Media business

A look at the status of magazine publishing in China

Last May China hosted the 36th FIPP World Magazine Conference in Beijing. FIPP stands for International Federation of the Periodical Press, an organization that inlcudes 255 members in 57 countries worldwide, and that represents 110,000 magazine titles with an estimated annual advertising expenditure of US$70 billion. Recently,, the website of the Magazine Publishers of America has posted an exhaustive report on the Conference (see below for a link to the report). It is an entertaining read for those interested in the magazine publishing business in China.
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There are currently 1 Comments for A look at the status of magazine publishing in China.

Comments on A look at the status of magazine publishing in China

Thanks a lot to Mauro Marescialli for the link to the MPA website (one of the most important FIPP member), pointing to the interesting report about the FIPP 2007 meeting in Beijing by Charles McCullagh...

"Chuck" McCullagh follows up international activities at the MPA; he regularly reports, rather freely (less prone that FIPP to the conventional newspeak), as a good journalist (his background), about the PRC market and regularly comes to Beijing to discuss the subject on the ground... see his regular articles at link
Apparently, as any good journalist interested in media in the PRC, Chuck McCullagh is also, as one may see in his article, an occasional reader of In particular, amongst many other posts, he spotted Moser's very interesting essay about the evolution of media in the PRC, see link
There is so much interesting material about magazine publishing in the PRC in that I encourage him, and his readers, to read even more frequently...
see link

I couldn't attend to the 2007 FIPP worldwide big gathering (only every 2 years, this year in Beijing), and so couldn't check by myself what was exactly said in this meeting, in particular by PRC authorities and by local publishers, about magazine publishing in the PRC; nevertheless, Chuck's good paper covers apparently most key topics and publishers concerning magazines in the PRC, and covers them rather accurately...

For example, just one example of good journalism, is when Chuck McCullagh mentions the debate, which is now apparently public, at least in English (this some kind of progress too) about the lack of circulation audits in the PRC, in particular in quoting the remark of the well-known Mrs. Hong Huang 洪晃 -I guess that that's her, Chuck got probably the pinyin spelling wrong, see link
- when she says, about claimed circulation figures, in the absence of audits, "exaggeration to the point that would be criminal in any other country"
... Indeed, with multiplying factors of 5 or 10 for ALL well-known fashion magazines, as well as almost ALL other magazines drawing mostly their income from advertisers in the PRC... (besides Chuck's expresses well the lasting and surprising submissive attitude of the world advertising industry concerning magazines in the PRC, in the name of 'branding' or 'brand awareness' -not so surprising, when one understand the rather frequent and win-win process of sharing personal kickbacks, between little sellers and buyers in this industry, in this country-)
but criminal ? Illegal ? Yes, yes, indeed, Mrs. Hong is right and is not joking, it may even be illegal sometimes, and it was precisely in China; it was in Hong Kong in fact; for the young or ignorant ones, it was a famous story in Hong Kong in 1998, when the very feared and very British (quote, Asiaweek)"local Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) announced that six executives from Sing Tao Holdings Ltd. (which owns the Standard) were arrested for allegedly conspiring to cook circulation figures."(unquote)
For the record, this story even became a famous political story worldwide, because it was the first famous case shown worldwide, by 'China enemies' as a "loss of the rule of law" just after the HK handover, when the ICAC and Justice Secretary Elsie Leung decline to bring charges against Sally Aw the owner, heir of Singapore 'Tiger balm' man... so the world said that it was the proof that the good old rule of guanxi 关系 in use in Beijing for the wealthy had replaced the rule of law... all kids should read this whole edifying and extraordinary story for example on Asiaweek... Then Beijing started soon afterwards making some phone calls to (very) rich Chinese friends overseas asking them to take over influential HK newspapers such as the SCMP and the Sing Tao, but that's another story,... (just another twist to the story, no HK billionaire wanted to touch the bankrupt Sing Tao group -including the Standard -later iMail-, etc., which had become a hot political potato, so it ended up in a first phase in the hands of ...famous 'little' international investment bank Lazard -weird! thanks to a McKinsey consultant...-; and the bank sold it later on to famous tobacco red-baron Charles Ho). (didn't anyone write yet a novel about this amazing saga ? Nigel Oakins, former GM of the Standard, at nowadays, should try ?)

By the way, did Mrs. Hong mention why she cancelled her contract with the auditing US giant, BPA (Beijing office) for her group of magazines (Timeout, iLook, etc.) just after one year of audits ? These circulation figures show an amazing, surprising and very interesting growth concerning free subscriptions, like from 5,000 to 50,000, within one year, following the adoption of a very interesting new business model, based precisely on free subscriptions (i.e. controlled circulation, but hard to audit seriously -indeed there are always millions of rich Chinese ready to receive magazines for free, but building a true, verified and up-to-date database of true readers, with the right profiles, and really shipping these copies, is another story); these figures can still be seen freely on link

In any case, my global feeling in reading Chuck McCullagh's long and detailed report is that things may still be extremely confusing concerning magazine publishing in the PRC for foreigners, and that the authorities probably will keep encouraging this confusion and legal fuzziness and vague promises, at least until the Olympics -a big gathering of foreign journalists, which will still all probably and unhappily remain very confused about the press publishing industry in the PRC-...

Besides, one could probably write a novel (another novel or even several, again, yes) with all the varied adventures of foreign publishers in the PRC since 1978 -year of the first visit of legendary Pat McGovern, master of IDG, even before he hired his little China media Machiavelli, Hugo Shong-...
(could be published for example by Zenith, and sold with its statistics, on its excellent website)...

For example there is still confusion when Chuck writes that "Reader's Digest just received permission to publish in China. Other announcements are expected shortly". It would be good to remind his readers that the rules never changed, and won't probably change, at least until Ma Ying-Jeou replaces Wen jiaba at the head of the confederation (or their grand children, respectively)... Chuck should write instead that (every journalist worldwide should write something inspired by the following sentence, every time)
"(most certainly) Reader's Digest 'rented' an ISSN number and signed a cooperation agreement with the true publisher, state-owned publisher, and owner of this ISSN number; this number is officially attached to the title named originally xxx in Chinese; Reader's Digest possibly managed to have the GAPP endorsing the cooperation agreement, and more important possibly accepting a change of Chinese name -a rather rare occurrence-, and possibly the use of an English name on the cover -another rare occurrence- possibly still illegal even if usually tolerated (depending on goodwill at the highest level in the propaganda machinery)-; and concerning advertising Reader's Digest is using yyy advertising agent with a legal advertising license (owned by zzz -can be 100% since 2006-), to sell its ads in the PRC, etc. etc."
more can be found on this precise subject of exact publishing regulations and practices for example, amongst many other posts, at

Finally, just one small last comment, Chuck shouldn't have forgotten to mention the name of Japanese publisher Shufunotomo (and the possible role played by this foreign publisher) concerning Rayli
see link
he could also possibly be more informative concerning Bertelsmann/G+J, CLIP and Rayli... for more accuracy (but probably not up-to-date) see my comment in the following post, about the last G+J last magazine Focus and its Boda advertising business (read my comment also)

In conclusion, to MPA members, and to FIPP members, just read and keep reading regularly,... for the sake of good journalism (advertorial entirely free of charge; I never talked to Jeremy, Joel, and their friends).

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