Ni Hao! (Greetings) from mainland, China. I’m in a bustling metropolis called Shenzhen, which was a fishing village and assorted vegetable patches until about 20 years ago. (Shenzhen is just across from Hong Kong.) I’m staying at the Marco Polo Shenzhen. A hotel that defines the term “five star” by any measure. Shenzhen is a completely modern city. As far as I can tell, it has no past, just a bright future. The middle class extends for a hundred miles in every direction and the Nuevo-riche conspicuously consume.
Gas prices here are about mid 2’s per gallon and everyone has at least one car. Busy households have two. In Shenzhen it’s 1963 and the industrial age is just transitioning to the space age. Except in one very specific area: consumer electronics. Everyone here has a cell phone, an mp3 and mp4 player and maybe even a laptop. My experience here so far has been an up close personal view of tech-life without the burden of copyright law.
Above is a picture of the iBox. It’s a $250 toy that is the Swiss Army Knife of personal electronics. It will teach you Chinese (which is more important here than you think), it will also store your songs, movies and games. It’s a calculator, currency translator and dictionary. It also has a WiFi interface and a 3GPP phone interface. To purchase this device, all you need is the money to buy it, which everyone here seems to have. This is only one of literally hundreds of devices like it that are readily available here in China.
All of this begs the question, “What can you sell in China?” It’s a good question. I was at the largest music store in China yesterday afternoon. There were more than 200,000 titles on display. The store featured the largest collection of classical and symphonic music I have ever seen. It had a fair amount of traditional Chinese music and some new, popular music by Chinese artists. To be honest, the store was devoid of customers. I spent time with the store manager and she was more forthcoming than I imagined she could be. “Everyone downloads everything. They don’t have to buy it here.” Looking at over 200,000 sku’s it’s a sobering thought. This is communist China, there’s no P&L manager here. So this store gets a free pass. American counterparts will not fare as well.
In another part of the city, I visited what you and I would think of as a “Blockbuster.” Again, there were few customers, but almost every American title you could think of was on the shelves.
Visiting a Starbucks or a McDonald’s you immediately understand that the Chinese are just learning about our take-out culture. You may think that Chinese restaurants invented take-out in the States, but here in China, where lunch or dinner can easily last for three hours, the idea of fast food is relatively new. People are seated at Starbucks, shown a menu and served at their tables. Obviously, it’s a process.
Although they may be playing catch-up culturally, from a technology perspective, everyone here is 10 years ahead of everyone I know back home. PDA’s and cell phones have capabilities that approach laptop prowess and people just know how to use them. It’s like living in a weird episode of Star Trek. People have two and three devices with them at all times. It’s really hard to get used to.
Tomorrow, I will attend the opening ceremonies of a massive Cultural Fair here in Shenzhen. Everyone from Tea merchants to Cinema and Video content producers are going to be here hawking their wares. I’m looking forward to learning more about this emerging marketplace. There’s opportunity here in Pirate Bay, but as a content producer, it is unclear how one might extract some wealth from the process.