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Chinese Market In The Spotlight At Shanghai Fair

...from 30 countries and 71,591 total visitors, a 4% increase over last year’s show. To set it in a broader context, this year’s event drew almost 70% more traffic than the show five years ago—just one snapshot of a market that keeps outdoing itself in size and global significance. In the words of Saga Musical Instruments founder Richard Keldsen, “They’ve gone from zero to 150 mph in 15 years. Every year there’s something different going on. One of the things this fair does for us is to give us a feeling for what’s really happening in China.”

If there was a phrase you heard up and down the halls at Music China, it was "brand-building." There’s a sense that this market is almost a clean slate for Western brands, and the Expo Centre was filled with manufacturers who want to leave their mark on it. One look at the piano segment, and you can see why. According to the China Musical Instruments Association (CMIA), 360,000 pianos were sold in China last year—about ten times the volume of the U.S. market. Beyond the numbers, China’s love affair with classical music has elevated artists like the concert pianist Lang Lang to rock-star status mostly unimaginable in the West. “The market has been on fire for several years now,” said Tom Lagomarsino, who attended the show as a representative for PianoDisc, Mason & Hamlin, and Wessell, Nickel & Gross piano actions. “It continues to be phenomenal—the sky’s the limit.”

Where opinions differ is on China’s status as a market for guitars and m.i. products. The guitar segment was represented at Music China by name brands including Taylor and Breedlove guitars, Orange amplifiers, and accessories makers including D’Addario, Levy’s, G7th, and Shubb. Several had positive words for the acoustic market in particular, though most ended on a guarded note—in the words of David Via, vice president of sales for D’Addario, “The Chinese market is good, but it’s not going to happen overnight. If there’s anything that the industry has maybe miscalculated, it’s that because there’s a large population with an open appetite, it’s going to just kick off immediately. In reality, it’s a slow burn.”

One reason China looks so promising at one moment and so challenging the next is the yawning gap between the major cities and the remote interior regions, where you could travel easily hundreds of miles without finding a well-stocked music store. At Music China, some suggested the answer lies in mobile commerce. In a joint forum hosted by NAMM and CMIA, panelists noted that there are now a staggering 700 million smart phones in use in China. If some combination of sales, education, and networking platforms could connect more of China to the music world, how many new customers could be uncovered? “Rural people want to learn about what people in Beijing, Shanghai—and the United States—are doing,” said Huang Maoqiang, president of CMIA’s subcommittee for music retailers. “Smart phones can break down all kinds of boundaries.”

A complete report on the 2014 Music China fair will appear in the December issue of Music Trades!

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