“We didn’t pay for music, but we watched ads. I think it’s quite fair.”
“I am appalled by those comments questioning why we should pay for the music we listen to. I know most Chinese have a low level of intellectual property consciousness, but it’s still sad to see that many people have zero respect for musicians and their works. They are not obliged to provide free music for you. Today, you enjoy pirated music and generations after us will have no good Chinese songs to listen to as a result.”
Music tastes of Chinese individuals are very alike — primarily cheesy and insubstantial love songs with hook-laden melodies. Yet as the two comments above indicate, opinions are significantly divided (in Chinese) as to whether music listeners should pay for the products they consume, a poignant question raised by a recent report (in Chinese) from the Communication University of China in Beijing, which reveals the alarming status of China’s digital music industry.
The report discloses that although the size of China’s CD market is roughly 1/26th of America’s, the list of countries with the biggest digital music market is topped by China, whose annual gross value of output reached more than 14 billion yuan ($2.1 billion) last year. Compared with the global music industry, where the number of listeners who buy physical CDs still stands at 34 percent, China’s music industry is overwhelmingly dominated by digital music, which accounts for a staggering 96 percent.
However, the general inclination toward digital music consumption doesn’t necessarily mean that Chinese listeners actually spend money on music products. One striking phenomenon mentioned in the report is that China’s per capita spending on music was only $0.15 (0.98 yuan) in 2016, which accounts for an astonishing 0.7 percent of its neighbor Japan’s. In addition, more than 52 percent of the survey’s respondents rejected the idea of paying for what they listened to on music apps.
Due to the users’ unwillingness to pay, most music streaming apps in China rely heavily on advertisements for revenue. Meanwhile, the fierce competition among different streaming platforms and the lack of enforcement of copyright legislation caused the unchecked spread of pirated music products online, which had a remarkable negative impact on the income of Chinese musicians.
But good signs for a healthy digital music market in China are emerging this year. This month, Tencent and Alibaba, China’s two largest tech giants, struck a music licensing deal that would enlarge the catalogs of both streaming services. Sixth Tone reports that earlier this week, a group of internet companies and record labels were gathered by the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film, and Television (SAPPRFT), which ordered them to “stop signing exclusive content deals, driving up prices for song rights, and using artists’ work without authorization.”
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