Life in the long tail
There are 120,700 businesses in the UK's Creative Industries and the largest 200 of them account for half the total turnover. In Television and Radio the largest four firms make up a whopping 64% of the turnover and there's a similar figure for the publishing industry (four firms contributing 58% turnover). Should these figures worry us? How many of these big hitters have we got in Birmingham and should we be pumping our resources into getting more of them?
Of course the key point is that like much of the rest of the country our Creative Economy sits in the long tail. If the top 200 are making 50% of the turnover that doesn't mean the remaining 120,500 are unimportant; in fact they're crucial. In some sectors the balance is such that the 'tail' makes up the bulk of the growth. Take the music industry. There you have the top four firms contributing just 4% to turnover and as a whole small firms contributed 69% to the sector. The figures are similar in Film and Photography.
You've no doubt heard the "growing faster than the economy as a whole" phrase many times now in relation to the Creative Industries but what's in the detail of that? Well it turns out that our reliance on the small firms in the tail is both our strongest and weakest asset. Small creative firms grow so fast in their first year that they swell the overall figures for growth. But after that first year their growth slows dramatically as they settle down to being 'lifestyle' businesses. That slowdown creates the need for more start-ups to maintain the 'growing faster than' statement. In effect we're continually having to feed the long tail in order to do more than stand still.
But all this number crunching is based on figures from 2006 and it's clear that the economy is now going through a leaner patch. So will our creative sector continue to grow or will life in the long sprawling tail mean the effects are spread wide and thin? In Will Hutton's detailed examination of the figures last summer he noticed that the Creative Industries were cyclical by nature. That is, when there were slight downturns or upturns in the economy the Creative Industries felt the impact more. So whilst employment growth in the economy as a whole has remained steady since the late 1990s the Creative Industries have been on a rollercoaster ride from 8% growth in 1999, down to -4% in 2004 and steadily winging its way back up since then. He also found that household expenditure on the products of the creative industries (DVDs, music, computer games) were the first thing to go when purses needed to be tightened.
Recent announcements should hopefully mean that Birmingham has a more diverse and lively tail with which to withstand any downturn but it's precarious stuff. What we'd give for just a few more of those big hitters to help us through tough times ahead.