creative exports of China and South East Asia were valued at $228 billion which is two times that of Europe (, 2019).

The top ten developing economies in terms of creative exports were China, Hong Kong, India, Singapore, Taiwan, Turkey, Thailand, Malaysia, Mexico, and the Philippines respectively. The top ten developed countries in terms of creative exports; the United States, France, Italy, the United Kingdom, Germany, Switzerland, Netherlands, Poland, Belgium and Japan respectively. The data comprised of 38 developed countries show that the creative economies have experienced annual growth rates of 4% growing from 17.3% in 2011 to 18.9% in 2015 (, 2019).

The European Commission issued ‘The Green Paper’ in 2010. The paper highlighted the importance of the cultural and creative industries in the creation of jobs and stimulating economic growth. In 2013 the European Commission sanctioned the concluding budgets for a program dubbed “Creative Europe” with a full budget of €1.8 trillion covering the years 2014 to 2020. The European Commission understood that to maintain economic growth in the European Union there was a need for an institutional framework upon which the creative industries will be built on. They were the first to recognize the growth potential of the creative industries and their role in creating jobs of the future (Lorente, 2019).

                        According to the United States Bureau of Economic Analysis; in 2016, the creative economies contributed over $800 billion to the United States economy accounting for 4.3% of gross domestic product. The creative economies also created over five million jobs. The creative industries’ contribution to the United States economy was second only to the retail sector which contributed over $1 trillion dollars. Construction contributed about $745 billion, transportation about $580 billion, utilities $300 billion, educational services $245 billion, mining $217 billion, and agriculture & forestry about $165 billion (NASAA, 2019).

In terms of creative industries, sector-specific data; broadcasting led with a value of  $135 billion, motion pictures were second with $106 billion, public cultural institutions such as museums  $104 billion, publishing $87 billion, and retail industries $55 billion. Broadcast, motion pictures and public cultural institutions have seen steady increases from 2007. Broadcasters’ value rose from $107 billion in 2007 to $135 billion in 2016. Motion pictures’ value rose from $62 billion in 2007 to $106 billion in 2016. Public cultural institutions’ value rose from $86 billion in 2007 to $104 billion in 2016 (NASAA, 2019).

Publishing and retail have not had the same growth as the other sectors. In fact, publishing has seen both increases and decreases in value. In 2007 publishing was valued at $81 billion which declined to $72 billion in 2009. The value rose to $78 billion in 2013 and declined to $76 billion in 2014 rising to $87 billion in 2016. The retail sector has seen the slowest growth rising from $42 billion in 2007 to $55 billion in 2016. Publishing and retail sectors have heavily been impacted by the digital world and the decreases are a result of the industries restructuring to the newer digital models of online retail and online publishing (NASAA, 2019).

The creative industries form the fourth largest economy contributing to 6.1% gross domestic product (GDP) of the world. Creative industries contribute between 2% to 7% of the gross domestic product of world economies.  Creative industries employ the fourth largest workforce. The creative exports are valued at $646 trillion, 82% of which goes to developed countries.

This is a problem for developing economies where the majority of the labor that drives the creative industries is based. The creation of a global elite that controls the creative industries leads to the marginalization of communities and eroding of human and workers’ rights. The boom in the creative industries has not made the lives of the workers better. (Lorente, 2019).

Workers’ issues in the creative industries

The creative industries are structured slightly differently from other industries. It is the only industry where workers are in it for the passion not the pay. This is where you will find people who have left better-paying jobs to pursue their passions. Richard. E. Caves describe this as ‘doing art for art’s sake’. A creative gets satisfied working in the area of their interest and still retain some measure of ‘creative freedom’ (Caves 74, 2003). Creatives can be described as talented people who are employed at any level of a creative process (Hackley and Kover 2007).

Even though a creative is driven by the need for artistic freedom. This is only possible if the artist is financially sound and able to fund artistic ventures with personal finances. For most of the creatives, they need financial partners. For example, a musician has to partner with a record label, a film producer with a motion picture company, a painter with an art gallery. Beethoven composed the late string quartets to satisfy himself knowing that the composition was too complicated for the wider public at that time. Donatello and Michelangelo, gifted sculptors of the Italian Renaissance, would not do a project that they did not have full creative control. (Cowen & Tabarook 234, 2000).

All these factors of the creative process are controlled by a ‘creative class’.  Richard Florida in his book ‘Rise of the Creative Class’ describes the ‘creative classes as highly materialistic and unaware of the inequality that exists between the top-level creatives such as Hollywood A-list actors, executive producers, and directors and the low-level creatives such as ground staff, kitchen staff, transport staff and the security staff (Florida xv, 2019).

The creative class focus is on personal enrichment, health & fitness, fashion, and real estate. They seem to be oblivious or intentionally ignoring the plight of workers in the creative industries. For example, fashion designers and models are not concerned with the rising cases of poor working conditions such as in Bangladesh where hundreds of workers were burnt alive in a factory fire as the management refused to adhere to international safety standards and health regulations.

Richard Florida’s ‘creative class’ has now created the ‘creative underclass’ (Florida 24, 2006). This ‘passion’ creates a situation where creative workers can be easily exploited as the number of workers who are willing to work for low pay, at times for free and for long hours is higher than the number of jobs available. This is an occupational hazard and creatives are ‘free spirits’ who value their creative freedom and so creative freedom means that you have to be willing to live on ‘scraps’.

Gill and Pratt use the term precariousness to refer to all arrangements of uncertain, conditional, flexible jobs from illegal hires, casual and contractual employment including freelancing (Gill & Pratt 3, 2008).  The creative industry has seen growth in these types of precarious employment opportunities that afford creative workers very little to live on (De Peuter, 2014). This demarcation of two kinds of classes in the creative economy leads to a civil rights struggle that resonates with all the workers in the’ creative underclass’. These can be seen in the ‘Me Too Movement’ that started in the creative industries but now it has spread to different areas such as government, political parties and companies.

The creative industries are divided into freelancers, small to medium-sized enterprises (SME’s) and multinationals. Freelancers are paid on a project by project basis and are contracted only for a short duration to fill a skills gap. SME’s usually work with freelancers. Multinationals have big budgets and usually higher full-time employees. Multinationals sometimes outsource projects to SME’s. In the United States, four major companies control 80% of broadcast television, advertising, print and music recording industries. This is a form of vertical integration where a company keeps all the production processes within the company (Neuwirth 24, 2015).

It is clear that the development of creative economies has not benefitted the majority of creative industry workers. The labor structure in the creative economy has given artists creative freedom but at a very high cost. Creative workers are hugely underpaid while the multinationals that control the industry continue to reap big from the rapid growth of the creative industries. Creative economies have created many jobs in many countries in the world. Worker issues have been largely ignored or ‘buried’.

The multinationals control the majority of the companies involved in broadcast, cinema, music recordings, gaming, public relations and marketing. It would be foolhardy for a single low-level worker’s voice to be heard. A multinational conglomerate has the power to lock an artist out of a creative industry. Creative industry workers work mostly on a contract by contract basis. There is a lack of a unionized or collective group to champion workers’ rights.


There are no clear career paths for creatives as they may work in many different roles in different projects. Creatives have to learn a multitude of different skills to be able to make ends meet as creative jobs are mostly ‘seasonal’. It is not uncommon to see an actor who is a director, a photographer who does graphic design and a producer who is a scriptwriter. Creative economies also differ region by region, for instance, the United States creative industries target the domestic market while the Chinese creative industry focuses on the international markets as well as domestic markets.

There needs a greater effort to promote creative workers’ rights and labor regulations should also evolve with the changing world. There should be more publicly funded cultural events and institutions to give creative workers more job opportunities that allow them to work within their communities as traveling across states or regions to pursue a passion increases the chances of worker exploitation by unscrupulous producers or managers.


Caves, R.E., 2003. Contracts between art and commerce. Journal of economic Perspectives, 17(2), pp.73-83.

Cowen, T. and Tabarrok, A., 2000. An economic theory of avant-garde and popular art, or high and low culture. Southern Economic Journal, pp.232-253.

De Peuter, G., 2014. Beyond the model worker: Surveying a creative precariat. Culture Unbound: Journal of Current Cultural Research, 6(1), pp.263-284.

Florida, R. 2019. Rise of the Creative Class. [S.L.]: Basic Books, p.xv.

Florida, R., 2006. The flight of the creative class: The new global competition for talent. Liberal Education, 92(3), pp.22-29.

Gill, R. and Pratt, A., 2008. In the social factory? Immaterial labour, precariousness and cultural work. Theory, culture & society, 25(7-8), pp.1-30.

Howkins, J., 2002. The creative economy: How people make money from ideas. Penguin UK, p.8.

Lorente, J. 2019. The creative economy: the new El Dorado that Europe and Latin America want to lead | IE Insights. [online] The Institute of Cultural and Creative Industries. Available at: [Accessed 28 Mar. 2019].

NASAA. (2019). Creative Economy State Profiles - NASAA. [online] Available at: [Accessed 28 Mar. 2019].

Neuwirth, R.J., 2015. Global market integration and the creative economy: the paradox of industry convergence and regulatory divergence. Journal of International Economic Law, 18(1), pp.21-50.

Throsby, D., 2008. Modelling the cultural industries. International journal of cultural policy, 14(3), pp.217-232. 2019. UNCTAD | Creative Economy Programme. [online] Available at: [Accessed 28 Mar. 2019]. 2019. | Global creative economy shows resilience, growth - report. [online] Available at:;#1547;#Creative%20Economy%20Programme;#2258;#UNCTAD%20E-Week%202019 [Accessed 28 Mar. 2019].

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