Girl dead at 22

Girl, December 2008

Girl (少女) was founded in 1987 as a general-interest magazine aimed at teens, one of the earliest of its type.

Now, after 222 issues and nearly 22 years, its final issue appears on newsstands this month. The editor-in-chief has left Shanghai People's Publishing House, which ran Girl, and the rest of the staff have been transferred to other positions in-house.

A sad day for the magazine's employees and readership, to be sure, but the rest of the industry has already moved on: Girl's demise frees up a precious license that will be reassigned to some lucky publication.

The publication license (刊号) system is a holdover from the days of the planned economy and limits the total number of periodicals published by apportioning licenses on a departmental and regional basis. If you want to start a magazine but there aren't any appropriate licenses available, you're out of luck.

GAPP is well aware of this. Today's China Press and Publishing Journal quotes Zhang Zeqing, deputy director of GAPP's newspapers and journals division, who pinpoints the problem:

Some titles that had to cease publishing nevertheless refused to turn over their publication licenses, while other, more viable magazines that were ready and willing to publish could not proceed for lack of a license. As a result, we have seen multiple titles appear under one license number, and development of the entire industry has been held back.

How badly has it been held back? The article also quotes China Periodicals Association head Shi Feng, who notes that between 1978 and 1985, total annual periodical circulation rose from 762 million to 2.56 billion copies. Yet in the two decades since, total circulation stagnated and only broke 3 billion in 2007. Whether that number is reachable this year is still an open question.

Girl started printing in color in 1998 and launched a mobile-phone edition in 2006. Ultimately, however, a low-end magazine (4 yuan cover price) is limited in what it can do to keep subscribers interested, particularly when production costs jump, as National Business Daily reports:

One Girl editor said that after its launch in 1987, the magazine reached a monthly circulation of 300,000 copies. But the readership was mainly young people, not considered a mainstream consumer group by advertisers, so advertising never contributed much to the magazine's profit, leaving it to rely on circulation. Like the rest of the domestic and international publishing industry, Girl was hit hard by the rising price of paper this year and its circulation plummeted.

This reporter learned that Girl's publisher, Shanghai People's Publishing House, and other Century Publishing Group publishers such as Translation Publishing House and Century Wenjing, all share a single distribution center and national sales network. An industry source revealed that the Century Publishing Group made a profit of nearly 100 million yuan last year. Three years ago, the group put most of its operating assets into the Century Publishing Company, of which it holds a 70% stake. Century Wenjing was established by the group in 2002 as a commercial book publisher.

Century Wenjing publishes the popular Alice (爱丽丝) book series, launched in late 2007 by Guo Jingming's former collaborators. Conventional wisdom says that Alice will take over Girl's license, making it a legitimate periodical rather than a magazine published under a book license.

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Two of my favorite magazines were 童话大王 and 故事会. Yuanjie Zheng's fairy tales were something you (as a 80') should not miss.

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