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    The Digital Revolution: The World at the Click of a Button


    International Trade Forum - Issue 3/2009

    © Rodrigo Almeida design

    From fashion design to film, music, architecture, art and the advertising industry, the impact of digital technology has been one of the most profound on the creative industries in recent years. New technologies, particularly in information and telecommunications, have dramatically changed the way creative products are produced, distributed and consumed globally.

    Through technology a new world exists, where inspiration, collaboration, research and marketing to new and existing customers are literally at the touch of a button. The Creative Economy Report 2008 (see page 7) has also clearly demonstrated the economic potential of creative industries in developing countries.1 The report points out that creativity is at the heart and soul of a culture and the expression of this creativity can allow emerging economies to leapfrog "into emerging high-growth areas of the world economy".

    From e-commerce solutions like PayPal and Google Checkout, to crowd-sourcing, user-generated content and education distribution platforms like YouTube, technological innovation has made it easy to find new markets and sell to them. Additionally, low-cost digital recording, editing and storing facilities have made it simple and affordable to create, produce and distribute creativity around the world.

    A look at how the Internet has created new opportunities for creativity in emerging economies makes the story even more interesting. The grande dame of fashion, Coco Chanel, once said, "Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live and what is happening."

    The world of the greatest fashion designers in Europe and the United States was to all intents and purposes unlimited because they had the resources to travel and explore the globe for inspiration. But designers in poorer countries did not have the same access to a world of new ideas. The Internet has allowed designers in emerging markets to see images from the catwalks of fashion weeks, giving them insight and access to popular trends in export markets.

    The designer's real-life experience is reinforced by global research. According to the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project, just ten years ago the question was who had Internet access and who did not. More recently, the question is how fast is the connection? A recent study that focused on measuring the impact of broadband availability against the growth in employment, establishments and industry composition in local economies found that broadband contributed significantly to increasing the growth rates of all three. However, whether the higher growth rates represent a one-time or permanent improvement is unclear (2).

    Brazilian fashion designer Giuliana Romano suggests the results are permanent. "Mobile technologies and the Internet have made creative work much easier and have allowed me to collaborate with people in different places," she says. "Broadband access in Brazil has allowed us to exchange large files so I can have teams all over the world. I can have a print pattern developed in New York and print it on fabric in Bom Retiro in São Paulo."

    Ms Romano also points out that the Internet allows her to be in touch with everything that is happening across the globe without having to travel: "The amount of reference material is endless."

    Marcela F.S. Reis, a Brazilian interior designer who has been living in New York for the past three years, agrees with Ms Romano. "Not only does the Internet allow us to exchange files and collaborate from a distance, but it also allows for business to be discussed, plans to be made, meetings to happen at little or no cost." The designer has an atelier in São Paulo, where she coordinates the production of home decoration accessories, which are outsourced to seamstresses in the city and other locations. Ms Reis has been running her atelier and the relationship with her clients, through selling directly to both customers and stores, from New York since she moved there.

    Marisa is one of Brazil's largest fashion retailers, with more than 200 stores across the country. According to Thiago Pereira, its e-commerce manager, the brand's online stores sell as much as its retail outlets. It is also the only retailer among its competitors, which include Renner, Pernambucanas, Lojas Americanas and C&A, to sell online. Almost 90 per cent of their product mix is also available in their e-store. "For every one Brazilian reais [US$ 0.60] sold online, BRL6 [US$ 3.5] are sold in physical stores to people that have seen the product online," says Mr Pereira.

    He also says that the Internet is an important part of their business strategy. Offers sent via email build their relationship with customers and investors, and the Internet has become a source of inspiration. "It helps us search for new products and scout for new talent," he says.

    As a boutique designer, Ms Romano's business model is different to that of Marisa, but she also uses online marketing as part of her strategy. She considers the Internet as a successful way to build her profile and get more business through blogs and online publications writing about her work. Marcela Reis reiterates Ms Romano's sentiment, explaining that, "Blogs and social networks like Facebook and Twitter are powerful tools to show our work globally."

    This holds true for other creative industries in developing markets such as film
    production, architecture, art and even advertising. Creatives in these industries are finding that the Internet is a means for them to scout the world for trends and inspiration at the same time as it provides a platform to promote their work.

    Brazilian furniture designer, Rodrigo Almeida, believes that the Internet and new technologies have impacted trends by forcing designers to think more globally. He also says it has made for a clearer distinction between furniture design and industrial design as one becomes more handmade and the other more aligned to trends in graphic design. Mr Almeida, who was discovered by the well-known Campana Brothers, has had shows in cities around the world and has recently been named one of Wallpaper magazine's "40 to watch" in Brazil. He has lived in Seattle and New York and believes technology and networked communications have had an enormous impact on both his creative and product development processes. According to Mr Almeida, 90 per cent of his customers find out about his work online. For his own research, he only resorts to books or magazines when the information he wants cannot be found online.

    The Internet has also opened a new world of education through open-learning models that have improved literacy and education levels across the globe particularly in countries where public education is limited. A recent study by Symantec research in 12 countries (Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States) found that Brazilian children spend the most time online - up 70 hours a month - and reading online is considered as valid as reading
    a book.(3)

    In addition, the growing rate of online distance education among emerging markets is having an impact on creativity, in terms of both innovation and competition. José-Carlos Mariategui is general manager of Phantasia Tribal DDB, an online advertising agency in Peru and master of information systems at the London School of Economics. "The Internet made a shift in the way we see creativity because it has become much more sophisticated and challenging," he says.

    Mr Mariategui argues that the advertising industry, a business that defines itself as creative, is not as adept at adopting new technology as one would expect. "Half of the population in Peru has a mobile, but 50 per cent of them live outside the capital, Lima. If we think about customization and data profiling, this is a platform for potential content creative, services development and, ultimately, commercialization of databases that is not being exploited yet," he says.

    The potential impact of the Internet and networked communications technologies in emerging markets is enormous. According to a 2006 report by the Inter-American Development Bank's Multilateral Investment Fund,(4) "creative industries account for roughly more than 7 per cent of the world's gross domestic product (GDP) and are forecast to grow on average by 10 per cent annually. Creative industries are a leading sector in several developed economies, making a significant contribution to employment generation and export expansion, and posting annual growth rates ranging from 5 to 20 per cent."
    Evidence from the report suggests it is clear that creative industries are winning sectors globally. For the creative industries in emerging countries, the Internet and new technologies have broken through trade barriers that were once imposed by geographic, economic, cultural and social barriers. The challenge now lies in making the most of the opportunity.

    ©Marcela F.S. Reis

    1. Creative Economy Report 2008,

    2. Measuring Broadband: Improving Communications Policymaking through Better Data Collection, K. Flamm, A. Friedlander, J. Horrigan, and W. Lehr (2007).

    3. Educação Digital @ Intel blog,http://blogs.intel.com/

    4. CRNM Private Sector Trade Brief, Vol.16, Oct-Nov 2006, educacaodigital/2009/03www.crnm.org

    Internet connectivity: watch it take off

    Ensuring the same thing happens with the Internet. It is predicted that this will be done through low-cost laptops, or netbooks, connecting to the Internet via mobile networks. Obstacles remain, particularly in terms of Africa's connectivity to the rest of the world through both mobile and Internet networks, but new cables and international links are improving worldwide access. It is now clear that the long process of connecting everyone on Earth to a global telecommunications network is on the verge of completion.

    Source: The Economist: www.economist.com/specialreports/displaystory.cfm?story_id=14483856