Upbeat about Le Download

Tennis fans with flag The French are enthusiasts for expressions of their own culture

The prospect of a trade deal between the European Union and the USA is a big prize, but we've learned the stumbling block is the French desire to protect its film industry.

In Paris, they take this very seriously. And poetically. Thus spake Jacques Toubon, the French minister of culture in 1993, during the Uruguay Round of trade negotiations, back in 1993:

"We must not let our souls be asphyxiated, our eyes blinded, our businesses enslaved. We want to breathe freely - breathe the air that is ours, the air that has nourished the culture of the world, and that, tomorrow, is in danger of being lost to humanity… Let us mobilise for this battle of survival."

The battle goes on, and it's now more serious than ever for those who fear the trans-Atlantic onslaught of Hollywood box office sensations. The films are already in French cinemas, of course.

American imports account for nearly two-thirds of movie revenue in the European Union.

Beyond that, the bigger fear is that Americans could insist on cuts in state subsidies to cultural industries and laws requiring minimum quotas of local content.

But how much do the French have to worry about? By coincidence heureux, the Economic Journal has today published an article on precisely this subject. That's why I was able to quote Monsieur Toubon.

And it shows that globalisation of markets in culture is not what you might expect. It looks almost reassuring for the next generation of Jean-Luc Goddards.

Mamma Mia

The research, carried out at the University of Pennsylvania is into the music industry. While half the size, it has some characteristics that are different from film. Film has much bigger production costs, and depends on constrained distribution channels to market. But these two parts of the culture sector also have quite a few similarities.

Looking at 22 countries and more than a million music chart entries between 2001 and 2007, it suggests that the USA does not have a disproportionately large share of the market.

Johnny Hallyday Performers like Johnny Hallyday have been big fish in a French-speaking pond

It's Sweden that tops the table. It's not entirely down to the resurgence of Abba songs with the success of the Mamma Mia musical. Ace of Base represented 76% of the country's international music sales in 2004. (I wasn't paying enough attention that year, as they seemed to pass me by.)

Also punching above America's weight, you'll find Canada, Finland, the UK and New Zealand, at least when measured relative to the size of their economies. Britain has out-sung and out-sold the US every year since the early 1950s.

But it's been declining. Its high point, measured by the economic impact of its music industry proportionate to the size of its economy, was in the mid-80s.

American artists have huge reach, of course. They're better placed to play in many markets at once. Between 2001 and 2007, this research finds that 31 artists appeared simultaneously in at least 18 countries' charts in at least one year. Of them, 23 were American.

The other eight (and this come in useful for a pub quiz): Nelly Furtado (Canada), Kylie Minogue (Australia), Las Ketchup (Spain), Shaggy (Jamaica), Shakira (Colombia), TATU (Russia), Dido and Robbie Williams (both UK).

Johnny Hallyday

You would think that the ability to launch digital recordings simultaneously into any number of markets, backed up by global marketing methods, ought to give advantage to the mega-artistes. But it hasn't worked that way.

The web can also take recording artists from small countries and project them into a global market, or at least to markets where there's some cultural affinity.

So what researchers Fernando Ferreira and Joel Waldfogel conclude is that there's a rough correlation between country size and market size, suggesting consumers "clearly prefer domestic repertoires".

Imported music tends to favour music from countries that are geographically closer or which share a language (the Swedes subvert this by cunningly singing in English, of course).

Despite the growth of music technology over the past 50 years, "the effects of distance and language have remained fairly constant".

And, perhaps most surprising, the bias towards home-grown music has increased since the late 1990s, despite the arrival of the internet and fracturing of music channels into local markets, led by MTV.

There's a catch, of course. The very success of performers from smaller countries - notably including Canada - may be down to the quotas imposed on radio stations to include a minimum amount of domestic content. So while this research could be reassuring, it could also be a signal that the French would do well to keep their trade barriers in place.

You might also think it would help if they improved the quality of their music, though I lack the expertise to comment.

Douglas Fraser, Business and economy editor, Scotland Article written by Douglas Fraser Douglas Fraser Business and economy editor, Scotland

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