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Peter Jenner: What is going on in China?

The IMMF’s Peter Jenner tackles one of the world's most promising - and challenging - music markets

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Peter Jenner

In this final pre-MIDEM post, the IMMF’s Peter Jenner raises a topic which will no doubt be at the front of many minds in Cannes: can China come up with a compelling – and profitable – online music business model?

Google is leaving, maybe. Is it because they are not making enough money to justify the bad vibes from having to censor their service in China? Or is it that they went in with Western arrogance and did not do things in the ‘Chinese way’, and were seen as imperialist monopolists? Or did they want to just do everything their way like they do everywhere else, and China wanted them to do it their way like every other business?

Did Google realise that their main music partner might not be quite so reputable as they thought? Did the support of IFPI help or hinder Google, as the Western entertainment companies go on endlessly about Chinese Piracy?

Radio and TV are due to start paying for use of music, though the rates are bound to
be miniscule, but it’s a start. There is a serious attempt to clean up the Internet so that the content available has to have a proper chain of title. Is this step one towards finding some sensible way for the use of copyright material to be properly remunerated? Or is this another step towards greater control? Or is it both?

Meanwhile the Chinese delegation to MIDEM is bigger than ever. Is this because they want to seriously engage with the world music community and its ways of doing business? Or is it just ‘showing the flag’?

I am moderating a panel with the Chinese at MIDEM (Monday 25, 13.30). I have been trying to work out how the Chinese Music business works or might work. I am working with good people there at the moment, but is the government serious about working with the Western Music business? But can they afford not to engage with the worlds creative markets?

After all, the traditional Chinese Government’s control of the media is a reflection of the importance that has always given to the importance of ideas and art as a reflection and supporter of those ideas. If China is to really engage with the West then it needs to get the West to engage with its art, and vice versa.

In the same way that in the 40’s and 50’s the US Authorities turned New York into the cultural hub of the world, so the Chinese will want to turn Beijing and Shanghai into the new cultural hubs of the 21st century.

But for that to happen, both sides will need to adjust to the others’ cultural and social imperatives. One big point is that just like it is hard to get anywhere in the US music market without the support of one of the majors, and singing in English, it is hard to get anywhere in China without the support of  some sort of  state-controlled or -owned company in China.

If China wants to bemore than the workshop of the world it will need to get to grips with Intellectual Property, and just signing international treaties only goes so far. It really has to recognise that it needs to ensure there is an infrastructure that truly supports the creators. It may not be like ours, but it needs to say that if you use intellectual property in a commercial environment it will have to paid for in some way. China may not use the same absurdly complex structures of rights that we have in the West but if they go straight into the digital world, bypassing the analogue one, then maybe they will come up with a system that in turn we can substantially copy.

Then they might find themselves becoming as dominant in the recorded music world as they are in the manufacturing world, but that will only happen if they come to terms with respecting individual creativity and rewarding it appropriately.

They will have to accept that artists are often a pain in the arse, and that the industry that harbours them can also be a pain. But equally they will soon learn that the pain can be rewarding. We may also have to learn to soothe our consciences with that old cure-all in such circumstances: money.

Whatever the situation is, or will be, we cannot ignore what is going on over there, so come to the Chinese panel on Monday. Let’s not be rude, but let’s not be too polite, nor too smug in the light of our own inability to get payment for Internet distribution together. What are the new rules in China and how might we earn some money?

More importantly, might the Chinese show us how to earn a crust in a cultural context where music has always been provided free?

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  1. On January 21, 2010 at 12:21 pm Guillaume said:

    “China may not use the same absurdly complex structures of rights that we have in the West but if they go straight into the digital world…”
    You bet! China is known to be the N°1 country of digital piracy and not only: Brands, products, movies, music… everything that exists in western countries, exists as an illegal copy in China.