Media and Advertising

Sensationalist headlines at the Wall Street Journal: foreign magazines in China


The Wall Street Journal's headline writer has got a little over excited about the Rolling Stone China affair and some memos that have apparently been circulated by the General Administration of Press and Publications, aka GAPP:

Today's paper contains an article titled Beijing Jilts Foreign Publishers As It Caps Lifestyle Magazines.

The headline is misleading and sensationalistic. Unlike the headline, the article is balanced, but there are several things missing from it. Read on for an excerpt from the article, and some corrections and additions:

China has placed a moratorium on new foreign magazines on topics other than science and technology, dealing a blow to international media companies looking to tap the nation's booming advertising market.

One casualty of the policy, adopted by China's top publishing regulator, is the Chinese edition of the rock and youth-culture magazine Rolling Stone. The magazine had published its first edition last month, but the General Administration of Press and Publication said it will forbid it from publishing again.

China has imposed curbs on investors before and then eased them or overlooked exceptions. But this rule is a big setback for publishers of lifestyle magazines, which had been one area in which foreign media could expand even as Beijing cracked down on television broadcasts...

...Since about a year ago, the internal, unpublished GAPP rules have limited the kinds of publications that can receive central-government approval for licensing a title from a foreign publisher, a person close to the matter said. "All nonscience magazines and newspapers are not allowed for now," said a GAPP official in Beijing.

In September, after the new policy was in place, Advance Publications Inc.'s Vogue magazine launched a Chinese edition in partnership with state-owned publisher China Pictorial. Jonathan Newhouse, chairman of Advance's Condé Nast International, said Vogue received final approval at the end of 2004 and he wasn't aware of a moratorium on new, foreign-owned titles.

Sports Illustrated, published by Time Warner Inc., said in March that it would publish a sports magazine in China beginning this year. It said it has finalized the partnership and was set to start the government-approval process. A spokesman said it was optimistic the new title would be approved.

In 1988, Elle became the first foreign magazine to publish in China. Since then, masses of foreign invested publications have hit the streets, as well as numerous local editions of foreign magazine titles published by local companies that licence the content. Examples of such magazines currently being published are FHM, Vogue, National Geographic Traveller, Cosmopolitan, Newsweek, Ruili (Ray-Li), Car, Fitness, Time Out, Parenting, Marie Claire, Harvard Business Review, Seventeen, Forbes, Fortune etc. etc. etc.

All of these magazines exist in a legal grey area. The contracts that allow these magazines to publish in China would be as useful as toilet paper if someone at GAPP took a dislike to any of them.

Publications and foreign media companies that do not do their homework and rush into publishing get into trouble. This is what happened to Rolling Stone.

Most Western media articles about the Rolling Stone fiasco did not even point out that the editor, Hao Fang, was only hired two months before the launch of the magazine: One Media had previously assembled an entire editorial team, but they all departed a short time before the launch.

One can assume that One Media's China legal negotiating team was as badly organized as their editorial department: they did not make sure they were safe before launching. Furthermore, they chose to use a Shanghai publication licence: the media regulators in Shanghai are notoriously far more conservative than their counterparts in Beijing.

The new "policy" that the Wall Street Journal says has "never been published" is nothing more than a rehash of of the guidlines issued by the State Council in August last year (as reported on Danwei: China 'bans' or clamps down on foreign investment in media and Media regulation in China: Closed open closed open for business).

A final comment about Sports Illustrated, which — swimsuit issue and all — is quite clearly not a science and technology publication:

Time Warner has partnered with the rock solid SEEC Media, the company that publishes Caijing magazine. Set to launch in the fall of this year, Sports Illustrated China is unlikely to run into serious troubles, and will once again prove that the only rule about foreign media in China is that there are no rules, only a million different ways to get screwed.

You can see a press release from Time Warner about Sports Illustrated below the Links and Sources.

Links and Sources

Time Warner Press Release:


World’s Leading Sports Magazine to Publish Biweekly Title Starting This Fall

New York, March 27, 2006 – Sports Illustrated will publish a fortnightly sports magazine in China beginning this fall, it was announced today by SI Managing Editor Terry McDonell and SEEC Media Group Chairman Boming Wang.

SI China, which will be produced and distributed in partnership with SEEC Media Group, will launch with a permanent staff of writers, editors and designers based in Beijing and throughout China. It will also have correspondents in the U.S. and Europe.

The magazine will carry mostly original content produced by the China-based team with some translated stories from the U.S. edition of SI making up the balance of the coverage. Emphasis will be placed on coverage of Chinese and American professional basketball, European and Chinese soccer and other popular sports that will be part of the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing.

“SI will now bring Chinese readers the same insight and access we deliver for our American audience,” said McDonell. “Our partnership with SEEC allows us to develop an even deeper understanding of the emerging sports landscape in China.”

“SEEC is thrilled to partner with Time Inc. in introducing Sports Illustrated to the China market. We believe that now is the perfect time, with the 2008 Beijing Olympics only two-and-a-half years away, to bring in such a prominent sports magazine,” said Wang. “We are confident that sports fans in China will find SI China an exciting and insightful source of sports news and information.”

About SI

SI is a multimedia sports brand that takes the consumer into the heart and soul of sports. The SI franchise is anchored by Sports Illustrated, the most respected voice in sports journalism which reaches a weekly audience of more than 20 million adults, and, the magazine’s 24/7 sports news website that delivers more than 150 original stories to its users each week. Founded in 1954, SI is a division of Time Inc., the world's leading magazine publishing company and a subsidiary of Time Warner.

About SEEC Media Group Limited

SEEC Media is a leading print media advertising company in China. It owns long-term and exclusive advertising right of a number of quality magazines in China, including Caijing Magazine, Securities Market Weekly (The Integrated version and The Market version), New Real Estate, Successful Marketing and PC Magazine China Edition.

There are currently 1 Comments for Sensationalist headlines at the Wall Street Journal: foreign magazines in China.

Comments on Sensationalist headlines at the Wall Street Journal: foreign magazines in China

I think Hao Fang inherited the same editorial team that was there before him. But they were a mishmash team from other loser magazines such as Rock from Shijiazhuang who is two-timing Rolling Stone by working for both Rock and Rolling Stone, clearly a conflict of interest since Rock subscribe and translate Rolling Stone US edition. Now Rock can even get the original file from Rolling Stone US without subscription since they have a mole planted there with direct access to the US content. Anyway, the editorial team is responsible only for the badly translated and original content that is no difference than other amateurish magazine except a better layout using RS US as a model. The editorial team can't be responsible for the kan hou problem, which falls under OMG's China partners. The Chinese partners should have gone through all the procedures before launch of the magazine, which was already pushed back many times since they couldn't get the "kan hou". When Jessica was launched in Shanghai, they have 4 "kan hous" to choose from easily without a glitch. So it is all a matter of, as you have rightly pointed out, the badly organised Chinese negotiation partners who did a lousy job. What's more, I think OMG is a listed company and they must be accountable to the shareholders and the poor Rolling Stone in the US!

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