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HOW WILL THE INTERNET AFFECT CULTURAL MARKETS?
by Xavier Marcet i Gisbert
GENERAL MANAGER OF LOCALNET

The newest information and communications technologies are shaping markets in ways that differ from the patterns we were accustomed to. Our chains of values are altered and customers are becoming increasingly powerful insofar as they have the capacity for playing a more influential role in the whole negotiation and decision-making process. Cultural production and consumption are no exceptions to this new rule. For the cultural offer generating agents, the TIC constitute a new tool at the service of creativity and research, as well as a new channel of diffusion. For the consumers of cultural products, the TIC scene widens the offer range practically infinitely and, in some cases, it allows them to take a more active part in the process of cultural creation itself.
However, we still have to see to what extent that process of "de-intermediatization" which is already starting to alter the relationship between productors and customers in other sectors will eventually affect the sphere of culture. The forms of interaction between creators and public could become more direct (who will prevent a poet from using the Net to diffuse his verses - or a musician his compositions, or a painter his works, etc... -?) and more universal. In any event, the function performed by cultural publishers will undoubtedly continue to be a key factor to the promotion and publication of audiovisual, artistic or literary pieces of work. Progressively, the new multimedia language will evolve and no longer appear as a confused superposition of already existing languages and cultures, so that it will simply become the backbone of a new form of cultural expression. (...)
Present developments merely are the beginnings of multimedia expression. (...) However, even though the process is only starting, we can easily recognize how it is already opening up extraordinary opportunities to complement our usual forms of cultural consumption through the new "added values" which the Internet can provide (the possibility to start watching a play before attending the actual performance and to later continue to exchange commentaries with the authors or other spectators, as well as to create online spaces for creative collaborative initiatives that would encourage the confluence of different expressions), and how it provides us with the possibility to foster new ways of promoting independent cultural products. Culture thus has an extraordinary field of action at its disposal on the Internet, a reality that has already generated new spaces for freedom, created new virtual communities based on shared interests in given art forms, trends or creators, etc..., and introduced new manners of approaching the creative process by freeing it from the simultaneity factor.
As it happens in all other fields, the Internet is both channel and content of culture. It allows someone who lives in Linyola, for instance, to express his or her artistic ambitions on the Net and, in the process, to eventually come into contact with other people, whether they live in some far-off place like Australia or just nearby in Juneda. The Internet spreads culture beyond community borders and, at the same time, it could become a structure-developing factor for the community. The Net makes it possible for people to make contact with what they consider to be the conventional sacred temples of their cultural inclinations while being provided with more information and a greater capacity for dialogue than they have ever had before. (...)
The Internet also serves as a channel to achieve a better management of cultural consumption by providing a wide range of online ticketing services which will allow people to make reservations and buy tickets for different cultural shows with extraordinary easiness, for instance from a mobile phone. The Internet, with a system of reference portal pages accessible from either conventional or WAP technology servers should facilitate a more effective management of culture offerings in real cities. As far as cultural consumption in Barcelona is concerned, the "real city" is no longer limited to the city proper, it extends to a whole metropolitan region which is dynamically expanding. We need new websites that would offer a range of cultural products truly representative of the real market and thus allow cultural customers to see a movie at the "Verdi" in Barcelona, attend a jazz concert at the "Cava" in Terrassa, go to see a play in Mataró, visit an art exhibition at the "Casal Pere Quart" in Sabadell, or attend a festival in the "Pavelló Olímpic" in Badalona. The Internet should operate as an instrument of enrichment and promotion of our cultural market, simply by providing us with better tools to manage all the existing cultural markets, whether nearby or faraway geographically speaking. A rapid check on culturally-orientated websites which propose to start integrating those markets and a visit to the websites focussed on museums and reference cultural bodies allow us to immediately come to the conclusion that progress has still to be made in terms of online cultural resources. Likewise, and in spite of the steps that have already been taken to foster subscriptions to the Internet in different cities within Barcelona's metropolitan region, it seems as if culturally oriented e-entrepreneurs and government agencies still have vast scope to bring a greater dynamism to the online cultural market.
Barcelona's metropolitan region is comprised of a network of middle-size citie that makes multi-centrality one of its most significant features, a fact which is particularly evident where some specialized economic fields and cultural offerings are concerned. Such a diversity is peculiar to Barcelona's metropolitan region and it gives the whole area a natural web structure which can be notably perfected to serve as the basis for building a more consistent cultural market on the Internet. A positive development in public policies would be to construct powerful virtual binders that would foster the creation of a market with a greater capacity for reflecting the bidirectional metropolitan cultural reality by increasing not only the flow of culture consumers towards Barcelona, but also the movements from the central city towards the other urban centres which compose the metropolitan diversity. (...)