Digitalization gives fresh impetus to cultural trade

By Li Jiashan, Li Xiaomu / 04-25-2024 / Chinese Social Sciences Today

Concerts are a popular form of cultural trade. Photo: TUCHONG

Cultural trade is not only an integral part of international trade but also an effective means of international communication and an important channel for cultural exchange between China and other countries. With the support of digital technology, China’s cultural industry is growing rapidly and the global value chain of digital creative industries continues to extend, empowering the high-quality development of cultural trade. 


Since the beginning of the 21st century, the digital features of cultural trade have become increasingly salient worldwide. 

First, the subject matter of cultural trade, which typically refers to cultural goods and services, is exhibiting a marked trend towards digitalization. Cultural products such as animations, online games, and virtual concerts are inherently digital and allow for the confirmation, valuation, and trading of cultural resources data as assets in economic activities. The digital nature of cultural trade significantly broadens the scope and volume of cultural trade and helps to balance its structure, thus becoming a new driving force for the global cultural economy. 

Second, digital technology enables the storage of cultural services. In general, trade in services is characterized by simultaneous production and consumption, which precludes storage. However, when cultural content is digitally stored, transmitted, and traded, the normally ephemeral services are transformed into storable trade assets. 

Third, data becomes a new source of factors of production. The application of digital technology throughout the value chain of the cultural industry facilitates the transformation and upgrading of the production, marketing, and trading of cultural goods and services. “Data information” partially replaces human capital, accelerates the cross-border movement of data and improves trade efficiency. 

Fourth, digital platform services empower traditional cultural trade. In the era of the digital economy, online platforms play a key role in the trade process, changing the production and delivery modes of cultural trade. The vigorous development of digital platform services has considerably unlocked the economic value of cultural trade. 

Fifth, digitalization accelerates the transformation of cultural resources. Digital technology facilitates the creative reconfiguration and innovative development of cultural resources, transforming them into standardized, valuable, and tradable cultural goods and services. This process is conducive to cultural exchange among countries. 

Sixth, digital technology has dissolved the boundary between traditional trade in goods and trade in services, as tangible cultural merchandise is being transformed into digital cultural services. 

Future trends 

The global digital cultural trade has thrived in recent years and certain trends may emerge in the future. 

First, global digital cultural trade continues to grow. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development notes that emerging technologies are fundamentally changing certain creative industries. Digital cultural trade has become a focus in international trade agreements and many countries are striving to develop their digital economy. 

Second, the adoption of digital technology varies significantly across countries. There remains a noticeable disparity between developing and advanced economies in terms of access to and implementation of advanced digital technologies, including human-machine interaction, mixed reality, and AI technologies associated with human-like vision, hearing, language, and cognition. 

Third, digitalization leads to profound changes in trade and industrial relations. The booming trade in digital cultural services will drive the development of trade in digital cultural goods, enhancing the integration of manufacturing with the service sector. 

Fourth, it is necessary to establish statistical standards for global digital cultural trade. At present, no unified standard or definition regarding digital cultural trade has been formulated by the international community, and existing frameworks are not sufficiently digitalized. It is therefore challenging to integrate various sources of statistics and determine the credibility of data. 

Fifth, the confirmation of rights pertaining to international digital cultural resources necessitates international cooperation. Digital cultural trade is intangible and platform-based, posing challenges to traditional regulatory models and governance systems. The development of global digital cultural trade is currently hindered by the inadequacy of relevant laws and regulations. 

Sixth, digital technology and cultural development should be coordinated to promote the sustainable and inclusive development of digital cultural trade. Digital technology has demonstrated a high degree of congruence with the cultural industry and contributed to enhancing global cultural diversity. Meanwhile, it is important to balance the application of digital technology with the inheritance and preservation of cultural heritage. 

Li Jiashan is a professor at Beijing International Studies University. Li Xiaomu is the vice president of Capital University of Economics and Business.