- 4 Feb 08, 16:40 GMT
Some terrifying figures landed on my desk this morning and any music industry executives who cast a glance at them may want to lie down and weep as they contemplate their future.
The statistics arrived in a press release from the music industry trade body the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) trumpeting lawsuits against Chinese internet piracy. They outlined just how much consumers in what the press release describes as “potentially the largest online music-buying public in the world” currently spend on music.
$76 million last year – around £40 million at today’s exchange rate. That’s about 3p per head. Or to put it another way, about half the amount EMI agreed to pay Robbie Williams in October 2002 when he signed a new contract.
So don’t the Chinese have any appetite for music? Or maybe they haven’t yet got enough internet connections to make digital downloads take off? Actually, there are as many broadband connections in China as in the US and one suspects the interest in music is just as great.
Unfortunately – from the record labels’ point of view – that interest is being satisfied without the inconvenience of paying for music. According to the IFPI, 99% of all digital music files distributed in China are pirated.
An IFPI spokesman told me the industry had hoped that the arrival of digital music would bring a fresh start after years in which China was a world leader in CD piracy. Naïve? Certainly.
And if the industry hopes its new wave of lawsuits will persuade giant Internet companies like Baidu and Yahoo China to behave themselves, further disappointment may lie ahead.
Of course, the behaviour of China’s new music fans is just an extreme version of what’s happening in the rest of the world. The industry has sued music consumers, threatened ISPs and challenged governments to stamp down on piracy. All without any noticeable effect. Someone may have to think of a new way of paying Robbie.
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