The Media’s Creepy Fascination with China’s Fake Apple Store

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At last count, there have been roughly 192.6 million news stories written in English (so far this week) about the fake Apple store in Kunming. Articles have appeared in all of the wire services and major papers, every tech, China and IP blog on the planet, the broadcast news shows, and most likely the Vatican newspaper and President Obama’s daily CIA briefing.

This is shaping up to be the biggest China IP story of the year, and as such it’s pissing me off so much that the little device I use at home to monitor my blood pressure just emailed me and said, “Dude, you need to chill. Seriously.” I didn’t even know the damn thing was networked.

What’s my problem with this story? Well, you can judge for yourself:

It looks almost exactly like a sleek Apple store. Sales assistants in blue T-shirts with the company’s logo chat with customers. Signs advertising the iPad 2 hang on the white walls. Outside, the famous logo sits next to the words “Apple Store’’ – one of the few clues that the whole thing is a fake.

China, long known for producing counterfeit consumer gadgets, software and brand name clothing, has reached a new piracy milestone – fake Apple stores. (AP)

Since this blog covers China, and in particular intellectual property issues in China, you might be wondering why I didn’t write about this story when it “broke.” Simple answer: this ain’t news.

Sorry to be the buzz kill here, but this isn’t the first fake Apple store in China. It might be the best fake Apple store so far, but I know for example that there has been at least one fake Apple store here in Beijing for many years. It never occurred to me that I should call the New York Times and give them a scoop, though.

Here in China, we have fake Apple stores, fake McDonald’s restaurants, fake Starbucks coffee shops (a close friend of mine even defended one of them in a now famous trademark case in Shanghai), and so on. Good lord, this is an old story. The Supreme Court here even released an entire judicial interpretation on this (i.e. trade dress) a few years back in response to this problem.

So no, I didn’t really think twice about discussing this one, and I have been more and more surprised each day this week as my Inbox has gradually filled with these breathless fake Apple store news flashes.

WTF? Several people have suggested to me that the media attention can be attributed to the high quality nature of the fake. In this instance, even the staff working at the store thought they were employed by Apple.

OK, yeah, that is mildly interesting. But I could come up with a lot of examples of other amazingly good fakes in China. Again, that’s not exactly news.

Although it’s not exactly a thrilling observation, I tend to think that this story has legs mostly because it has to do with Apple. I’d love to do a poll of folks in the media to determine how many of them are Mac fetishists, how many own iPhones or iPads, etc. Pure speculation on my part, but I bet the number is high.

The religion of Mac is a powerful one, and anything to do with Apple or its creepy CEO is an automatic hit with the press and the online commentariat. (Factoid: 87% of all blogs, Tweets, and social media links and status updates are related in some way to rumors about Apple product releases.)

Usually, I try to ignore the cult of Mac. I look the other way, and it doesn’t bother me. When product stories worm their way into my Inbox, I delete them with few complaints, knowing that it’s just the price of having Net access, subscribing to RSS feeds, and using social media. Fine.

But when this shit pushes its way onto the China IP stage? Hell no. That’s my turf, nerds. Keep your stinking monkey paws out of my business.

Enjoy your weekend.

25 responses on “The Media’s Creepy Fascination with China’s Fake Apple Store

  1. slim

    I think you’ve been in China so long you’ve lost all perspective of what is newsworthy to the wider world.

    1. Mac is an iconic global brand, whatever you think of its CEO and its fans, so this story would raise eyebrows in Istanbul, Kuala Lumpur, Helsinki….
    2. An ersatz Mac store that has fooled even its employees is a truly staggering example of how brazen and shameless China’s legions of IPR thiefs are. (As a practitioner, you know how serious the problem still is, but there are billions of people out there who are not China-based IPR lawyers.)
    3. Some degree of public service is being done for the consumers of Kunming and greater Yunnan, because this attention will likely force the Chinese media to cover this. Your guess will be better than mine here, but I’d assume this place will be shuttered quickly.
    4. How can this NOT renew the focus on a major China problem for the world and thus raise the profile of your profession?

    If I had qualms about this story, they would focus on how many Beijing or Shanghai-based reporters did the legwork to get out to Kunming to see the store themselves, as opposed to relying on the word of the anonymous blogger.

    1. Stan Post author

      I’ve definitely been here too long. Regardless, there are numerous examples of this kind of thing that go on every day involving famous brands (including Apple!) that are ignored. That’s what is weird about this story. Apple makes it different in and of itself, that and the fact that it is the dead of summer and not much else (aside from the big econ stories) is going on.

      FYI, the Chinese press has already reported on this. This sort of story is not ignored domestically, but usually given plenty of attention.

      1. Jeffrey Rothstein

        Pardon my naivete as I’m pretty new to these parts, but if these stories are 1. hardly unique and 2. reported by Chinese media regularly, then how come we don’t hear more about it here, especially as everything China, especially in light of rampant (accusations of) fraud by US-listed Chinese firms?

        I guess I’d just imagine if whole-store forgery was as widespread as you suggest, the Western (using that term broadly) financial media would pick up on it, or at the very least, it’d be a risk factor in a SEC filing by some company trying to expand into China.

        Appreciate your perspective.

        1. Stan Post author

          Stories about China IP infringement are everywhere in the Western and Chinese press. Granted, I read this stuff every day, but all the major U.S. papers cover this regularly. I wouldn’t say that “whole-store forgery,” as you call it, is rampant, but neither is it a new or uncommon phenomenon.

          Is this a significant risk factor for foreign firms? Absolutely, and certainly any listed company already understands this. Whether or not mention of IP infringement dangers finds its way into disclosure documents depends on the type of company and the likelihood that they are going to run into problems. For some, it’s a very vague, generalized risk that may not deserve mention.

          1. Douglas

            I think it just boils down to the fact that yes, things like this are rampant in China, but you can never really make that many people too interested in what is happening more than 30 blocks from their own self-interests. Stories that get play from specific media sites end up creating a viral effect. I think it has a lot to do with who or what does the reporting. I don’t think it has anything to do with the fact that it’s Apple. I think it’s mostly the larger “journalism” world in a brand competition with a hierarchy of media brands.

  2. Laurentius

    Stan I have to congratulate you on the Apple zombies graphic. They look almost like the real Apple fans sleeping in front of shops for the new Ipad 2,3,4,5,6,7,…. Where do you steal these or do you actually Photoshop this stuff yourself? Maybe it is time to promote the new Apple brand for China which is FAST (Fake Apple STores).

  3. Crispus

    I was in the computer biz before Billy G and the creepy (did you meet him too?) Apple CEO. Living in Kunming not far from one of the Apple Stores, I saw it and just assumed it was just what it turned out to be. I have been in the Sanlitun Apple store and the Kunming shop in no way suggests, to me anyway, it was the real thing.

    Stan is right. WTF, how much would Apple need to pay to get this much media? My old friend Regis McKenna must be getting a chuckle out this.

    I’m gonna walk over in the morning and see if I can get into the place. Oh, I don’t think I have ever bought anything Apple since I authorized the purchase of a Lisa. Biggest and most expensive paperweight in history.

  4. Michael Turton

    This is the first time the “fake store” phenomenon has been reported in the western media that I can recall, so perhaps it is really news. I don’t think westerners really get the scale of fakery out here — it would have been better if the fake Apple store had been used to highlight the ongoing problem of fakery.

    This also shows another aspect of western news on China, where news stories originate from blogs because China is so vast and western reporters can’t even begin to scratch the surface. This phenomenon is well worth comment on in the media, but of course…. heh.

    It is also common in Taiwan where I live, where there is a fake KFC chain called KLG but with virtually the same logo and color scheme, fake 7-11s that mimic the real color scheme like a harmless insect imitating a wasp, a fake Subway, and so on, but it happens less and less and the stores are fairly distinguishable. I’ve never heard of the employees knowing that their store wasn’t a fake.

    Michael

  5. yournametobynow

    I don’t see what the big deal is – this store is selling REAL APPLE MERCHANDISE and are probably authorized resellers. There are shops like this in every single city in China by now. Yes, it looks like an apple store but isn’t, but you know what? They sell real apple computers! So who cares? Really..

    1. John Q

      There are authorized resellers, and unauthorized resellers! You can find photos of the authorized ones on apple.com.cn.

      As a Chinese living in an English speaking country, it’s just really funny when everyone gets so excited about something we’ve known for a long time and isn’t surprising.

  6. AndyR

    Thanks be to Stan for writing this! I opened WSJ China “REAL-TIME” report today to see that about 1/3 of the weekend posts were about this silly store. Which made me question 1. Why do I have this lame site bookmarked again? and 2. When and how did Apple somehow get international rights to free advertising on all media outlets from WSJ to Howard Stern to random blogspot tech blog?

  7. asiequana

    I think this story became a prominent news item simply because it was juxtaposed by the recent Apple earnings announcement which cited China as a meaningful demand driver.

  8. Robyn Beck

    “Roughly 192.6 million news stories written in English (so far this week)”

    Is it really that many or is it a few stories being reprinted over and over?

  9. Hannah

    Thanks for your perspective, it’s really important. I guess I should have let the NY times know about how the Dell adapter I bought turned out to be fake, as it spontaneously blew up and nearly burned down Nanjing. Just another day in China.