Cultural Trade

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This article describes one of nine areas listed in Overview of Music Statistics: ABS, outlining the contribution of the Australian Bureau of Statistics to knowledge of the music sector.


Table 1

This section of the 2011 arts and culture review concerns what the ABS calls cultural goods and services. Cultural goods are defined in Table 1. Common to all six groups of cultural goods is a substantial trade deficit — the value of total exports amounted to only 22% of total imports in 2009-10, with photographic and cinematographic media and artistic works showing the highest ratio (62%). It was 31% for audio and visual media, 28% for books, magazines, newspapers and other printed matter, and also 28% for heritage services. The second-lowest ratio of exports to imports (12%) was for radio, television and recording apparatus.

The only purely music-related cultural goods shown in Table 3 are musical instruments, which showed the lowest ratio of exports to imports of only 7%, and also the lowest absolute level of exports in 2009-10 among the six groups ($10.6 million). Table 1 ranks the groups according to the absolute level of exports in that year. Books, magazines, newspapers and other printed matter topped the list in that respect ($250 million), while radio, television and recording apparatus had the highest imports (just over $1 billion). Musical instruments accounted for 6.3% of imports of cultural goods totalling $2.4 billion but only 2% of the $540 million of total cultural goods exports.

The small amount of musical instrument exports ($10.6 million in 2009-10) went mainly to New Zealand ($4.2 million) followed by the United States ($1.6 million), Germany ($0.8 million), and the United Kingdom ($0.5 million). The remaining $3.5 million worth of instruments went to a variety of countries, none of which imported more than $0.3 million from Australia. Imports of musical instruments into Australia were dominated by China ($46.3 million, equal to 30% of the Australian total), USA ($29.2 million, 19%), Japan (28.4 million, 18%), and Indonesia ($19.4 million or 13%). These four countries accounted for fully 80% of the total. Of the remainder, Germany provided $7.3 million worth, Taiwan $3.6 million, and the UK $2.9 million, and a considerable range of other countries smaller amounts.

Chart 1

The other essential element of the musical trade picture is trade in services, identified in the statistics as music royalties. Services are recorded as credits or debits (exports or imports). In 2008-09, credits in music royalties totalled $75 million (UK $4 million, USA $36 million, New Zealand $15 million, other OECD countries $14 million, non-OECD countries $7 million). Except for New Zealand, these credits were dwarfed by imports or debits: UK $63 million, USA $158 million, New Zealand $3 million, other OECD $4 million, non-OECD $7 million. Exports, in other words, amounted to 32% of imports of music royalties, higher than the 7% for the musical instrument trade but still a considerable deficit.

Chart 1 illustrates the trade imbalance for both services (music royalties) and goods. The music royalty statistics have been available since September Quarter 1997 and are shown for the full period available. Basically debits have hovered around $200 million (2010-11 prices) while credits ("exports") averaged $68 million. Statistics for the first three quarters of 2010-11 suggest that credits were a little above the $68 million average for the full year, but debits showed a strong increase suggesting a total of over $250 million for the whole of 2010-11.

The choice was made to use price indices throughout this article to obtain the best possible indication of the trends in real terms, adjusted for inflation and other price fluctuations. These, however, are substantial for international trade, whether goods or services. A caveat is necessary as long as the price indices cannot be made more specific.[1] The import data were adjusted using the import price index for Group 89, "Miscellaneous manufactured articles, not elsewhere stated". However, the international trade price indices are notorious for their instability, and individual import and export price indices for various SITC Divisions show variable trends and fluctuations. Musical instruments are buried too far down in Division 89 for the index for the whole Division to give more than a very approximate picture of trade prices for that group.

This does not obviate the fact that the level of imports and exports for music-related goods (instruments) are very different, and the trends are flat or down. The Australian Music Association [(AMA)] analyses the details on groups of musical instruments further for its members, for whom it produces an edited version of the detailed ABS import statistics. Because local manufacture is low in Australia and tends to concentrate on specialist quality products, the import statistics act as proxies for total Australian supply of musical instruments, especially in the major consumer markets. See further Overview of Music Statistics: Other Sources.


Hans Hoegh-Guldberg. Entered 1 October 2011 as part of general ABS overview. Made into independent article 9 February 2012.


  1. The only index available for music royalty debits and credits is the total index for services, which may be satisfactory to the extent that currency fluctuations (captured by the trade-weighted index) are reasonably common across the board, but leave no room for fluctuations specific to music royalties. For merchandise exports, the Standard International Trade Classification (SITC), while very detailed, doesn't go as far as providing detail for music-related goods, as a basis for a possible trade price index. The SITC has 10 Sections numbered 0 to 9; Section 8 (Miscellaneous manufactured articles) has nine two-digit Divisions, eight of which are reasonably homogenous (and Division 87, scientific apparatus and Division 88, photographic equipment, actually have their own indices in Australia). However, "Musical instruments and parts and accessories thereof; records, tapes and other sound or similar recordings" is a three-digit Group (898), part of Division 89, named "Miscellaneous manufactured articles, not elsewhere stated." There are nine Groups in Division 89, as disparate as 891: Arms and ammunition, 892: Printed matter (which includes books, magazines and newspapers), and 896: Works of art, collectors' pieces and antiques, not to mention the final portmanteau Group 899: Miscellaneous Manufactured Articles, n.e.s.
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