Crossing the river by feeling for stones: a new approach to exporting creative content to China?

International trade Great Britain China

We have all heard the statistics about China's stellar growth and the large market for UK creative industries. But the trade numbers paint a different picture, suggesting that the UK is punching below its weight.

This is not altogether surprising. Doing business in emerging markets like China is fraught with risk and uncertainty which can overwhelm even the most canny operations. 

This paper examines what more can be done and highlights the novel role that digital social networks could play in overcoming these obstacles and helping UK creative businesses unlock export opportunities to China.


We have all heard the statistics. About how China is forecast to overtake the US to be the largest economy in the world by 2027.1 How China already has 277 million mobile web users, of which 45 per cent use their handsets to access music and 21 per cent video games.2 How more than 300 million Chinese are studying English.3 How Chinese e–commerce is predicted to triple by 2015, when sales could hit $420 billion – 20 per cent higher than the projection for the US market.4 And how, at 67,300, China sends more students to UK universities than any other country in the world.5 These dizzying numbers should mean there is a particularly large market for the UK’s creative industries, right?

The trade statistics suggest not. According to UNCTAD, in 2010 the UK’s share of creative goods exports to China was just 1.4 per cent, compared with a 4.8 per cent share in world creative goods exports.6 UK exports of creative goods to China totalled $140 million, lower than not only Japan ($900 million), the US ($800 million) and Singapore ($520 million), but also France ($224 million), Germany ($325 million) and Italy ($474 million).7 With the exception of Japan and Germany, the value of UK exports of creative goods grew at a slower rate than in all these countries between 2002 and 2010. These trade statistics are not without their problems – they exclude all creative services, for example – nonetheless they indicate that the UK’s creative industries are punching
below their weight in Chinese markets.



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