China’s Overlooked National Reading Survey Report

One of the useful, but neglected, empirical sources on copyright issues in China is China’s National Reading Survey Report.  The most recent volume that I have is from 2009.  It was published April 2011.

The report is prepared by The China Press and Publishing Research Center.    The 2009 report is based on surveys conducted from November 2008 to February 2009.  The 2009 report was the sixth such survey, and was expanded to include age groups below 18, while continuing to include ages up to 70.   Sampling was conducted in 56 cities, covering 29 provinces, with a sample of 25,500 people, including 24% minors below the age of 18, and 25% individuals in agricultural areas.  The report is published in Chinese.

Among other items, the survey samples the purchasing of pirated goods, of what type, and the reasons why pirated goods are purchased.  The survey can also aid in determining how different media are perceived by different segments of the population, or by different regions.

Some of the data implicitly links back to market access concerns.  For example, when  adult consumers were polled why they purchased pirated goods, among the reasons indicated were convenience (26%), while others noted there was a greater variety (7.9%), or that there was no legitimate product to buy (5.3%) (p.  140). The data also demonstrates that piracy is primarily not a problem of poverty or the rural areas.  For example, there was an increased inclination to purchase pirated goods as education increases, increasing from about 10% in primary school, to over 50% for those who have Masters Degrees or higher.  Professionals and management personnel are also more inclined to purchase pirated goods, exhibiting nearly twice the tendency to purchase pirated goods of farmers (approximately 60% to 30%).   However, there is also a decreasing tendency to buy pirated goods as age decreases, most likely I suspect due to the decreasing impact of technology, especially the Internet.  I suspect that the United States would show a similar curve, although with different percentage points.

The data demonstrate that young educated people tend to buy pirated cultural products.  The data in China also suggests to me that piracy is increasingly a problem of wealth, education and technology and not  China’s economic development.

Some of the data could be helpful in guiding both business strategies and public policy engagement on copyright.  For example, the survey asks which books and magazines the Chinese population likes to read, and what type of media they use.  It also seeks to track knowledge of substantive copyright law and enforcement mechanisms.   The 2008 survey showed that 71.5% of the adult sample had some understanding of the concept of copyright.    This type of data makes for interesting comparisons with enforcement developments in China.  Considering China’s numerous campaigns and public awareness efforts, that over 95% of the litigation is not “foreign related”  and China’s emergence as the country with the largest civil copyright docket in the world – the high level of copyright awareness is not suprising.   When this data is combined with the data on who buys piratical content, it suggests that there may be a need for a stronger focus on engaging China’s middle class, including the educated and young on a more informed basis.

This 346 page volume data includes many surprises in terms  in the data generated  and the types of questions that were asked.  The survey is also a reminder that some of the most interesting studies on China’s piracy situation are done by China for China itself.  Here’s a link to a blog which discusses a recent presentation I did where I discussed the data in the survey.

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