Staff Reports
Going Global: Markups and Product Quality in the Chinese Art Market
May 2013 Number 614
Revised September 2013
JEL classification: F14, G15

Authors: Jennie Bai, Jia Guo, and Benjamin Mandel

We analyze two reasons for export prices to be different across markets — namely, quality differentiation and variable markups — and attempt to parse their relative importance and some of their underlying drivers. To overcome the substantial measurement issues in this task, we consider a particular industry as a special case: Chinese fine art. The simplicity of the supply-side of art vis-à-vis marginal cost and the wealth of data on its quality characteristics make it possible to separately identify the markup and quality components of international relative prices for Chinese artwork. Through this lens, we trace the process of growth and internationalization of Chinese art since the year 2000 and uncover a rich set of facts. We find strong support for quality sorting into international markets at both the level of artist and artwork, as well as substantial markup differences across destinations. Using a structural model of endogenous quality choice by Feenstra and Romalis (2012), we argue that much of the international quality premium is driven by specific distribution costs (whether physical or informational), rather than destination-specific preferences for quality.

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