Close-up: Global Brief - European publishers find the going tough in China/State controls mean titles must conform to get on the shelves

With a population of 1.3 billion, an advertising market that is relatively untapped, and boasting a recent influx of blue-chip companies, China should represent a kind of Nirvana for magazine publishers. Particularly as publications linked to an existing Western title can attract almost double the ad revenue of local magazines because of the demand for ad space from foreign corporations in China.

With a population of 1.3 billion, an advertising market that is

relatively untapped, and boasting a recent influx of blue-chip

companies, China should represent a kind of Nirvana for magazine

publishers. Particularly as publications linked to an existing Western

title can attract almost double the ad revenue of local magazines

because of the demand for ad space from foreign corporations in

China.



In 1998, magazine advertising expenditure in China grew by 35.3 per cent

- more rapidly than that of any other medium. But those Western magazine

publishers that have ventured into China have recently become victims of

their own success. In an effort to organise the rapidly growing magazine

market, the Chinese authorities have introduced draconian regulations

that restrict the promotion of brands and cast doubt on the legality of

some magazine ventures. These measures have led to some popular

magazines appearing on the newsstands with a blank space on the cover

where their name should be.



The medium is controlled by the state and is dominated by state-run

magazines, bearing such snappy titles as Farmer’s Digest and Bosom

Friend. The state has awarded only one licence to publish foreign

magazines in China and this is held by the International Data Group, a

US-managed company that publishes 19 business titles in China, including

China Computer World, China Internet Times and Electronic Products

China. All foreign titles must be published under its auspices until

2003, when the exclusive licence expires.



But Western titles have, nonetheless, managed to push their way into the

market. Hearst publishes Cosmopolitan and Esquire in alliance with the

International Data Group under a Chinese name that translates as

’Trends’. To get around the restrictions, some foreign publishers formed

alliances with government agencies, which had licences but no money to

set up magazines.



The situation has given rise to some bizarre partnerings: Socpresse, the

company that publishes the French magazine, Figaro, linked up with the

Communist Youth League to produce a more youth-oriented version of the

magazine for the Chinese market. And another French company, Lagardere,

publishes Woman’s Day in conjunction with the Chinese organisation,

China New Sport Magazine.



But under new rules introduced on 1 January, the foreign name on a

magazine cover must match the name of the organisation that holds the

licence. It must also be ’significantly smaller’ than the name of the

Chinese organisation - hence the virtual diappearance of the brand

name.



The rules are not intended to target foreign publishers, but big-name

brands such as Cosmopolitan and Elle will, inevitably, be the ones to

suffer if their titles cannot be emblazoned across the top of the

magazine.



The decision to crack down on publishers is understood to reflect the

Chinese government’s concern at the number of glossy, fashion-oriented

magazines hitting the newsstands. While Cosmopolitan in China contains

nothing more racy than recipes and fashion tips, officials are still

thought to be concerned about the tone of many Western magazines.



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