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Museums join online marketplace
Last Updated: 2018-08-09 10:52 | China Daily
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Nation's prosperous creative and cultural industry thriving

When the British Museum opened its online store on Alibaba's marketplace Tmall on July 1, more than 50 types of products based on the institution's iconic collection sold out within days.

Revenue amounted to more than 1 million yuan ($146,000) and the store attracted about 160,000 fans in just one month.

Sales were beyond the expectations of both the museum and its Chinese licensee partner, Alfilo Brands Co.

"We'd anticipated the museum's online store being a success but never thought it would be so big," said He Yizan, the CEO of Alfilo, which operates the online shop.

The bulk of the products that sold out, such as teacups, bags and fans, were tailored solely for the Chinese market.

They were inspired mainly by the museum's Egyptian collections and the Rosetta Stone, a slab found in 1799 inscribed with three versions of a decree issued in Memphis, Egypt, in 196 BC during the Ptolemaic dynasty (305-30 BC).

The best-selling item was a set of black decorative tape inscribed with words from the Rosetta Stone, the British Museum's signature work, priced at 19 yuan. Consumers posted photos showing creative displays with lipstick, notebooks, perfume bottles and phone covers decorated with the tape to show how much they love it.

The majority of these product users were born in the 1990s and 2000s, a generation known for affinity for interesting and "cute" designs. The annual revenue of the museum's Tmall store is expected to be 20 to 30 million yuan, He said.

Later this year, a pop-up store will open under the name of the British Museum, and will run for four months in Shanghai, where art lovers will be able to experience replicas and products in the museum's worldwide collection via high-technology.

"When people's income reaches a certain level, the art and culture industry will witness a boom," He said, adding that this point has already been reached in China.

Consumers' desire for the British Museum's products is just the tip of the iceberg for China's prosperous museum-related creative and cultural industry.

The past two years have seen the rising popularity of designer products based on cultural references as well as an increasing number of cultural institutions entering this market in China.

In 2016, four ministries, including the then Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Finance, issued a regulation to support museums in developing their collections to sell gifts and souvenirs.

According to the Ministry of Culture, as of last year about 2,500 museums and cultural institutions had begun to design and produce merchandise.

When Qiu Tong introduced her team's designs based on the Summer Palace - the imperial garden in Beijing listed as a UNESCO world heritage site in 1998 - to many brands and e-commerce platforms last year, her targeted consumers were surprised. This was because they still had the impression that the Summer Palace only had an on-site store offering low-priced and poor-quality souvenirs.

Qiu set up China Cultural Tourism and Creativity, a company in Beijing, last year to help museums and cultural institutions design and promote brands and products. Her team of about 50 is dedicated to cooperating with the Summer Palace, a must-see destination for travelers to Beijing.

The palace, overlooked by mountains and boasting lakes and traditional architecture, is regarded as a masterpiece of Chinese garden design. It was built by the Qianlong Emperor during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) to celebrate the 60th birthday of his mother.

"It's common to associate the Summer Palace with the Forbidden City, since both are related to royal families. However, if you look into its history, the Summer Palace is more about females. That's the basis on which we design its products, which are more oriented toward women," Qiu said.

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