Useful link: The death of the book is e-fiction

Alan Kohler, of Business Spectator (one amongst many of his stable of gigs), has written an article on the impact of the digital revolution on the “book”.  As you can tell by the title he chose, he believes “Overall, as Mark Twain might say, reports of the death of the book are greatly exaggerated.”  As Mr Kohler would say, “Here’s why…”


Kohler is of course playing quite flexibly with the term “book”, and includes “e-books” under this category, and not just the physical version that is the main category that has been predicted to decline towards near-extinction.  This is presumably for rhetorical purposes.  E-books he notes are now taking about 10 percent of total book sales and rising fast.

In terms of his prediction that the Internet would redefine what a book is, he says this is less apparent (yet), except that “short novels and summaries at a price point around $3 each are doing well.”

With somewhat less rhetorical flourish, Kohler notes that book publishers are still proving their value in the sector, claiming “publishers are still needed to edit and package the books for sale, including digitally”.  However, he admits their role as “risk managers” has been obviated: the ‘traditional’ model was that they paid the authors an advance on royalties and then invested the capital to have the book created and then bought back books that didn’t sell from the retailer, all of which is a bet on how much the book will sell.  This role as risk manager is diminishing as e-books cost very little to reproduce and can be reproduced quickly in response to demand.  Publishers he says also “gets to keep more of the money: no printers and typesetters to pay”, as do the authors who are now essentially sharing the risk with publishers.

Analysis of the collapse of UK camera retailer, Jessops

According to the article, the main causes for the collapse of camera retailer Jessops were:

  1. The shift from cameras to smartphones with built-in cameras
  2. The unviable retail model used by Jessops

Other contributory factors included:

  1. Poor relations with suppliers/Change of credit conditions by suppliers
  2. Over expansion during the easy credit of the boom years

The Artistic Vibrancy Onion

onionI keep coming back to the artistic vibrancy framework in my work for arts organisations, and hearing of how it has been adopted across Australia and overseas. I thought it might be time to unleash my Onion of Artistic Vibrancy on to the unsuspecting arts world.

When I was at the Australia Council for the Arts, I worked with the performing arts sector to develop an artistic vibrancy framework.  For a long time, the arts organisations and funders had struggled to articulate artistic merit.  We needed a shared language to talk about, and to some extent, evaluate, measure or at least record, artistic vibrancy.

We identified five core elements of artistic vibrancy:

  • excellence of craft
  • development, preservation or curation of the artform
  • development of artists
  • audience engagement and stimulation
  • relevance to the community

Excellence of craft

This is about how well you do your art – eg your technical proficiency as an orchestra or the production values of your play.  Your peers are probably the best people to ask, eg through peer review, benchmarking against organisations you are like or which you aspire to be like, or less formal conversations.

Development, preservation or curation of the artform

This refers to how well you contribute to your artform.  Again, your artistic peers would be the ones to comment on this, as well as the community of the artform you are in and the artists you work with.  You could do this via interviews, conversations, a peer committee, and opportunistic conversations eg with visiting experts or well-respected guest artists.

Development of artists

This refers to your organisation’s contribution to the development of artists.  Your artistic peers, sector experts and the artists themselves would be the best placed people to talk to about how well you are doing in this area – eg through conversations, a peer review panel, and artist surveys.

Audience engagement and stimulation

This is a question for the audience of your work – either for live performances, readers of your books, or online viewers or listeners to your music.  We want to find out how emotionally moved, intellectually stimulated, challenged and captivated they were by your artwork, coining Alan Brown’s language or artistic impact.  The best people to ask about this are the audience members, via interviews or a survey.

Relevance to community

This is about your organisation’s connection to its community beyond the audience.  For example, an orchestra can be relevant to its wider community through education programs, or perhaps through programming decisions to engage target groups.  “Community” can be your organisation’s target communities, eg disadvantaged youth or particular ethnic groups, or it could refer to your local community or your entire nation.  The key question is to ask how relevant you are to these people.  And the best people to ask are naturally the community members you are interested in connecting with.  You can do this via open days, community surveys and community consultations, or perhaps conversations with community representatives.

The above is a quick summary.  There are four papers I wrote about it, and a whole “Artistic Reflection Kit” designed to help organisations reflect on their own artistic vibrancy, available on the Australia Council website.

The onion of artistic vibrancy

The Artistic Vibrancy Onion

Now we come to the onion.

My underlying idea when developing the artistic vibrancy framework, is that arts organisations are all about relationships.

We can think about these relationships as a series of concentric circles, like an “onion.”

At the core of the onion is the organisation’s relationship with the artform itself.  For example, ‘excellence of craft’ is really about a strong relationship with the artform, as is the ‘development or preservation of the artform’.

At the next ring out is the organisation’s relationship with itself.  This includes the organisation as an idea, a brand and an institution, as well as the organisation’s more tangible connection with its own staff, both artistic and non-artistic.

Then we move to the organisation’s relationship with artists who may be external to the organisation, and the wider artistic community.  The organisation always sits in relation to its “field,” to be Bourdieu-ian about it.

At the next level is the organisation’s connection with its audience – those who watch, listen and experience the art.

Then we have the ‘community relevance’ layer, which is the skin, the interface between the ‘inner onion’ and the wide world.  This is about the relationship of the organisation and its work with its identified community and specific communities of interest.

And then there is the air, the wide wide world in which the onion sits – the connection with the general public.

Why the onion is a useful tool

By conceptualising it this way, arts organisations can start to map their own efforts and energy when it comes to each dimension of vibrancy.  If you wanted to, you could actually draw an onion and map your resources and programs on to it, to see where you might be strongest or where you might want to concentrate more energy.

The layers don’t have to represent waning connection the further out you go.  Your aim is to have strong weaves between all layers.

This could be a useful way of communicating your organisation’s foci to others.  Importantly, it is a good way to understand yourself, keeping the art at the heart of the onion but strongly weaving its connection to all layers.


Every Company is Up for Disruption

I saw this article over the weekend and thought it may be useful to the many Creative Industries (CI) businesses we meet with and help on a regular basis. The article, by Victor Belfor, angel investor and mentor at 500 StartUps, and VP Business Development at Influitive, describes his approach to designing products in fast moving spaces for small to medium enterprises (SME’s) influenced by technology (Which sounds like just about all of us).