Soho Xiaobao, a thought-provoking corporate magazine, ceases publication

Soho Xiaobao, September 2010

Soho Xiaobao (SOHO小报), an in-house magazine published by the Soho China real estate development company, abruptly announced that its current issue would be its last.

Soho China vice president Xu Yang, who also co-edits the magazine, was the first to formally acknowledge the shutdown in a microblog update posted at 18:28 on October 17:

The September issue of Sohu Xiaobao, “Back to Common Sense,” will be a farewell to all our readers. Soho Xiaobao has run for nine years and 119 issues, and more than 300 writers have left behind their thoughts and words. In an age of heated discussion of success, wealth, and fashion, Soho Xiaobao has quietly persisted in following its own path. Thanks to Pan Shiyi and Zhang Xin, two bosses who have given their generous support to the magazine, and thanks to Li Nan for her nine years’ worth of wisdom and effort. Thank you to all of our friend who gave the magazine their love.

Xu Yang told the Dongguan Times that the shutdown “definitely has its reasons, but now is not the time to reveal them.”

The magazine, which was distributed free to Soho clients, members of the media, and a closed list of privileged readers, was not your typical corporate newsletter. Each issue was built around a theme and featured essays and interviews with critics, academics, journalists, and other writers. Although it had a circulation of just 25,000, Soho Xiaobao had an influence on par with other literary monthlies. The Dongguan Times describes its appeal:

Soho Xiaobao brought in articles from a large number of contemporary thinkers, and public figures such as Xiang Xi, the executive general editor of Southern Weekly, Cui Weiping, a cultural scholar and professor at the Beijing Film Academy, and Wang Yan, editor of the Res Publica series and executive editor of Dushu, contributed pieces to the magazine.

With every issue bringing together weighty ideas and arguments, readers could take a break from the bustle of commercial society and listen to some genuine insights.

At the time, Soho Xiaobao had a circulation of 24,000, of which 6,000 went to clients and 3,000 to the media. The rest of the readers “sought us out and pushed up the numbers.”

Pan Shiyi was a little surprised by the magazine’s crazy popularity. “We got calls and letters every day asking us to send it to them, and we’d frequently receive small gifts and regional delicacies in the mail from readers.”

Then Xu Yang approached Pan with the idea of opening up Soho Xiaobao’s circulation. But Pan rejected the suggestion. “I thought we ought to concentrate on building homes.”

Not only did Pan reject expansion for Soho Xiaobao, he also asked them to keep circulation beneath a certain level, to keep things minimal and not go for open circulation, “because magazine property rights are not entirely clear, and there are legal risks.”

The magazine is not Pan Shiyi’s only venture outside of the realm of real estate. Mid-decade, Soho Xiaobao launched an associated blogging platform designed to serve Soho clients. The service propelled Pan Shiyi into the ranks of China’s most popular online personalities and was home to a number of popular online writers, including the popular rumor-blogger Pro State In Flames. Pan subsequently jumped ship for Sina’s wider reach, Pro State switched hosts after fighting unsuccessfully against the service’s keyword filters (his blogging career was later cut short by a knife attack), and the platform itself was ultimately shut down during 2008’s anti-vulgarity campaign.

On October 20, the Beijing Morning Post quoted an anonymous source within Soho China who relayed second-hand information from Xu Yang to the effect that the company no longer wants to be in the magazine business. The paper also dug up an interview that Pan Shiyi gave to The Economic Observer in March in which he revealed that he relies on the Internet for his news and does not read print newspapers. The interview closed with this exchange:

The Economic Observer: So your future is not one of print media?
Pan Shiyi: Probably not. Some newspapers may still exist, and may continually improve, but they will not exist in paper format. That is definitely the way of the future.

Will Soho Xiaobao be reborn as some form of digital publication? Responding to a microblog comment from Annie Baobei, a novelist and essayist who contributed a number of pieces to the magazine, co-editor Li Nan wrote, “I am still seeking a new format and channel to carry on the content.”

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