For as long as I can remember there have been cheap DVDs for sale in Shanghai, in fact all over China. It is a big business and provides income for many hundreds of thousands if not millions of Chinese people.
Cheap DVDs for sale everywhere
I started coming to Shanghai on trips in 2002 and really had little idea of what to expect. It is true that Shanghai is a fast moving and developing city, nothing stays the same for long.
My visit was only for a week but I was amazed by the prevalence of stores with cheap dvds for sale. It felt as though every third or fourth street had a Movie Store.
When a colleague took me out one evening to an expats pub I soon noticed a Chinese guy inside who was carrying a big sack on his back. He wasn’t smuggling as such, his bag had cheap DVDs for sale.
Price and quality of the cheap DVDs for sale
Prices ranged at that time from around 6 RMB to about 20 RMB per film. (The exchange rate then was about 15RMB / £, it is now just less than 10 RMB / £). The higher the price you paid then the more likely the film will be a better quality, it might be in a box rather than a paper sleeve or it might be a recent release.
Of course there is a reason as to why there are so many cheap DVDs for sale in China, they are all pirated DVDs. When you watch them you might start seeing airline code logos appear on screen during the film or it could be a really low quality bootleg edition shot in a cinema.
However the quality now tends to be fairly high. Let’s face it it is not too difficult or expensive to make cheap DVDs for sale. Once you get a hold of the film file it is easy with modern recording equipment to run off lots of copies in seconds at minimal cost.
For many years when friends found out if I was going to China they would often enquire about if there were any cheap DVDs for sale. I’d have long shopping lists of films to get which meant luggage planning was required.
I warned them of risks on quality. Yet when cheap DVDs for sale are basically around £1 each or less there is little to lose if you get a dud copy.
I do think that this phenomena is about to change, well it is changing already.
This is my first time in Shanghai for maybe 3-4 years. I’m noticing a little less by way of shops and stalls with cheap DVDs for sale. A number of shops remain in Western targeted areas such as Hongmei Lu but they are less busy.
I even read an article in “Shanghai Daily” about this. With the rise in internet usage there are more and more Chinese people streaming movies. There is also the fact that as part of their culture the Chinese don’t want to pay for films, they want free movies. The Shanghai Daily was quoting between 1-5 out of every 100 Chinese think they should pay or are willing to pay for a film. That is a very low buy in rate. Little wonder that before the internet really took off here it was so easy to find cheap DVDs for sale.
Whilst film streaming sites such as Netflex and LoveFilm are big in the west they don’t really cut it in China. There are local versions with free streaming of Asian and Western films.
Hollywood and the US have always been vocally objecting to the copyright breach industry that blossoms in China. It is so prevalent though and the Chinese Government seem little inclined to stop it. (Apart from one trip I made during the Shanghai Film Festival week when all cheap DVD shops were forcibly closed.)
In recent times the US movie studios have come to some arrangements with the movie streaming sites in China. Royalties are now made in a way through advertising revenue on the sites. The Chinese population still want free films on demand but the studios need some pay back.
I can understand this mentality. With intellectual property theft rife in China companies have to defend their hard earned gains. I also invested into the making of one film about 5 years ago. The film made it’s cinematic release, has been on satellite TV and also released on DVD. You can find out more about the film here. It takes a long time to see any return on films and I’m still waiting for my first cheque.
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For now I think there remains a vibrant market of cheap DVDs for sale in China. However with on demand video streaming via the internet they maybe a lot less prevalent in 3-5 years time.