Web workers cash in on creative boom

Information technology: The digerati and the cyber elite are symptoms of the way computers are taking over
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The Independent Online
WRITING WEB pages and other multimedia work could create up to 80,000 jobs in the next eight years, according to new research.

The growth, which will mostly be of freelance jobs - in which workers can command fees of up to pounds 500 per day - will quadruple the size of the "digital media" sector, which is already growing rapidly: 10 years ago it barely existed, says the Digital Media Alliance (DMA), an industry consortium.

Many of the new jobs will be in "microenterprises" employing fewer than 10 people, where the staff may work from home or remote locations.

"There are already 2,000 freelances specialising in digital media, and in July a survey found that there are 2,750 companies working in the field employing an average of five people," said Frank Boyd, director of the DMA.

Digital media can encompass a huge range of work, including designing and writing web pages, programming the links to company databases or creating the graphic effects for a Hollywood blockbuster. Many companies already employ small groups of up to 10 people to dig up information on the Internet or produce images for public presentations.

The freelance workers, who take short-term contracts, tend to be in their twenties or early thirties. This new "digerati" work in an industry that generates about pounds 690m in sales, according to the survey. But it could grow by about 20 per cent annually over the next decade - so by 2007 it could be worth pounds 5bn.

The Government has recently emphasised the importance of digital culture to Britain's success, with Peter Mandelson, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, saying it is essential to growth. Because its products can often be sent by telephone line, digital media is more flexible about location than many burgeoning industries. "Clusters" of companies are springing up in London, Birmingham, Brigh- ton, Bristol and Manchester.

"It's certainly quite common for people to use teleworking, doing their jobs from home, because they can; but others still like being part of a creative team in a single office," Mr Boyd said. But he added that there were obstacles: "because there is a plethora of small companies, they haven't got an effective trade association to lobby for their interests. They also tend to lack basic business skills."

The latter could mean the smaller companies being among the first to fall prey to banks and creditors in a recession. British technology companies also face long-standing problems in raising venture capital, especially compared with competitors in the United States.