Fri, Feb 07, 2003 - Page 11 News List

Magazines set sights on lucrative Chinese market

PAPER CHASE Newsweek, Forbes and the Harvard Business Review entered the fray in China recently, but all three have found the need to adjust to the climate


Three high-profile US magazines have entered the China market in recent months, searching for growth opportunities amid one of the worst global-advertising slumps in recent memory.

But despite the potential, the birthplace of moveable type presents unique obstacles for Newsweek, Forbes and the Harvard Business Review, including censorship and a competition for advertisers pursuing China's growing class of rich city dwellers.

"Ultimately, all these publishers are trying to reach different segments of the same audience -- an urban-elite audience in Shanghai, Guangzhou, Beijing and Shenzhen," said Tom Gorman, chairman of Hong Kong-based CCI Asia-Pacific Ltd, which has published a Chinese edition of Fortune magazine since 1996.

Newsweek became the newest China-come-lately in mid-December, when it announced it would license its name to Hong Kong's Vertex Group for a Chinese-language publication in China called Newsweek Select.

Such agreements have been the rule for most foreign publishers in China, which rely heavily on content translated from their English editions.

Forbes magazine formed a similar partnership in November with Hong Kong's Morningside Business Publishing Ltd. Around the same time, Morningside published its first issue of a China edition of Harvard Business Review.

Newsweek and the others are taking the plunge as China's economy booms and Beijing slowly relaxes its attitude toward overseas media, although foreign newspapers and news broadcasts remain off-limits to most Chinese.

"The market's changing every day," said Frank Proctor, general manager of Newsweek's Asia-Pacific edition. "Anyone who's sitting back waiting for a magic green light to say everything's okay ... the train will pass them by."

In a nod to China's sensitivity toward political issues, Newsweek Select will position itself as a lifestyle magazine publishing articles about non-China topics, said Vertex chief executive Joseph Poon.

And despite its name, Newsweek Select will publish monthly.

"What we do is import information for the Chinese people," he said. "It's not to tell them what they know or can get from other means, so the issue of censorship does not really apply."

All three publications insist they will not compromise their editorial integrity just to be in China.

A well-known name isn't enough to crack the China market.

The venerable Time magazine, a sister publication of Fortune, launched a bilingual edition in China with CCI several years ago called Time Digest that was positioned as an educational product for young Chinese aiming to improve their English.

CCI pulled the plug on the magazine in 2001 after determining it would take many years to become profitable, Gorman said.

"Having a global brand is great because everyone knows it. But it's also a double-edged sword because people expect a certain thing," he said.

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