Creative Business Wrap – December 2022

I’m willing to bet you’ve worked hard this year. That there have been wins and losses. That the year seems to have disappeared in a flash, but somehow a stack of things still got done. Some of them challenging, some of them surprising and some of them rewarding.

Hang on to those ones, I reckon, as you reach for a festive drink, a summer novel and another helping of leftovers from Christmas lunch. It’s those challenging, surprising and rewarding moments which keep us signing up for the business of creativity each year.

I hope 2023 brings you peace, good health and prosperity. And maybe even a new venture or two? (Actually, I have one of my own to mention… ah, I’ll tell you later 😉

Merry Christmas one and all.

Who landed the post-COVID digital pivot?

2022 was the year we returned to live events… gradually. Our clients in the performing arts have been telling us that even in the post-COVID recovery, it’s hard to sell a ticket and buying at the last minute seems to be the new normal (oh, that familiar phrase). Which leaves me thinking… what happened to the digital pivot? During the COVID lockdowns many creative companies turned to making and distributing product digitally, but in hindsight, we can see that few managed to turn them into ongoing, financially viable offerings.

However, there are some exceptions – organisations which seem to have successfully embraced the digital experience and incorporated it into business-as-usual. For classical music lovers there’s the Australian Digital Concert Hall. Launched in Melbourne in 2020 as a way for classical musicians to continue their craft and earn an income during lockdowns, it has presented more than 550 live concerts and enabled 3,000 musicians and arts industry workers to earn over $3 million since the pandemic struck. For theatre goers, there’s Australian Theatre Live, showcasing a range of great Australian plays, in case you missed out on seeing them in theatres. And in the visual arts, NGV’s virtual tours allow you to enjoy a range of exhibitions without other people’s heads blocking the view.

Quite why some of these creative digital innovations stuck and others didn’t is a topic for further consideration. Still, there are lots of digital arts to sample before diving into another Netflix series. Not to mention a load of great Australian screen content across many streaming services (top of my list is Stuff the British Stole on ABC iView from our friends at Wooden Horse). Do yourself a favour, as the saying goes.

Writing, and making money from it

I heard about Substack from reading journalist and author Rick Morton’s newsletter Nervous Laughter, where each week he reviews his accomplishments as well as his doubts and insecurities about his work and social life. Here’s a snippet that made me smile: “While packing up my work desk, which looks like it belongs to someone who died while trying to do their tax…”

Substack allows creators to publish some free and some paid content to subscribers. Substack has detailed guides for writers who want to monetise their writing by publishing directly to their audience and getting paid through subscriptions. For readers, there are thousands of newsletters to browse, both fiction and nonfiction. This article crunches the numbers on the business model. Publishing is free for creators on Substack. For paid subscriptions, a 10% commission fee is charged. And another 2.9% + 30 cents per payment is charged by Substack’s payment provider (Stripe). The 500,000 paying newsletter subscribers represent 5% – 10% of the total readership. Browsing the site, it looks like subscriptions start at around $5 a month so it’s an affordable way for readers to support their favourite scribes.

How much money authors make (or rather, the lack of it), was the subject of some attention this month, as Australia Council released the results of its survey of authors. Spoiler alert: there’s not a lot of money in it and most writers need to supplement their income with other jobs. Not much to surprise there – I suspect the more interesting conversation is about how authors can use platforms like Substack to generate income streams which complement their writing, rather than conflicting with it.


Humans learning about machine learning

I’ve written about Artificial intelligence (AI) inspired innovations in art, design, and marketing a few times this year. If you want to get clarity on what AI actually means there is a free online course designed in Finland.  The original aim was to break down barriers to knowledge and to teach 1% of the country’s population (about 55,000 people) the basic concepts of AI.

The course is broken into digestible chunks of information and explains the jargon for those without a tech background. The writing style is more like a magazine article than a university lecture.  There are quizzes and links to keep you engaged and if you want to go further, they have an extension that involves reading, writing, and editing in Python, a popular programming language.  I’m not ready to take on a new language but after dipping into this course I feel a lot more confident in talking about AI and its applications and implications.

Meanwhile, the world of journalism has been noting the release of ChatGPT, an AI research tool which generate scarily readable text. Stephen Brook in the SMH, said in alarm, “This month, the world changed and you barely noticed“, imagining a world where newspapers are written by AI and columnists are redundant.

It is unlikely that artificial intelligence will completely replace journalism. While AI can assist with certain tasks, such as data analysis and fact-checking, it cannot replace the critical thinking, creativity, and human judgment that are essential to good journalism. Additionally, journalism plays an important role in holding power to account and providing a voice to marginalized communities, which requires the human perspective and empathy that AI is not capable of.

But just so you can decide for yourself… the previous paragraph was written by ChatGPT. It took about 2 seconds.

Resources for music, public art and funding for screen enterprises

  • Here’s a great site for people touring work around the country and wanting to reduce their impact on the environment. Green Music Australia and Creative Victoria have released Sound Country: A Green Artist Guide, a fun and colourful online resource for bands for managing energy use, transport costs, merchandise, packaging and waste. As the website says, “The guide is grouped into six key areas: First Nations first, waste reduction, low carbon transport, sustainable food, ethical merchandise and climate advocacy. Each section has case studies, scientific evidence and simple strategies and advice on how to implement eco-friendly practices.” Some good standard template documents attached to this which should be applicable to lots of performing arts work, not just music.
  • Also released recently was Create NSW’s Public Art Toolkit, a terrific resource for community leaders and local government authorities thinking about how to do implement and maintain public art well. This is a comprehensive set of dos and don’ts and well worth a look before embarking on a major public art project. The format is similar to the Creating New Income toolkit for artists, which we worked on some time ago now. It’s full of information about growing income through sponsorship, philanthropy and commercial income and is still available on Create NSW’s site for free.
  • Finally, Screen Australia has relaunched its Enterprise program, which is its key grant program for supporting businesses. Having taken it off the table for a couple of years for a redesign, it’s back for two streams, Enterprise Business (up to $200,000 per year) and Enterprise People (up to $75,000). The details are here, as well as a webinar which gives you the full details on how to put together a compelling proposal.

Ditching the devices

I’d suggest that most of us are a little worried about the impact of technology use in our homes and workplaces and particularly the mental health impacts on young people but in reality, we rely on our devices. The term “nomophobia” (no-mobile-phone-phobia) was first coined in 2019 to describe a fear of and anxiety caused by not having access to a working mobile phone.

So, would you swap your family holiday by the beach or end-of-year conference for a digital detox retreat? There are a growing number of companies that organise retreats for families and teams in beautiful rural locations, substituting screen time for mindfulness, yoga, and coaching to build a healthier relationship with technology and enhance personal relationships. More appealing to me is a destination holiday like the places in this article from Qantas that lists the Top 9 Digital Detox destinations in Australia, that combine incredible natural beauty with a total lack of phone connectivity.

Who else can’t wait to put their out-of-office message on?

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