China might appear as public enemy number one for movie piracy according to Hollywood but that’s only a small bit of the story.
Going into a Starbucks gives you an idea of the huge magazine industry here. Many of them have the kind of design, paper stock and print quality that would put Italian Vogue to shame. If you want to pop along at the weekend to see the latest films with your friends, you won’t be able to get a seat unless you book earlier on it the week. Apparently new IMAX screens are being installed in Shenzhen to keep up with demand.
Whilst Google may be vanquished in the Chinese search market, its ad-funded Google Music service looks like the future of music. None of this glorified radio a la Spotify, this is banner ad supported music downloads in MP3 format without any DRM. I have been topping up my Johnny Cash and Grateful Dead album collection so far.
The whole idea of 360 music deals is old hat as the local stars here make their money from advertising sponsorships including branded concerts, product spokesperson roles and personal appearances. All the stars in the audience at a luxury band catwalk show in Shanghai are likely to been well-paid to turn up.
I was chatting to a lady at a Sunday market here who was an commercial illustrator at a prominent design agency who did custom illustrations on iPhone or iPad covers. She had a number screen-printed there but that was a starting point for most of her orders, in essence her business was about personal service.
We had problems with the internet connection and the freeview-type box and a man came around from the ISP and the TV provider to fix the problem Geek Squad-style but without the steep fee.
We pulled into a Sinopec filling station, the garage forecourt would have looked at home in a UK motorway services. However when you stopped at the pump, a uniformed forecourt attendant pumped the petrol for you. You then went into the shop to pay your bill.
Tabs and booze
Once I stepped inside the filling station I was struck by the merchandising for alcohol behind the counter. You can buy cigarettes and alcohol pretty much anywhere and smokers are exceptionally commonplace. I spent some time in an office of young architects and half of them were smokers.
Cigarettes and alcohol are a key part of the gifting culture here, with some brands of Chinese cigarettes costing $300 per carton. There is are a tabs and booze equivalent of Computer Exchange dotted around the place; where if you receive a gift that you don’t want you can trade it in and get some cash instead.
French soft power
Whilst a grasp of the English language is viewed as important by the Chinese, it is amazing the hold that the French have on the Chinese imagination. Wine appreciation is increasingly becoming a middle-class pass-time and there is a surprising demand for CDs and DVDs of French singer Charles Aznanour.