One of the world's leading arbiters of high fashion is preparing to launch a Chinese edition. Zhao Feifei reports on the magazine that "waits until the market and its consumers have reached at a certain level of development" before it moves in.
Under the bright neon lights of major newsstands along the busy thoroughfares of Shanghai, glossy fashion and lifestyle magazines - such as Elle, Cosmopolitan, Rayli - are all vying for space and the attention of passers-by.
Come September, another heavyweight newcomer will join this cover-to-cover competition - the Chinese version of top-notch fashion magazine Vogue, launched by Conde Nast International Ltd and China Pictorial Publishing House.
And for its premiere issue, Vogue plans to print and sell 300,000 copies around the country.
Today, almost every foreign publisher wants a slice of China's expanding consumer market and the advertising revenue that goes with it.
Hachette Filipacchi has a strong presence with Elle, Woman's Day, Car and Driver, and Marie-Claire.
Hearst Magazines International introduced Cosmopolitan, Esquire and Harper's Bazaar, Good Housekeeping, CosmoGirl! and Seventeen to the emerging market. Gruner & Jahr publishes Parents, Fitness, and Car and Motor. McGraw Hill licenses Businessweek. Fortune is published out of Hong Kong and distributed widely. Harvard Business Review was launched three years ago. Forbes is also available.
To be sure, the media regulatory environment in China has changed profoundly in the past few years and foreign magazines have benefited.
China's media market reforms, in line with its World Trade Organization obligations to level the playing field and admit foreign competitors, have made this magazine bonanza possible.
"The Chinese market is different from anything that's been seen in the world, maybe ever," says Jonathan Newhouse, chairman of Conde Nast International Ltd, the publisher of Vogue, GQ, Vanity Fair, House & Garden, Glamour and The New Yorker.
"Indisputably, this is a fast-growing and enormous market. It's hard for someone who is living in China to comprehend the intensity of interest in it. Wherever I go in the world, just having a conversation or at a dinner party, people always ask me, almost the first question, 'When are you publishing in China?' or 'When is the Chinese Vogue coming out?' There is tremendous interest in China."
In addition to Vogue, according to Newhouse, the company is also going to publish additional titles in China in the next few years.
The new generation of female readers, particularly those between 20 to 30 who are interested in high-end name brands and tips on the latest fashions and lifestyles, have led to the rise to Chinese fashion magazines.
"The change of China's fashion magazine industry came together with the development of luxury businesses," says Angelica Cheung, editorial director of Chinese Vogue and the former editorial director of Chinese Elle.
"That's why 10 years ago those magazines are very simple, because the luxury market didn't really exist. Then, you were talking about only Goldlion and Pierre Cardin. Now we are talking about Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Dior and Valentino. Magazine business reflects the evolution of the market. Now the magazines are thicker, because more brands are here, and more advertising pages."
According to Zhang Bohai, director of the Chinese Periodical Association, today there are more than 8,000 magazines being published in China. Half are consumer or social science periodicals and half are scientific and technical journals, and circulation is mainly by subscription through the post office.
But there are only some 40 imported magazine titles so there's still huge potential. The government has also lifted restrictions on distribution for foreign publishers.
Zhang says that the size and influence of the Chinese market are such that current and aspiring players cannot afford to be absent from the market.
"The quality of most Chinese magazines is not satisfactory," he says. "They are under great pressure when more and more international magazines come in the market. So in some way it stimulates domestic magazines to upgrade themselves."
According to the London-based International Federation of the Periodical Press, the total value of imported publications in China was more than US$68.5 million in 2002, with 30,000 publications (including books) introduced into the marketplace. The organization also projected that ad spending in major magazine categories in China this year would grow between 30 and 50 percent year-on-year.
Speaking at a recent Magazine Publishers Association breakfast forum, Jeff Sprafkin, CEO of Media Pacific, suggested Chinese magazine publishing will continue its fast growth along with the rest of the economy.
In a "Business of Luxury" summit organized by the Financial Times and held in Shanghai earlier this year, luxury retailers from all over the world said they expected China to have 250 million potential purchasers of their goods by 2010.
And the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences has released reports that suggest China's middle class accounts for roughly 20 percent of the country's 1.3 billion population.
This means there are between 200 million and 300 million people who have the purchasing power to buy luxury goods ranging from real estate, cars and computers to top-of-the-line mobile phones and high fashion and they need information to guide their purchasing.
Zhang Juan, the editorial director of the Chinese Biba magazine, says that most of the top titles are in fashion, cars, business, and technology and that most of them are published under license from the West, mainly the United States and France.
"Readers are more discriminating and sophisticated nowadays. What they need is the freshest and the latest," she says.
"Western countries have dominated the fashion scene for a long time. That's why the successful magazines in China are imported from these countries. And that's why Chinese magazine editorial directors can be very young, mostly in their 30s while the editorial staff I've met in Europe are very senior, in their 50s or even 60s. All their lives, they have been working in the fashion industry."
Conventional wisdom suggests early arrivals have an advantage. But for Vogue, that was not so.
"Vogue aims at the very top of the market," says Newhouse. "So typically Vogue is not the first magazine to enter any market. It waits until the market and its consumers have reached at a certain level of development."
After more than several years' planning, Chinese Vogue is finally coming out in all its glitz and glamour. Naturally, anticipation runs high.
Says Angelica Cheung: "It is not a new thing to publish a fashion magazine but our approach and positioning are very different. We're the magazine that only talks about fashion. For other fashion magazines, one third of contents are general features talking about how to handle your career and office politics, and how to handle your sex life. Vogue teaches people more about style, art, sophistication and better living.
"Each country's Vogue is different. There's no one formula to say what is the right way to do Vogue. Italian Vogue is totally pictures, French Vogue is chic and moody, British Vogue is very commercial. China's Vogue is for Chinese readers."
Source: China Daily