Magazines

Expat mags: what rough beasts are slouching towards Beijing?

expat_rag_pseud.jpg
Just what we need

In the last month, Beijing's English entertainment magazine world was shaken by two pieces of news. Firstly, Time Out was pulled from the shelves by regulators because the magazine did not have a publication license.

SEEC, the company that owns Caijing recently bought the magazine's operations together with its license agreement with Time Out international, but while the Chinese version (乐) does have a Chinese publication license, the English Time Out had always piggy-backed on the Chinese. GAPP, the regulator that controls magazines in China, finally decided that the piggy back arrangement was not kosher. However, sources at SEEC believe the problem will be sorted out, although probably only after the Olympics.

In the meantime, That's Beijing has also caught a little trouble. China Intercontinental Press (CIP), which controls the That's series of magazines and their publication licenses recently gave the boot to True Run Media who have been producing That's Beijing for several years. They handed the magazine over to China Electric Power Press who forked over 10 million yuan for the privilege (see Chinese press release).

It is unknown whether China Electric Power Press is aware that Mark Kitto, founder of the That's empire, has an unsettled trade mark dispute about the That's brand with CIP. Although CIP removed Kitto from his position as founder and chief of That's, they were not able to alter his ownership of the trademark, which was registered in China.

The old That's Beijing team are now working on a similar city magazine due to be published in July and called The Beijinger.

But the English-reading public of Beijing still does not know what rough beast is slouching towards us from the offices of the new That's Beijing team. A blog post by one of the new editors, subsequently scrubbed from the Internet, said they wanted to make a magazine with New Yorker style writing and W magazine layout. Oh dear.

Amidst the confusion and chaos in Beijing's English language magazine scene comes a new entrant whose debut cover is reproduced above: Expat Mag, which calls itself a "premier luxury lifestyle magazine for expatriates".

Because, you know, expatriates in Beijing and Shanghai are not exposed to enough advertising for luxury clothing brands, pens and watches. There is a clear and urgent demand amongst expatriate readers for breathy, bilingual advertorials about expensive expensive beauty products and accessories, and vacations in luxury spa resorts.

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There are currently 38 Comments for Expat mags: what rough beasts are slouching towards Beijing?.

Comments on Expat mags: what rough beasts are slouching towards Beijing?

Quite laughable as the Chinese newly-moneyed are their target audiences (and don't read English) and the expats, more and more, are the frugal ones in the big lights, big city.

What's the point of these mags anymore anyway? They used to have witty, interesting and insightful content (such as when Kitto had his gig) but now they're just trash, advertising and personals for guys trying to bang a local girl for the night or a local girl trying to hook a hubby.

I mean, for God's sake, how many times can one read about Shangri-La, Yangshuo or the mysteries of traditional Chinese soups without wanting to rip the writer's throat out???

10,000,000 Renminbi ... those poor fools....

It's funny how Danwei criticizes magazines for being artsy and elitist, while Danwei itself is a rather elitist organization itself. It's like the pot that called the kettle black.

krovvy

You are right that Danwei is elitist. But where does the post above criticize anyone for being "artsy and elitist"?

some interesting notes:

"Expat Mag" has no license whatsoever ... it's done by the World Events Agency, connected to the "Expat Shows" that were held this past year.

Time Out's Chinese edition also inexplicably dropped its barcode in its most recent edition ...

Jeremy Goldkorn

Are you serious?

1. "...said they wanted to make a magazine with New Yorker style writing and W magazine layout. Oh dear."

2. "Because, you know, expatriates in Beijing and Shanghai are not exposed to enough advertising for luxury..."

Doesn't use the word "artsy" but says enough.


"A blog post by one of the new editors, subsequently scrubbed from the Internet, said they wanted to make a magazine with New Yorker style writing and W magazine layout. Oh dear."---ELITIST GOLDKORN

Jeremy your sarcasm rules. If that's the true style of that mag then they should call is "ExLax" instead because I will only read it when there is nothing else in the shitter and I might double it up for butt paper when I finished my business.
I'm not completely stupid but I certainly can't understand half the vocabulary in the New Yorker. The writers for that are seasoned professionals NOT dudes avoiding real work in their own country and just trying their hand at writing to supply their Yangjing habit (not that there is anything wrong with that).
F the noveau riche.
Nongmin Jia You!, Rednecks Jia You!.

I've been developing a website introducing the cuisine of Beijing to an expatriate audience for almost a year now (chinabites.com).

In the process I've been following the online offerings of the major foreign print media players in Beijing and writing some analysis on a blog (blog.chinabites.com) that danwei readers who were into this article might find interesting.

I'm also interested to see what degree scrutiny the online arms of these establishments comes under during the Olympics.

I always have to hit myself when I think "Why could thinks in Beijing not stay like it was 2004 forever..."

Krovvy
"It's funny how Danwei criticizes magazines for being artsy and elitist, while Danwei itself is a rather elitist organization itself."

I'm pretty sure that this magazine is being criticized for looking absolutely horrible, not for being elitist.

Am I the only person who would like a magazine with W style writing and New Yorker layout - maybe that's what they meant

Oh, and I'd also really like more magazines about luxury, I'm totally into it

I hope one day to be called elitist

I think there are several reasons to be sceptical and amused by the suggestion that the all-new That’s Beijing will have “New Yorker style writing and W magazine layout.”

For one, The New Yorker is the Holy Grail for feature writers.

If you don’t believe me check out this lengthy and brilliant piece by Evan Osnos (the Chicago Tribune's Beijing bureau chief, I believe)
link

I’m not remotely interested in boxing or even sport in general but I was totally gripped by that excellent profile.

The new That’s Beijing, however, will be bollocks.

Cruel to condemn it before it’s even started but… it will. Contributors will be asked to write positive stories about the Chinese occupation of Tibet (like they were at That’s China) and other such government-commissioned propaganda. There will be headlines such as “Olympic joy”, “A feast of culture”, probably even the old classic “Life’s a beach!”

I’m actually looking forward to seeing how bad it is.

Also, has there ever been a free listings magazine which even remotely resembled The New Yorker? Beijng’s Time Out has been really good recently but it’s still a listing’s mag. I doubt Tom Pattinson shoves a copy of The New Yorker in his weary staff writers’ faces and says “like that please”.

TheBeijinger.

I have a copy of theBeijinger (issue 1 July 2008) in front of me and I can say that it is exactly the same as the old That’s Beijing. By that I mean That’s Beijing of the last six months and by that I mean crap.

Kaiser Kuo half-heartedly filing something he wrote ages ago, photos of boring expats, readers’ awards for the places you already knew about, that weird Travel editorial that is always 100% about air travel (??), a feature about one of China’s most well-known tourist spots. One of the restaurant reviews includes the word “tomatoe”.

Did anyone else hear a massive “clunk” of the dropping quality in That’s for 2008? I had assumed that the editors were winding down. Maybe they gave up trying because they didn’t know if they could carry on with the mag.

Expat Mag

I would be embarrassed to see reading a magazine with the word “expat” in it. I would be embarrassed to hang around with a group of people who referred to themselves as “expats”. It just sounds vaguely derogatory. Like “bubble-dweller”. An expat isn’t content to just “live” somewhere, he has to an “expat” spending a fortune on air-freighted bagels and hanging around in bars where people don't talk foreign.

Time Out

The entirety of Time Out’s first pulled issue is available online. They even have a reader that resembles turning pages to recreate the experience of handling the magazine as closely as possible.

link

Check it out.

Time Out’s been great recently. I’m pretty sick of reading about expat exploits. Like some European guy comes to Beijing to photograph the hutong. Who cares? Time Out recently changed its back page to a Chinese person describing their favourite Beijinger. China is the country I live in, I want to know more about it. They also have become more news-orientated with a reasonable length “city-reporter”. The captions have suffered a bit since Dominic Fitzsimons left but that’s just icing really.

Oh, check out pages 16-17 – The Guardian’s Beijing correspondent Jonathan Watts writes a double page feature about China’s environment. He is also currently working on an entire book about the topic so probably knows what he’s talking about.

Best wishes to everyone at Time Out – don't be a stranger, don't let the bastards get you down!

It would be a very naive assessment of the local magazine market to think that "Expat Mag" is aimed primarily at expats...

Not that Danwei is making that assumption! But it deserves to be mentioned here among the wholesale slagging off (mouthing off about Beijing's English-language magazines?! yawn. how 1998... next we'll be having a go at Dashan...)

It serves Michael Westerner right, he stepped into Mark Kitto's shoes without a blink and KARMA has truly paid him a visit.

Also, his beijinger forum is a total mess and most of the witty or funny posters have departed. He runs it like a Nazi and has even been posting user's IP numbers.

i HATE that'sBeijing.

i for one am looking forward to the new one.

god bless

quote: "they used to have witty, interesting and insightful content (such as when Kitto had his gig)"

Like Kitto reigned over some golden age? Rubbish. That's Beijing - shit from the beginning. Good riddance. Summed up by the fact that for the last 18 months kaiser has been asking people on his blog to give him ideas for his page. even wrote a poem once, instead of an article, and still no-one got his point (I presume) that the magazine had gone to the dogs (they published it for f&cks sake!)

I thinks that's will be better now. as least there will be no pretension of a higher calling, just shit on a stick and proud of it.

hope The Beijinger sinks as well. Can't imagine too many markets in the world tolerating this kind of amateur crap for as long as Beijing has. don't even start me on City Weekend..makes that's look like the New Yorker.

grrrr... Monday mornings.

Whatever happened to those nice young people who used to publish my column in that news-paper of theirs. What was it called again? Beijing Scream, Beijing's Mean?

I can't remember the name anymore.

The air may be fresher out here past the eighth ring road where they moved your old Ayi after tearing down her hutong to make way for a stinking showroom for some German auto-mobile maker, but I still miss the smell of cobble-stone and night soil. I can't ride my bicycle anymore, because its too far, and there are too many auto-mobiles everywhere. And I have a goiter on the side of my neck and the gout besides.

Magazines are for shit nowadays anyway, if you ask me. They are all like the plastic dumplings I encountered in Hong Kong restaurants all those years ago. All shiny and bright, but no smell, no flavor, no substance.

What's the point, I asked myself then, and ask myself now. But I am old, and have the gout besides, and nobody listens to an old 同志 anymore.

Beijing in 2004, Beijing in 2008. What's the difference? Soon I will be dead. I wish I could visit 1969 again, or at least 1999. One last time.


Most media and blogs in or about China are covering this news, particularly about True Run Media, that's Beijing, and The Beijinger. The thing that bothers me is that Michael Wester shouldn't be the ONLY resource for media. I am fairly confident that True Run, much like Richard Gere's duplicitous character in 'The Hoax,' is being duly and disingenuously "transparent," banking on the fact that China Intercontinental Press (the publisher of that's Beijing) will not be on this issue. Therefore, I would say that all media reporting should check their facts on the whole story. In comparing the letters True Run sent out with the fact that they had changed their website to The Beijinger quite a while ago, should be evidence that this was not an abrupt change in management. Let's not forget, True Run took that's Beijing over in 2001, after Kitto was kicked out. (In fact, in 2005, the media only listened to Kitto's side - but if you read his own account, it's clear as to why his brand was taken over.) I have no opinion on any of the management changes, this year or from before; but I do want to point out that the story is not as simple as just what Wester reports.

People still read magazines?

>I am fairly confident that True Run,
> much like Richard Gere's duplicitous
> character in 'The Hoax,' is being
> duly and disingenuously "transparent,"
> banking on the fact that China
> Intercontinental Press (the publisher
> of that's Beijing) will not be on this issue.

I'm fairly well certain they will give you the same accounting of the incident. We have documentation (affixed with seals from CIP) of their dealings with us should anyone wish to have a look.

In my opinion, they've done nothing wrong technically or legally. They've merely ended their relationship with us. The suddenness of it (midnight phone call on May 30th, to tell us we need not produce a July issue that we typically produce May 15-June 15), preceded by faxes and phone calls to all of our clients to tell them True Run is no longer involved with "that's" is what bothers me.

>In comparing the letters True Run sent out
> with the fact that they had changed their
> website to The Beijinger quite a while ago,
> should be evidence that this was not an
> abrupt change in management.

We changed our website URL to thebeijinger.com last fall when we were informed by CIP that part of any deal with working with them on "that's" would be that we must turn over control of our former URL (http://www.thatsbj.com) to them, for folding into a larger entity that they would combine with their other magazine holdings, including English, Korean and Japanese magazines in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. However, the vast majority of our website traffic consists of content that does not appear or in fact have anything directly to do with "that's" -- classifieds, forum posts, and web-only blog posts -- so we decided to peel off the non-that's content onto thebeijinger.com, which they agreed to (in fact, they insisted -- they just wanted the content that had appeared in "that's").

However, before the transfer of the old domain was completed, the group of people who we were negotiating with at CIP were abruptly deposed and replaced by another group of people, and the negotiations began anew.

>Let's not forget, True Run took that's Beijing >over in 2001, after Kitto was kicked out. (In >fact, in 2005, the media only listened to >Kitto's side - but if you read his own >account, it's clear as to why his brand was >taken over.)

Clarification: 2004 is when Mark was forced to leave. True Run was incorporated before Mark left and its staff consists of the people who have been running "that's Beijing" since its debut issue in October 2001 and continued to do it up through the June 2008 issue. Many of our staff have been with us since that debut issue seven years ago.

Thanks for clarifying. It seems as if both sides were not (and will not be) given the whole story; but that's just how it goes in this country . . .

Now that we have Mr. Wester's ear:

1) The big question on everyone's mind now is whether True Run will be shut down like Time Out, or whether you'll find a (gray?) way to keep The Beijinger going. (God save Beijing if all English-language media turns into state-run propaganda -- beware, Danwei.) What about Urbane? Will Urbane continue? What about the Immersion Guides information, which was originally that's information?

2) If I own a restaurant, and I have a great chef, several cooks, well-trained staff, a great location and have maintained my brand for over 10 years, why, why, why would I suddenly decided to fire ("end my relationships with") everyone, get rid of my location, find a new chef and train new staff? It does not make sense.

This is all getting a tad personal.

On the other hand:

This is China. The discussion above is like letting 100 flowers bloom. Might be time for an anti-rightist campaign.

Just kidding. But though my post about the magazine was full of snarky and critical comments, there were no ad hominem attacks.

Which is not the case with some of the comments above.

I welcome all the commenters, most of whom are anonymous, to get involved in the delightful world of media in China.

> 1) The big question on everyone's mind
> now is whether True Run will be shut
> down like Time Out, or whether you'll
> find a (gray?) way to keep The
> Beijinger going.

We'll do our best. It's July 3 and the July issue of The Beijinger is out; can't say that for the July issue of that's Beijing -- no sign of it.

> What about
> Urbane? Will Urbane continue?

Our magazines Urbane, tbjkids and Agenda -- none of which are published with the partner we published "that's" with -- are unaffected by the situation.

> What about the Immersion
> Guides information, which was
> originally that's information?

Immersion Guides goes on as well. Almost all content that appears in our Immersion Guides books is written exclusively for Immersion Guides. Only the first edition (2004) of the Insider's Guide to Beijing (we're now working on our 5th) was sourced primarily from recycled "that's" info -- all the rest have been written originally. Any material sourced from old "that's" content has either been written by our shared staff writers at True Run or purchased via freelance fees.

>2) If I own a restaurant, and I have
> a great chef, several cooks,
> well-trained staff, a great
> location and have maintained
> my brand for over 10 years,
> why, why, why would I suddenly
> decided to fire
> ("end my relationships with")
> everyone, get rid of my location,
> find a new chef and train
> new staff? It does not make sense.

Hmm. I agree it's odd. However, this happens all the time in business, and not just in China. I think the simple fact is money. Two partners get together and share a pot of gold -- once that pot gets bigger and bigger, the partners start asking themselves, "why should I settle for only one share of the pot of gold when I could probably take the whole thing?" CIP wanted a controlling stake in the business, under terms we simply thought were not fair. We could not agree, so hence our relationship ended.

I also think that there is a general disregard for the value of a company's human resources here. There is a belief on the part of some higher-ups that people are replaceable cogs -- get a brand, hire some cheap labor and voila, you're in business.

I happen to think the value of my business is not tied up in just in its brands, but rather in the people who make it. They aren't easily replaced with a few warm bodies -- because our staff are talented, experienced and reliable people whose dedication is not easily replaced overnight.

I'd like to add that the situation we're in in not unique to the media business. I've heard of this happening in all sectors of the economy, bar none.

We've all heard the stories about landlords watching a tenant's business grow, inflating the rent until the tenant is forced to leave, then taking over the business themselves.

"The big question on everyone's mind now is whether True Run..etc"

No it isn't. I think the big question is: who gives a fuck what happens to true run and mundane, sorry urbane?

and jeremy, maybe some (many) of us have worked in the delightful world of media in china, hence the bitterness and general state of cynicism.

mike, yes grumpy!

And Mike: My bigger question to you, Mr "Cynical Media Insider," is who gives a fuck what you think?

Jerry. Obviously you do. and I am not a 'media insider' and would never claim to be so.

oh dear! ... this is all getting really rather nasty. If you hate the English-language magazines so much, don't read them.

Yes, yes Mike - whoever or whatever you profess to be, your ceaseless whining certainly attests to the size of the chip on your shoulder.

that's just it jerry - I don't profess to be anything. you are doing that for me. and not very well either. just expressing my opinion on what I see as a shit magazine - a good business model with awful editorial policy (before and after CIP got involved). An insult to the market, in my opinion

But don't let yourself get so excited by my whining. the chip you see on my shoulder (!) really shouldn't bother you so much. or do you yourself have some personal connection here? some link with that's I wonder???

Getting all conspiracy theory on us there, huh Mike?

I'll let you in on a little secret: If you look carefully, you can see my name and Mike Wester's on the masthead of all the magazines and books we've been producing since day one (and that's coming up on seven years and counting).

And while your disses on our magazines etc. are your perogative, the question that comes to my mind is with so many choices of expat rags in this town, what motivates all that bile in your numerous "I hate that's Beijing" posts? You really seem to take it all very, very personally (makes me want to come up with some conspiracy theories of my own - wink wink). Or is that you just get off on it?

But no matter. We can go tit-for-tat all day - which will get pretty boring for everyone involved.

So I'll tell you what, in order to give you the satisfaction you so obviously crave, I humbly bow down to your stunning intellect and rapier wit ("Mundane" - damn, sure wish I thought of that one!). I pay homage to your biting insights, your stunning eye for editorial quality, and your moral, ethical and professional superiority. I'm sure you're dashingly handsome to boot!

And on behalf of myself and the rest of the foolish mortals that write for us and constitute our editorial staff, I sincerely apologize for the years of rage and anguish our magazines have caused you.

Rest assured: Victory is yours!

Part of the role of media is to be the public whipping boy for the community. Everyone needs someone to feel superior to, and when there's no one else, there's always the media.

When reading mike's comments above about how much he detests "that's Beijing" yet seemingly has an almost encyclopedic knowledge of Kaiser's columns for the past 18 months, I am reminded of one incident from my days as the editor of a small community newspaper. A town resident came to visit me in our news office and said to me:

"You know, you really have no business running this newspaper. You have no history with the town, you know nothing about town politics, and you're only in your 20s for god's sake. This paper sure has gone downhill. By the way, here's a picture of my son, who made the honor roll. Think you can get it in the next edition?"

well said Jerry.I thought it was you. that sarcastic frat boy editorial tone was very familiar.

mike, how odd you collate the fact that I read Kaiser's blog occasionally with the assumption that I have an encyclopedic knowledge of his columns? you guys are quick to create these leaps of logic. y yes i read that's (skimmed it) regular for seven years. and yes (jerry) for a while I had a vested interest. but the same could be said for city weekend and even the great metro (zine), but reading them doesn't make me a closet admirer. I even worked for one of them and thought it was the worst of the bunch (after Metro of course)!

anyway, I will lie down now. jerry has made me feel all humble.

ah yes - how fondly I recall my days rushing Lambda Lambda Lambda ...

Anyway - peace out!

I think it's all kinda sad, from the closures and the shake-ups to the sniping here and elsewhere.

I don't know much about things up in the 'Jing, but I've watched and contributed to a lot of the English rags in Shanghai over the years, and it's a tough, tough business. Good editors are hard to find and keep, good contributors are hard to find and keep. The legal, political, business morass is an ongoing nightmare.

Ultimately, the magazines ebb and flow with the strength of their staff. Editing them is a thankless, exhausting job, and even those whose editorial leanings I disagree with still have my respect for the work they put in. The better magazines do a valuable job of covering urban life, and are read by English-studying Chinese as much or more than by "expats" (and other foreigners). But there is an unfortunate tendancy within the echo chamber to take it too seriously.

I picked up a copy of EXPAT MAG today from a restaurant near the Worker’s Stadium. A small sticker pleaded “DON’T TAKE ME AWAY!” but I’m sorry, the temptation was just too great, especially with that front cover urging “Invigorate your body&Soul with a 4 Hand Massage”.

The letter from the editor put the magazine’s cards on the table: “EXPAT MAG aims to keep the dynamic energy flowing, to enrich inspiration and to show the wonderful sparkles that alight when the East meets the West.”

Good luck to them with future issues. Judging from the content I would say they can only get better!

In case you want to see more of EXPAT MAG, here's some cut'n'paste:

link

As we announced last year, China's very first luxury lifestyle magazine catering to Expatriates would come on the scene this Spring. Today, this miraculous mission has become a reality thanks to our team of talented writers, editors, columnists and reporters. The newly-born Expat Mag is positively an insightful magazine to read and to treasure!

This issue offers a closeup on high standards style of living by compiling interesting news, features, tips, inside information and entertainment from finding the best Chinese food in town to shopping the most 'in' fashion items. We bring inspiration, fun and luxury into lifestyle through a mix of columns including Wine & Dine, Golf, Design Environment and Well-being, as well as smart tips on Trends and Shopping, Style and Beauty.

Different territories of interst will be continuously explored and intruduced in our coming issues. Our issues are unlimited but our motivation remains the same - to offer our expatriate readers a distinctive "mode de vie" while living and working in China. We hope you enjoy the magazine, and join us on this wonderful journey to experience the unique glamour of China.

Mabel Nitkowski
Editor in Chief

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