How fashion became all the Vogue in China

Updated: 2011-12-17 11:18

By Lu Chang (China Daily)

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How fashion became all the Vogue in China

Cao Weiming, managing director of Conde Nast China. [Photo / Provided to China Daily]

BEIJING - Cao Weiming, managing director of Conde Nast China, the publisher of the Chinese edition of Vogue and other lifestyle magazines, said behind the glossy cover of Vogue are years of hard work and perseverance. He said one major hindrance for foreign media companies is a lack of understanding of the local culture, regulations and how things operate in China.

"In emerging markets like China, the magazine market developed very quickly and will continue to be strong with increasing ad sales on the magazine platform, but it's also a market with risks and challenges," said the 47-year-old.

In China, overseas media groups are required to find a local partner to publish their magazines in the domestic market, according to the General Administration of Press and Publication (GAPP), which regulates the media industry.

Several Chinese publishers have worked with a number of foreign magazines to help them get a Chinese publishing license.

One major aspect that many foreign magazines overlook is, surprisingly, content.

"There is the issue of cultural differences. The same story used in the US version of Vogue may be very inappropriate in China and against common sense here," he said. "But many foreign groups don't understand that. In the end, those with perseverance and better understanding of the local market are squeezed inside, but those without appropriate knowledge were just kicked out of the game."

Throughout most of the 1990s, while many foreign fashion magazines were testing the market in China, Conde Nast took time to study the market, undertaking three years of research and talent recruitment before launching Vogue.

When the magazine was launched in China in 2005, the company invested its own money rather than finding a third party to operate and take care of the distribution. It worked with China Pictorial, a Beijing-based publisher, to publish the magazine, although the local company did not get involved in Conde Nast's operations.

"We prefer this kind of copyright cooperation because it can guarantee the quality of the magazine and, of course, comes with a higher financial return," said Cao. "Actually when Vogue hit the Chinese newsstands, it raised the bar for the whole Chinese publishing world because (it) is so well-designed with clear layout, beautiful photos and nice paper."

In 2011, the Chinese edition of Vogue ranked third among Conde Nast's international editions in 15 countries in terms of revenue. After the debut of Vogue, the US-based company also introduced other titles including Self, GQ and Architectural Digest. The company has expanded its presence in the country every two years.

Cao said it will take at least five years or more for some of the magazines to generate a profit.

"What Conde Nast is looking at is not just market share, but also how to help its Chinese magazines emerge on the global stage," he said.

However, he's confident about the huge growth potential for fashion magazines in the country because "the Chinese way of living is changing all the time with the accumulating wealth and strong purchasing power. People are paying more attention to their social lives and getting increasingly accustomed to a luxury lifestyle.

"Fashion magazines will continue to prosper in China in the coming years, even as the publishing industry suffers in the US and Europe amid widespread Internet readership. The driving force is the strong consumption of luxury goods which encourages a lot of international cosmetic and skin-care companies to advertise in the magazines," he said.

According to a report by CTR, a media market research company, ad revenue in the magazine industry jumped 20 percent to $2.37 billion in 2010.

"But fashion is still a new concept in China and people's knowledge still lags far behind compared with the readership in the US, France and Italy," Cao said.

"In France, people buy five or six fashion magazines, but in China, the average consumption may be one or two copies, and that offers great room for further growth. With more foreign companies tapping into the market, it will become more sophisticated."

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