Thousands of people spend nights camping out in front of stores to secure the latest version of a smartphone. A leading media company recently wrote to the EU Commission accusing a prominent search engine of piracy. A major online retailer has been accused of distorting the market by inflicting artificially long delivery times on a certain publisher's books. These recent developments would seem to indicate that our economy and society are witnessing the beginning of a computerized era, with the balance of power shifting from man to machine. But that is not the case! I personally am convinced that the era of digitization will be not the era of technology, but the era of creativity.
There is no doubt we are at the threshold of a new era. Take the mobile phone for example. Next year, for the first time in history, there will be more mobile phones on the planet than people. For comparison: on the day this comes to pass, only half as many toothbrushes will be in use worldwide.
Smartphones are the synthesis of all the technological achievements that have inspired billions of consumers over the last two decades: online access, video screens, gaming consoles, search engines, e-readers, digital mailboxes, gateways to social networks, recording and playback devices, instant messengers and much more. And unlike a toothbrush, each smartphone is picked up and used around 150 times a day by its user.
So what are the implications of this digital revolution? Media companies such as the one I lead, which incorporates Fremantle Media, Penguin Random House, Arvato and BMG Rights Management, have felt the digital harbingers earlier than many other industries. The interiors of houses, cars and refrigerators are just setting out for where television stations, books, magazines and music have already arrived: in a continuously interconnected, data-driven online world. I believe that the strongest driving force in the years ahead will be not a program or an algorithm - but people's courage and desire to be creative, fulfil themselves artistically, and to create new things that interest and inspire others.
Europe is a place that has brought forth an incomparable variety of such artists, authors and thinkers over the centuries. So, as Europe's largest media company, Bertelsmann today published a study conducted by Enders Analysis which investigates the economic and social significance of creativity in the digital age. The study examines the European countries France, Germany and the UK. The results not only document people's huge desire to be creative, but also the cultural and economic relevance of the creative economy.
The research also showed that Britain is blessed with an abundance of creativity. 72 percent of Britons described themselves as creative people - a higher rate than among the German or French population. They cite the media as a major source of inspiration for pursuing creative activities in their spare time. In the UK, more than 90 percent of respondents watch TV and close to 90 percent listen to music each week. About 80 percent use the Internet, and more than half of them regularly reach for a book, making the UK the biggest nation of bookworms among the three countries surveyed.
It is small wonder that people both in the UK and in Europe appreciate the value o companies in the creative industries: based on the results of the study, a projected 100million adults in France, Germany and the UK rate the creative economy as "important" or "very important". In the three countries under review, 3.3million people work for one of 392,000 companies in the creative industry, as screenplay writers, editors, journalists, graphic designers, engineers, and so on. This is equivalent to the combined population of Munich, Birmingham and Marseille. Together, the companies generate gross value added of 128 billion euros a year - nearly four percent of the three countries' total economic output outside the financial sector. On a per capita basis, Britain's creative industries are the largest in Europe.
So there is no doubt that the creative economy makes a significant contribution not only to Europe's culture, but also to its economic prosperity. Fortunately, the incoming EU Commission has indicated that it agrees with this assessment. It will soon be able to back up its words with action. For instance, in the protection of intellectual property: Europe's creative minds deserve an up-to-date copyright law that empowers them to be courageous and invest in new ideas even in the digital age. Furthermore their audience is entitled to be able to find films, articles and songs in a digital world and count on the neutrality of search engines and social networks to enable them to do so.
We are entering a new era and have a great opportunity to actively shape its course. Even in an age of universal belief in technology, Europe can be confident enough to rely on the power of creativity. Because in the end, the billions of smartphones are just shells that need to be filled with creative content.