Why Is China’s Music Market So Small?

On my first trip to China about a dozen years ago, I was assigned a guide named Emily for my time in Beijing. She was most anxious to talk about the music she was listening to on our cheap MP3 player.

“Look at what your government lets us listen to for free,” she said, scrolling through pirated track after pirated track. “It’s very easy to be a music fan in China.”

“You don’t pay for any music?” I asked.

That evoked a strange expression. “Pay for music? Why? In China, music is free!

It’s this kind of thinking that keeps China’s music market smaller than Canada’s. And Norway’s. And Belgium’s. I thought of Emily went I ran across this article at Quartz:

China loves music. Nearly 75% of its 1.3-billion-strong population listens to music regularly; the country’s government even has an official (albeit bizarre) rap song!

Yet the world’s biggest economy (at least by some measures) is tiny in terms of the size of its music market, which is smaller than that of Austria or Switzerland. It’s a mere sliver of the size of the US music industry.

According to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI), the organization that represents the global recording industry, China ranks 19th in music market size.

Rampant piracy is the main reason China is such a bleak place for music companies. Pirated audio content is so available, accessible, and popular that the idea of buying albums or paying for streaming subscriptions can seem absurd—especially to poorer consumers. (The West has a problem with piracy, too, but not to the same extent.)
Given that resistance, and the dueling Chinese services already crowding the market, it’s especially hard for foreign companies to break in. While the IFPI calls China a country of “enormous untapped potential,” it also notes that only 10% of the market goes to non-Chinese-language music right now.

Read the whole thing here.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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