CULTURAL ENTREPRENEURSHIP: UNDERSTANDING THE MARKET FOR MEANING

By Yu-Yu Chang, Jason Potts, and Hui-Yu Shih

Cultural commodities, whether goods or services, are vehicles for conveying cultural and creative content. Consumers perceive value in these goods or services when they successfully deliver symbolic meaning rather than simply accomplishing utilitarian or functional purposes. Therefore, cultural entrepreneurs are not necessarily artists, but those who discover opportunities by observing and creating connections between the subjective meanings of the cultural production and the meanings mutually developed across consumer networks, groups and markets.

The dominant model linking cultural and economic systems is the value chain, in which cultural novelty is produced in the cultural sphere, and is then part of the production of economic novelty and value. From the view of industrial value chain, creative industries are a value creation process with multiple stages through which cultural values are created out of artistic novelty and then acquire economic value with the construction of inter-subjective meanings. In a recent article published in the Journal of Cultural Economics, Yu‑Yu Chang, Jason Potts, and Hui‑Yu Shih propose a three-phase trajectory of production, discovery, and institutionalization to clarify the value evolution process in cultural and creative industries, as shown in the Figure 1.

A central premise of the cultural economic trajectory is that creativity and culture are constructed and negotiated by three key actors: (1) cultural producers, (2) entrepreneurs or intermediaries, and (3) cultural consumers – through an interplay of symbolic and sensory modes of experience and their concomitant meaning systems in which those actors are engaged. The first phase of this cultural trajectory model starts with cultural production, where artists integrate existing cultural elements with their creativity to produce original and novel contents. By conceiving new content, artists embed subjective meaning they want to deliver to cultural products and services. Consumer networks then form inter-subjective meanings of the cultural production when experiencing or making transactions of the cultural products.

In the second phase, entrepreneurs discover socially constructed meaning of the cultural production in the first phase. Potential consumers interpret and appreciate the symbolic message of creative content loaded on creative products or services only when they have cohesive experience, understanding, and sentiment about cultural meanings. The driving force in this evolutionary model of cultural dynamics is the entrepreneurial discovery and experimental market testing of inter-subjective meaning.

The third phase of cultural institutionalization infuses cultural value or meaning into a group of individuals, perhaps a subculture, within a society. Due to the inter-subjective nature of cultural consumption, articulation of consumer preferences is mediated by institutions, social norms and cultural values. Institutionalization of cultural meanings is the process by which symbolic meanings become patterned and established to incorporate a new idea or set of cultural values. As a result, the creative content itself may become a new cultural element in the society and fed back into cultural production.

Goods and services in cultural markets are often well understood as platforms or distribution mechanisms that provide symbolic content for achieving higher-order benefits, such as spiritual satisfaction, self-fulfillment, and identity construction. Nevertheless, outside the intersubjective meanings, consumers have no reference for evaluating cultural products’ quality and value, which are collectively determined by network interactions. The article by Chang et al. (2021) highlights the importance of entrepreneurial discovery in the cultural market, which is pivotal to identifying disequilibrium in a cultural product’s artistry, originality, practicality and commerciality-in other words, establishing the fitness between subjective meaning and consumers’ collective preferences.

Cultural production is the process through which creative content is embedded in goods and services as a distinguishing feature. In contrast, meaning discovery is the means to identify cultural value and to shape symbolic messages interpreted by consumers in their inter-subjective perception. The refined meaning brings about a perceptual link between consumers and the creative content by endowing the cultural product with a concomitant image. Symbolic meanings are the essence of a cultural product since the symbolic value is the key to fulfilling consumers’ spiritual need for aesthetics, expressiveness, joy, identity, style, or imagination. Therefore, entrepreneurial discovery and meaning refinement constitute an essential process through which the creative content is endowed with appealing qualities of authenticity, originality, uniqueness, and legitimacy, as well as special meanings that resonate with consumers.

Value diffusion is the last stage of cultural institutionalization, a process that transforms symbolic meanings into a part of the cultural system through the formation of shared experience and the construction of social memory. Cultural institutionalization occurs when symbolic meaning becomes the experience shared by people in a common societal context with symbolic value embedded in collective cultural memory. A new symbolic meaning is assimilated into cultural memory when an entrepreneur discovers meaning in the public-market space that resonates in the cultural content. When cultural meaning is retained, a new cultural element arises to serve as the building block or the featuring image which feeds back to the production of future cultural work. Cultural entrepreneurialism is about discovering meaning and creating intersubjective bonds with potential consumers, rather than competing with other cultural work for market share. To clarify the creative industries dynamics through an entrepreneurial approach, the authors illustrate the model of the ‘market for meaning’ with a case study of K-pop. For more details, see the full article at the Journal of Cultural Economics.

About this publication

Chang, YY., Potts, J. & Shih, HY. The market for meaning: A new entrepreneurial approach to creative industries dynamics. J Cult Econ 45, 491–511 (2021). https://doi-org.eur.idm.oclc.org/10.1007/s10824-021-09416-5

About the authors

Yu-Yu Chang is Assistant Professor at the Institute of International Management, National Cheng Kung University, and Cross College Elite Program, National Cheng Kung University, Taiwan.

Jason Potts is Distinguished Professor of Economics at RMIT University, and Co-director of the Blockchain Innovation Hub at RMIT, Australia.

Hui-Yu Shih is PhD Student, Institute of Technology Management, National Tsing Hua University, Taiwan.

About the image:

The artists paints a picture by Tina Hester (CC0 license).

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