Digital Technologies and the Cultural Sector

In this issue: A focus on Canadian studies that explore the effects of digital technologies on the cultural sector, including two reports examining the sector as a whole, a study of theatre, and a series of articles and reports on e-books.

Culture 3.0: Impact of Emerging Digital Technologies on the Cultural Sector in Canada

Cultural Human Resources Council, October 2011

Based on a literature review and consultation with 250 arts practitioners and cultural workers, this report examines the impact of digital technologies on human resources in the cultural sector. While the Executive Summary does not define “emerging digital technologies”, it does outline the goals of the study: to “assess the impact of emerging digital technologies on the eight cultural sub-sectors” (broadcasting, film and television, digital media, visual arts and crafts, heritage, live performing arts, music and sound recording, and writing and publishing) as well as to “recommend priority solutions to address the challenges and take advantage of the opportunities arising from these digital technologies.”

Regarding technological adoption in the cultural sector, the report provides examples of cultural organizations and businesses that have integrated digital technologies into their performances or expanded their brand across digital platforms. The report also notes that organizations in many cultural sectors use digital technologies to distribute their products and interact with their clientele. The relationship of some artists to digital technologies is particularly strong: “many visual artists not only use but create the digital tools of their medium”.

Broader opportunities related to digital technologies include the potential to increase exports and the overall economic impact of the cultural sector. The report argues that integration with other industrial sectors will increase, including “new approaches to production, distribution and/or marketing” in economic sectors from medicine to engineering. The report also argues that, “as the Canadian economy continues to move toward a knowledge-based economy, the creativity exhibited by the cultural sector will only increase in importance”.

Among the substantial challenges related to digital technologies, the report argues that “digital impacts pose threats to individual artists and to the business models underpinning entire sub-sectors. As well, the spread of digital technologies creates a challenge for important elements of the public support system for the cultural sector, for example the threat posed by broadband internet to the traditional structure of the broadcasting system. 

In the interviews for the report, cultural workers expressed a need for stronger digital business skills, such as “marketing, finance, strategy, business affairs, project management, intellectual property and IP rights management”. In order to adapt to new digital technologies, cultural workers “need training through formal education, in-career skills updating and mentorships and internships”. Knowledge resources such as effective practice guides and instructional materials would allow cultural workers “to leverage the advantages of digital technologies”.

The report includes five recommendations that are relevant for the cultural sector as a whole, related to:

  • Digital business and marketing skills: “Academic training curricula for new entrants to the workforce in the cultural sector should increasingly emphasize entrepreneurship, management, business, and marketing skills in the digital economy.”
  • Business skills learning modules: “Develop accessible and relevant learning modules to upgrade skills in business and marketing for entrepreneurs and managers in a convergent world.”
  • Continuous learning workspaces and leadership: “Build continuous learning opportunities into the workplace, including the means to develop leadership skills needed in addressing new challenges relating to the advent of emerging digital technologies.”
  • Mentorship programs:“Introduce and/or expand mentorship initiatives on a regional and national basis through building on current and new initiatives, such as communities of practice, in order to integrate the use of emerging digital technologies throughout the workforce.”
  • Collaboration tools: “Develop the new ‘learn ware’ that recognizes growing convergence and strengthen the mechanisms for sharing and pooling new tools, common resources and business processes.”

The report also provides 28 sector-specific recommendations related to broadcasting, film and television, digital media, visual arts and crafts, heritage, live performing arts, music and sound recording, and writing and publishing. 

The report concludes that “a multi-faceted approach of training mechanisms” will be required to ensure that cultural workers have the necessary skills. This multi-faceted approach includes “closer collaboration between industry and academic institutions to ensure new entrants to the workforce have the most relevant skills”, in-career skills training, and mentorships.

Digital Transitions and the Impact of New Technology on the Arts

Prepared by David Poole for the Canadian Public Arts Funders network, June 2011

This discussion paper, intended for use by arts funding bodies, provides a useful overview of “current knowledge on the theme of digital transition and the impact of new technology on the arts”. The discussion paper is based on a literature review, consultations with knowledgeable people in the field, as well as a survey of how Canadian public arts funders are responding to digital technologies. The report defines digital technologies as “technologies that allow information and processes to be created and stored in digital form, with the possibility of distribution over electronic networks”. 

The paper indicates that “the electronic, networked and interactive nature of the digital world has a significant impact on the arts”. In particular, the continued development of social media has had many impacts, including:

  • Enhancing people’s ability to share user-generated content.
  • Providing a structure through which people can organize themselves and collaborate.
  • Connecting people to artworks and arts organizations, by “matching art to people who are looking for it, providing a platform to create art and carry on dialogue and debates around communities of interest and giving organizations tools to listen to the public and build arts awareness”.

Regarding online engagement with the arts, the report cites British surveys that have indicated that “people who are most engaged in the arts already are most likely to explore art online”. In other words, “the Internet is unlikely to ‘convert’ those who are currently uninterested in the arts”.

The report finds that different art forms have differing relationships to digital technology. Some art forms only exist because of technology (e.g., “digital art practices and film, video”). Other art forms, while not owing their very existence to digital technology, are strongly influenced by technological developments in creation, production and dissemination.

The paper provides a synthesis of the relationship of different art forms to digital technologies and argues that “new digital technologies have had their deepest impact on production and dissemination practices in disciplines and practices outside the performing arts”, such as writing and publishing, music, media arts, and visual arts. In these art forms, “the digital transition allows artists to replace physical objects with electronic files and to displace distribution over time and between places with instantaneous distribution over networks.” 

The paper indicates that digital transitions have policy implications, especially regarding copyright legislation. There are also implications for the revenue streams of artists and arts organizations, as British surveys have shown that “most members of the public say that they would refuse to pay for arts online and [have suggested] that persuading people to pay for arts online will require guarantees of exclusive content and consistent quality”.

The report poses some key questions for arts funders:

  • “Do they recognize and are they responsive to the ways in which artists work in the digital environment?
  • Do they recognize art practices that develop or change because of possibilities presented by digital technologies?
  • How do they recognize the professionalism of artists if the roles of traditional indicators of professionalism (acceptance by gatekeepers, use of professional tools) are diminished?
  • Are they tracking and accommodating the changing roles of infrastructure organizations (artist-run centres, publishers, recording studios, etc.) in light of digital technologies?”

Beyond the Curtain: How Digital Media is Reshaping Theatre

Ballinran Productions Limited, Digital Wizards Inc., Canadian Actors’ Equity Association and Stratford Shakespeare Festival, 2012 

This study attempts to address three key research questions: 1) “How is digital media currently used in theatres both in Ontario and beyond and what is the potential for expanding its use?”; 2) “How can the content developed for the stage be adapted and repurposed for use on digital media platforms?”; and 3) “How can theatres use digital media to reach a wider and more demographically diverse audience?”

The report is based on a literature review and consultation with people knowledgeable about digital media and theatre (including 31 interviews and a survey with 426 respondents).

The study traces how theatre technology and audience engagement are changing simultaneously. The report indicates that “digital media and technological innovations present both opportunities and challenges to our performance communities”.

Among the opportunities, the report cites “the potential to reach new audiences on a variety of platforms, engaging a younger generation with the live performance experience”. Social media provides theatres and performers with a new way of interacting with their audiences. On-stage technologies “such as holograms, projection systems, virtual scenery and 3D visual effects have, for companies able to afford them, enabled a new audience experience”. There are also opportunities to repurpose performing arts content for new platforms, such as cinemas, TV, and many different kinds of internet-enabled devices. Interestingly, a majority of the theatre practitioners surveyed indicated that they believe that “people would be willing to pay to download or view a digital version of a live performance”.

An important challenge is money, which the report cites as a key barrier to innovation. There is no specific funding for experimentation with digital media, and live theatres are very dependent on ticket sales for their revenues. Recording technology and staff are expensive. There is also no model of payments to theatre artists for the online distribution of their work.

The study expresses a need to ensure that more Canadian performing arts content is available in Canadian classrooms.

The report concludes with six recommendations: 

1. Theatre producers and unions are urged to "ensure that barriers to rapid adoption of content re-purposing and digital media applications are removed".

2. The report indicates that there is a need for a forum to exchange ideas, skills and resources regarding digital media technology.

3. “Tax credits and production funding should be made available to content creators who repurpose theatrical content for the big and small screen even if a broadcaster is not involved.”

4. All parties should jointly “develop integrated and collaborative workshops and master classes in the area of digital media technology".

5. “Innovation funding should be made available to theatre companies” to explore and experiment with digital technologies.

6. “A collaborative pilot project should be undertaken for the capture and distribution of live performance for domestic, educational and international distribution.”



Various publishers (National Book Count, BookNet Canada, Harris Interactive, and the Public Lending Right Commission), 2011 and 2012

In the consumer book market, a February 2012 survey (National Book Count, found that “e-book sales comprised 10% of all books sold in English Canada. Public libraries reported that 3% of their circulation comprised digital formats. This finding puts English Canada near the very top of international estimates on e-reading.” French-language sales and library distribution of e-books were not captured in this survey. The book statistics were “collected and combined by the National Reading Campaign and cover 28 public library systems [and] 80 % of the English language book retail market”. 

A fall 2012 report by BookNet Canada, reported on in the media (, indicates that e-book sales represent about 16% of all books sold in Canada, with paperbacks representing 57% of the market and hardcovers 24%. According to the survey, about one-third of book sales are made in bookstores, 30% at non-book retailers (e.g., big box stores and grocery stores), and 28% online.

The average price paid for a book was $12.84, with substantial differences between e-books ($7.44), paperbacks ($12.18), and hardcovers ($19.09). The full report (The Canadian Book Consumer 2012) is available for purchase from BookNet Canada (

The media article indicates that, as a percentage of the overall book market, American e-book sales exceed Canadian sales. While specific percentages were not given for the U.S., a separate survey (in February 2012) showed that 28% of Americans use an electronic reader, a significant increase from 8% in 2010 and 15% in 2011 (

A 2011 report for the Public Lending Right Commission (EBooks and Public Lending Right in Canada, examines the presence of e-books in Canadian public library collections. The report cites a 2011 survey of libraries which showed that, while English language “e-book holdings and use are growing rapidly, their adoption in libraries is lagging behind the consumer marketplace”.

The report also highlights two key challenges. First, there is a “global struggle to settle on uniform terms and conditions for selling eBooks to libraries”. Issues include pricing, licence terms and conditions, and distribution channels. Second, there is relatively low availability of Canadian-authored e-books for Canadian libraries. “Lack of availability of Canadian titles in eBook form is repeatedly cited as a cause of frustration for Canadian public librarians.”

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