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Paper no 25









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By Paul Bentley

Article originally published in Online Currents October 2003 and reprinted with kind permission of the publishers Enterprise Information Management Pty Ltd. 

The story of Arts Hub Australia - ‘the online home for Australian arts and cultural workers’ – provides valuable lessons on attitudes, skills and tools for success in the information game and it prompts questions about the management of Australian information resources.

Origins & development

Arts Hub is the brainchild of David Eedle and his partner, Fiona Boyd.  Eedle, in an earlier life, trod the paths of stagehand, theatre technician, lighting designer and regional arts centre manager.  Boyd, with qualifications in media and education, worked in radio broadcasting.  They formed Dramatic Improvements in 1996 as a consultancy business specialising in cultural venue management, research and information technology.

In April 2000, they started publishing free job information on Dramatic Improvements’ website, then began distributing an email version and a news feed to a small number of people.  The demand for the email service persuaded them, in October of that year, to launch DramaticOnline as a commercial venture.  In a jiff, information distribution had more or less replaced the consulting business.

Two and a half years later, in March 2003, they relaunched DramaticOnline as Arts Hub Australia to more accurately convey the scope of the content.  The establishment of Screen Hub, developed with Paxinos and Associates, and of Arts Hub UK, in partnership with Euclid International, is a reflection of their energy and the growth of the business. 

Products & services

The Arts Hub Australia website has five subject sections covering the performing arts, museums, galleries, writing, publishing, festivals, film, radio, TV and multimedia.  Each section has links to feature articles, daily local and international news feeds, employment opportunities and events.  A separate jobs section facilitates job advertisements, CV lodgements and job searching.  

The personalised news bulletins are distributed to subscribers three times a week.  A typical feed includes about 12 items written by staff reporters and between 20 and 30 items from other sources.  Reviews of performances and exhibitions are not included, unless there is an angle of interest.  Featured articles in recent months have included Lindy Hume's diary on the Perth International Arts Festival, Circus Oz, the Queensland Biennial Festival of Music, the Nelson Review of Higher Education and the closure of Ballarat University's theatre production course.

The job bulletins, distributed once a week, typically list about 75 positions and opportunities. Anyone can lodge a job advertisement free of charge.  The site also has links to other international specialist job agencies.

Individual subscriptions are available for $66 a year, life memberships for $500.  Institutional subscriptions range from $528 to $5280 (10-100 people).  Library licences, with unlimited access for students at tertiary institutions, are also available

The website now attracts 13,500 web site visitors a week. The bulletins emanating from the three sites have about 25,000 subscribers, including full time employees (about 55%), the self-employed (18%) and casual or part time workers (15%).  About 63% work in small organisations with fewer than 10 employees.  Despite slow growth in the UK, David Eedle has his eyes on an international subscriber base of 250,000 – only a small fraction of the arts and culture workforce in Australia and the UK, but a target that will demand further acumen and persistence.


Eedle summed up his business approach at the 2002 Ozeculture conference in the following terms. “It is not the content, stupid, it’s the customers.  Great online businesses know that content is a means to an end.  Avoid the monolith.  Create multiple sites.  Offer convenience and familiarity.  Don’t lie.  Touch a nerve.  Be realistic.  Build relationships. Take criticism on the chin.  Embrace etiquette, security and privacy.  Push it out and bring it back.  Make it snappy.  Make it personal and direct.  Be consistent and reliable.  And take the plunge”.

Eedle and Boyd had to back their instincts when they took the plunge.  “We were told that no-one would be willing to subscribe to an arts news and jobs service.”  A strong business plan, with financial targets, however, convinced them to follow their noses.

They now employ eight staff.  A substantial amount of content comes from the members themselves, most of it in the form of snippets, some of it in the form of articles.  “One of our members”, Eedle says, “ was recently commissioned by the Australian Financial Review to produce a long piece, off the back of something they saw by him on Arts Hub.  It's also a nice feeling that exposure on Arts Hub is leading to other writing commissions.”  The ICT consultant and ex-chairman of the Australia Council, Dr Terry Cutler, appointed Chairman in February 2003, contributes a regular column, as does Senator Kate Lundy.

A content management system was developed in-house because, at the time Arts Hub was launched in 2000, off-the-shelf systems were out of their league.  The main components are databases for news, jobs and events.  Each record (there are currently around 27,000 in the news database) includes an article or piece of information, date of entry, name of the author, name of the person who approved it for publication, and subject categories.  The administration module consists of a set of web pages which staff use to add new content, edit existing content, search and interrogate the databases, and distribute the email bulletins.


Arts Hub is of value to those arts workers who are looking for a change in their employment circumstances and those who rely on Australia-wide news as a factor in their decision-making.

If you derive income from the arts and cultural industries and subscribe, like I do, to the Sydney Morning Herald and the Weekend Australian, you will find Arts Hub, a useful complementary service at a reasonable price for interstate opportunities, stories, and features - and comment not included in the mainstream media.

If you work in an organisation that relies on external news for ideas and information, the service may be a more cost effective choice over other media/press clipping and online services.

Related sources 

Arts Hub currently has no real competitors: it seems to have found the right niche during a period when the dot-com pretenders infected perceptions about information services.  In an evolving marketplace, the risk of future disintermediation seems low because many arts companies are too cash-strapped to afford more expensive services and it is pitched predominantly to the individual worker anyway.

It wasn’t the first local entrant into the marketplace.  Artslink, a web enterprise linked to Performance Media, publisher of the Australian Performing Arts Directory, was up and running at the time with funding from the Australia Council, but the instigators failed to interpret and develop prospects with the same flair – thus disproving the marketing dictum of Al Ries and Jack Trout that ‘it’s better to be first than it is to be better’, while proving their other dictum ‘it’s better to be first in the mind than to be first in the marketplace’.

Other local publishers and specialised sites that complement the Arts Hub alert service include State of the Arts (print, e-zine and site on arts events and people) and Fuel4arts (website and bulletin on arts management and marketing).

From the United States, Douglas McLennan produces ArtsJournal Newsletter, consisting mainly of news feeds from American newspapers. McLennan offers a premium version at US$28 a year and free daily or weekly versions with just the headlines and links to originating sources.  The Center for Arts and Culture, with funding and sponsorship from US philanthropic organisations, recently launched Cultural Commons, a site and service that aims to engage the cultural community in issues affecting cultural policy.  This provides US-oriented free daily news feeds, a weekly digest, announcements about conferences and other events, opinion pieces, a directory of cultural organisations, job announcements and other features.  The Art Museum Network, in partnership with Reuters, has created a fine arts news service to distribute press releases emanating from galleries and museums. The Art Newspaper, produced in the United Kingdom with a number of syndication partners, is devoted to the international visual arts sector and is available for ₤79, with a free weekly promotional newsletter.

Business, research and scholarly needs relating to the arts in Australia are also served by Informit databases like Australian Public Affairs Information Service, Australian Public Affairs Full Text, and Arts and Entertainment Management Database (which ceased production in 2000, but is still available).  Specialised databases on the visual arts include AustArt Index (an index to articles on Australian art, produced by and available from the College of Fine Arts Library, University of NSW), Artex (an index of Australian art exhibition catalogues produced by the National Gallery of Australia Research Library) and Natsivad (a database on indigenous artists, produced by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies).  Artex and Natsivad are available through Art Right Now2 Discovery Media.

The subject gateways MusicAustralia, AusStage, AustLit and Australia Dancing are academic and library efforts to create pathways to information sources, usually without accompanying push/pull features (AustLit offers a newsletter and personal alert service to subscribers). AusStage, a national performing arts gateway, is developing a major database of theatre, dance and opera events in Australia. The Australian Visual Arts and Craft Gateway is developed by National Association for the Visual Arts to provide information on artists and visual arts practice.

International specialist databases, sometimes with local content and sometimes with full text access, include Arts and Humanities Citation Index, International Index to the Performing Arts, Music Index Online, International Index to Music Periodicals, NYPL Dictionary Catalog of the Dance, Film Index International, International Index to Film Periodicals and Art Full Text.

General media monitoring services include AAP, LexisNexis, Factiva, Media Monitors and Rehame.  AAP’s packages include e-mail alerts, digitised clippings, news feeds marked in XML for processing in client content streams, and the ability to tap into the expertise of journalists and subject experts.  Factiva has just launched a new subscription package to individuals and small businesses: for $US69 and other modest usage charges, individual subscribers can now gain access its search and news tracking areas. To control New South Wales Government expenditure on press clipping, media reporting, archiving and search services, the NSW Premier’s Department awarded a sector-wide contract for broadcast monitoring to Rehame in December 2002, but deferred issuing a sector wide contract for print monitoring services because the proposed price structure did not provide sufficient value for money and it “expected imminent entry of new suppliers, expanded services by current suppliers and likely changes arising from continued competition”.(3)

Arts Hub’s aggregated information resides in a database that cannot be picked up by Google and other search engines.  In searching for external information on specific topics, organisations will therefore depend on their ability to locate ‘invisible Web’ sources like Arts Hub, advances in search engine technology, access to complementary databases and developments in media services.

Elizabeth Swan, in an article on Australian newspaper databases in 1997, tabulated the online coverage of 12 Australian newspapers available at the time.  This showed that full text online availability effectively began around 1990.  Software to facilitate access, she concluded, was more suitable for surfing than searching (3).  “There has been a huge change since then,” she says.  “All News Limited publications are now available, even suburban and regional papers – either directly (using a fairly crude Newstext search engine) or via more robust services like Factiva.  Most Fairfax publications are also now available.  In the near future, Australian Consolidated Press data will be available on Factiva.”  Increased availability of online indexes or full text digitised versions of historical files held by newspaper proprietors has not yet materialised – apart from the Port Phillip Herald 1840-1860 on Newstext.  Despite general advances in Internet search engine, comparing Factiva, LexisNexis and Dialog search capabilities with F2 and Newstext is, according to Swan, “still like comparing a real fire engine with a child’s pedal version.”

If anything looms as a long-term threat to services like Arts Hub, it is the development of intelligent agent and personal knowledge management (PKM) tools.  These tools and services have been touched on recently by Glenda Browne, Steve Barth and Andrew Ford (4).  Google has just launched a free news alert service to complement its Web alert service.  Arts Hub is likely to meet this threat for some time to come, I would say, by continuing to provide value added features at a reasonable price.

The information needs of arts and cultural workers are different to those of workers in many other disciplines and industries, differences that are emphasised in particular art forms, types of activity and employment situations. According to several reports and articles that have been produced in recent years, the needs of arts and humanities in the scholarly arena are characterised by the diversity of research materials required (eg, scores, images, objects), the continued importance of physical access to research materials, and the high requirement for mediated information and library services (2).  The arts industry has a thirst for historical information.  It recycles products created centuries ago.  It has a very high proportion of lowly paid or unpaid workers.

For arts organisations and individuals, getting the right combination of information alert services and search capability will depend on the size of the organisation, the size of their coffers, the demands of the art form and level of information literacy.

Related issues

Players.  The transformation of Eedle and Boyd from consultants to information publishers and distributors is indicative of the morphing of the information profession.  Many enter the industry doors via avenues remote from library and information science courses.  Many are phantom information professionals working principally in other roles, driven by interests in writing and information technology.  The library profession, overly obsessed with differences between content and technology, appears to be still wrestling with the implications of this trend.

Standards.  The practice of syndication by commercial players, government agencies and individuals has led to the creation of the XML formats RSS (sometimes called Really Simple Syndication), NewsML, XMLNews, NITF (News Industry Text Format), PRISM (Publishing Requirements for Industry Standard Metadata) and ICE (Information and Content Exchange specification).  These use conventions for distributing chunks of information or articles to several enterprises for simultaneous or later publication and employ tagging components like protocols, envelopes, headers, identifiers, milestones, channels, provenance, rights, alternative presentations, metadata, revision tracking, subject matter and links.  The New Zealand Government recently released an RSS standard for the publication of government news summaries.  James Robertson, author of the KM column, says that interoperability continues to be limited by the lack of standards.  “Progress has been slow in this area, and it is expected that several more years of practical experience will be required before the best solution becomes apparent.”  Paul Festa supports this scenario in his recent article on the turf wars between the major developers (3).

Strategies.  The Arts Hub website is not included as an online publication in the National Library of Australia’s archive of online publications, PANDORA, which is highly selective in its approach and excludes some types of blogs, datasets, individual articles and papers, news sites, online daily newspapers for which print versions exist, organisational records, and portals among other types of sites.  The PANDORA selection policy is currently under review, but the limitations of today’s technology and availability of funding will place constraints on major changes to the scope. 

Managing online and digital information is beyond the means of any one organisation and can only be dealt with on a national scale by thorough planning, notions of significance and value, the use of more sophisticated technology and new forms of collaboration.

Australia is still searching for a comprehensive national blueprint.   

The management and long term preservation of online and electronic information emanating from Australian government bodies is, in theory, controlled by new legislation and guidelines on recordkeeping. These regimes are in their infancy and have been only partially successful.  At least one state government is exploring knowledge management to streamline talking,  information handling and thinking.

The management of digital information emanating from the less regulated private sector is more problematic.  The fate of this content is subject to the vicissitudes of the originating source and is partly dependent on the concerted efforts of Australian archive, museum and library bodies - either to engineer control over relevant material or influence the practice of others.

Most countries are still grappling with the notion of national information plans. Muir and Opennheim provide a useful introduction to the territory in their Report on Developments Worldwide on National Information Policy.  

Australia’s de facto national information plan, Advancing Australia, is driven more by the notion of ICT take-up than efficient and effective management of the nation’s information resources.  It promotes the need for stronger collaboration, but, apart from consideration of the role of national cultural institutions, it contains no coherent consideration of how libraries, archives and museums fit into the information landscape.

The National Library of Australia touches on some issues in its Digitisation policy 2000-2004 and Electronic Information Resources Strategy and Action Plan 2002-2004. The Library of Congress’s Preserving Our Digital Heritage: Plan for the National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program, endorsed by the US congress in February 2003, will be a touchstone for further iterations of the local plans. Although it focuses on long-term preservation rather than broader issues, it is based on intensive consultation, acknowledges a potential black hole in sources emanating from the private sector, identifies the need for more clarity on responsibilities and life cycle management of digital content, promotes stronger engagement of sectors outside libraries, archives and museums, and invests substantial funds to build core capacities and a preservation architecture. (5)

Even though the digital realm, as the US plan notes, is likely to be one of change and uncertainty for the foreseeable future and there is a danger in trying to find a single ‘right answer’, let’s hope reports from the Australian Senate Inquiry into the Role of Libraries in the Online Environment and National Collections Advisory Forum, both anticipated in the near future, will point us in directions that will take advantage of enterprises like Arts Hub Australia. 

Paul Bentley is Director of Paul Bentley & Associates, Director of the Wolanski Foundation, Chair of the Arts Libraries Society / Australia and New Zealand


Arts Hub Australia

Screen Hub

Arts Hub UK

Art Museum Network

The Art Newspaper

Art Right Now 2 Discovery Media

ArtsJournal Newsletter

AustArt Index



Australia Dancing

Cultural Commons


Google News Alerts


Music Australia http;//

State of the Arts

Visual Arts Net


1.    Arts Hub Australia information was drawn from its website, member newsletters, David Eedle’s The Currency of Content (Arts Hub Australia, 20 February 2003) and email interviews with him.

2.   Arts and Humanities users. Reports and articles include Scholarly Work in the Humanities and the Evolving Information Environment by William S. Brockman and others (Council of Library and Information Resources, and End-Users in Academia: Meeting the Information Needs of University Researchers in an Electronic Age, parts 1-2 by Eti Herman (Aslib Proceedings Vol 53, no 9 Oct 2001; 387-401 and Vol 53, no 10, Nov/Dec 2001:431-457). See other citations on the Wolanski Foundation website

3.   Newspapers and Syndication. XML in News Syndication by Edd Dumbill (XML.Com 17 July 2000); A Standard for the Publication of Government News Summaries Version 1.0 Final 7 July 2003 (New Zealand E-Government website; XML and Content Management Systems by James Robertson (KM Column July 2003, Step Two Design; Blogging by Biz Stone (Boston: New Riders, 2003); Battle of the Blog by Paul Festa (CNET News 4 August 2003, http://www.newscom/2102-1032_3-5059006); Australian Newspaper Databases: Are They for Surfers or Searchers? by Elizabeth Swan (Database August/September 1997: 19-26); and NSW Premier’s Department circulars on media monitoring services (

4.   Intelligence, push and pull. Push Technology / Alerting Services by Glenda Browne, (Online Currents May 2003); Personal Tools: a Framework for Personal Knowledge Management Tools by Steve Barth (KM World January 2003); Using Intelligence: Overview of Intelligence Systems that Analyse and Extract Ideas – presentation by Andrew Ford in Turning the Light Bulbs On Seminar (Paul Bentley and Associates, January 2003).

5.   Strategy. National Library of Australia Digitisation policy 2000-2004, Electronic Information Resources Strategy and Action Plan 2002-2004 and e-mail on PANDORA from Paul Koerbin (National Library of Australia 7 August 2003); e-Performance: Electronic Recordkeeping in Australia: A Work in Progress Report Card by Adrian Cunningham (IIM Conference, Brisbane, July, 2002), Report on Developments Worldwide on National Information Policy by Adrienne Muir and Charles Opennheim (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals,; Advancing Australia: The Information Economy Progress Report 2002 (National Office of the Information Economy,; Preserving Our Digital Heritage: Plan for the National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program (Library of Congress, 2002; KM in the NSW Public Sector by Kris Corcoran (presentation NSW KM Forum 7 August 2003).


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