Western Media In Crisis, But What About China?

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December 21, 2012 by  

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Everyday we read about newspaper and media company closures in Europe and in the United States. Advertising revenues are shrinking, and readers are dwindling on both sides of the Atlantic. But what’s going on in China? For the record, as reported by the New York Times, an advertising page on the Chinese version of Esquire magazine costs $20,000, while a minute spot on CCYV is a mere $4,000. On RenminRibao, the People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s official newspaper, an advertisement costs $1 U.S. for each Chinese character. That’s the “popular” price. If someone were to visit China after having read all the reports about censorship, it might be surprising to see how robust the news stand offerings are. Circulation sizes are huge and it’s not difficult to spot formats and names well known in the West. China prints nine thousand magazines and two thousand newspapers, not including media published on the Internet.

Despite the appearance of Western brands, comparing a European market, like the Italian one, to China, can be difficult. According to an Italian insider who works in the Chinese publishing industry, both markets are quite distinct. “The Italian market is very limited when it comes to the number of publications, compared to China,” according to the expert. “The most important data to be considered refers to international newspapers that were introduced to China in the last ten years [which] had excellent results in terms of advertising sales, but not in terms of circulation. The luxury market still makes a difference in China, while in the West it shows some significant contractions.” Some sectors simply work better than others, thanks to the development of the middle class. “Today, fashion, cosmetics, accessories, and products such as cars and watches are sources for relevant investments,” explains the insider. “That’s why monthly publications focusing on fashion and beauty… are showing sensible growth.”

In terms of readers and advertising revenues, this is a boon for the industry, especially because advertising revenues on a whole are declining. As the insider explains, “television is responsible for the biggest part of the advertising turnover; print retains a modest percentage. Advertising has positive effects in fashion and luxury, sectors that still privilege newspapers which can represent their products best. However, for the first time in ten years, even in these always-growing sectors, setbacks have been reported in the last four-month period.” When considering the limited space allotted for foreign publishers and tightening censorship, it is hard to predict how foreign publishers will react. “It is difficult to answer”, says our source. “So far we could witness the importation of products that could adapt themselves to China. Nowadays, some of these newspapers have a Chinese staff and benefit from the West. There is still room for more foreign publications, especially for male audiences which is constantly growing and is watched by international publishers willing to enter the Chinese market. For sure, there’s room for specialist and niche press outlets. But these kind of publications are a safe return on investment.”

Additionally, foreign publishers must navigate the State and propaganda control affecting the international press in China. “Publishing is under the control of the authorities,” explains the Italian insider. “It is impossible for foreign companies to start a business in publishing in China. To do that, agreements and deals with Chinese publishing companies are required. Doubtless, this is a limitation but on the other hand it is also a chance to get a Chinese partner, which is indispensable to run a publishing company in the country. In the end, this is also a warranty against superficial and extemporaneous attempts that will probably fail.”

Article translated from the original Italian “La stampa occidentale è in crisi: e quella cinese?” by Philip Di Salvo

Simone Pieranni

Simone Pieranni is an Italian journalist based in China since 2006.
In Beijing he is co-founder and director of di China Files
(www.china-files.com). He writes also for Il Fatto Quotidiano and Wired.

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