Media and Advertising

Rolling Stone China: a dud that will probably succeed

rolling_stone_china_1s.jpg
Rolling Stone gathers some gloss
Ou Ning is one of the best graphic designers in China, and a veteran of the counter-cultural scene in Beijing and Guangzhou. He has a blog about culture, design, music, media, and art: Ou Ning's blog.

Here is a rough translation of a recent post on his blog about Rolling Stone (滚石) magazine's China edition, launched at the beginning of this month:

I saw the cover of [Rolling Stone China's] first issue on SXX's blog, but I still haven't seen the magazine itself.

This magazine is the first battle cry of One Media (which also owns Ming Pao newspaper). Their previous attempt to enter the Chinese market with the general interest magazine Ming Kan met with great difficulties. So instead, this music magazine has become their first venture.

Entertainment magazines are still much easier to produce in China.

Ming Pao has been amassing its troupes in Beijing for more than a year, because as Ming Kan makes clear, they want to snatch the market from Modern Weekly (周末画报)...

...So does old Rolling Stone magazine still have any appeal for Chinese youth?

At least for old youth like me, I stopped reading [the American edition of] the magazine a long time ago. For this new Chinese version to survive will require a lot of effort -- at the very minimum, it will have to be localized and made more appealling to young people.

From the comments section on Ou Ning's post:

I think that old Rolling Stone was most appealing. From the mid 90s to the present, I lost interest. Maybe because the magazine has just been going too long, it has lost its drive and is no longer cutting edge. Furthermore, this Chinese edition seems to be rather a compromise.

Massage Milk also wrote a long post about Rolling Stone, translated on Danwei by Brendan O'Kane: How far can Rolling Stone roll? Massage Milk points out a number of problems with the magazine: not enough real rockers in China, the fact that print media is struggling, especially when it comes to younger readers, and other concerns.

A short exceprt:

America as a country enjoys reading periodicals; that's why Rolling Stone has sales in the millions there. What's the Chinese edition, facing the continuous development of online media, a scarcity of musical resources, a small rock scene, and a public not in the habit of reading, going to do?

On the other hand, the South China Morning Post published a story about Rolling Stone's launch, quoting Robert Yung, the chief strategy officer of One Media:

"The magazine, with the branding of Rolling Stone and high-quality journalism and photography, has no competitor in its class in the mainland magazine market"...

Mr Yung says the magazine will be positioned as the leading pop-culture, entertainment and music magazine in China targeting "trend-setting" readers aged below 40...

...He adds the title has been well received by advertisers in the luxury goods, fashion and vehicle sectors.

"Our target is to attract fast-moving consumer goods, such as soft drinks, to advertise with us," Mr Yung says.

So is Rolling Stone China going to succeed or fail?

Despite the fact that Rolling Stone China is trying to use a counter-cultural icon to sell luxury brands and soft drinks, despite the fact that there are probably fewer real rockers in China than you can find in one day on New York's subway, and despite the fact that all the criticisms voiced above by Chinese bloggers are true, Rolling Stone China might still make some money.

Why?

Because the magazine business in China is very strange:

- As a business, glossy magazines are not dependent on circulation figures. China's population is huge, but a glossy magazine with a circulation of 100,000 is considered very strong in China. That number is laughable in the U.S.A.

- Glossy magazines in China make their money from advertising, not from circulation.

- The people who make media buying decisions in China for many Western brands are often Taiwanese and Westerners who work for media buying companies. Because it is almost impossible to get real circulation figures for Chinese print media, media buyers will often make their decisions based on what media brands they know.

The Taiwanese and Westerners who do a lot of the media buying for multinational companies in China know Rolling Stone magazine, and will consider it a safe choice for their media budgets.

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