PARIS, France – A big stack of glossies sits in a swish Parisian café, free for the taking. Model Valerija Kelava graces the cover, dressed in a black Gucci leather-trim dress. If you were to have a quick skim of the magazine, which features the likes of Sonia Rykiel, architect Christian Liaigre and kids’ fashion line Bonpoint, it could easily be mistaken for any other French Vogue supplement — at least, until you notice it's all in Chinese.
Global media outlets like Condé Nast, Hearst and Lagardère opened offices in cities like Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing long ago, when launching the Chinese editions of their most popular fashion glossies. And, naturally, since then, magazines like Vogue China, Harper's Bazaar China and Elle China have been produced locally by Chinese editorial teams. But over the past year or so, a new hybrid magazine format has emerged, published by the non-Chinese editions of global magazine brands to tap to the growth, power and influence of China's outbound tourism industry.
Indeed, titles like Vogue Paris, Harper’s Bazaar Arabia, Condé Nast Traveller, Vogue Travel in France and Vogue Australia now create local Chinese language editions, featuring local content. Harper’s Bazaar France and Harper’s Bazaar Australia have also entered the game, as have ELLE Collections and Marie Claire Runway.
Most are distributed almost exclusively outside China and have little or no overlap with their sister titles being produced back in Beijing. Vogue Australia's Chinese-language edition, for instance, has a very different mission, point-of-view and business model to that of Vogue China.
“2014 has seen a massive increase in these new titles, as well as some other publishing houses throwing their hats into the ring,” said Emma Cheevers, editor-in-chief at tax refund company Global Blue. “As the majority of Chinese travellers do not speak the local languages, it’s absolutely imperative to communicate with them in their native tongue.”
According to the World Tourism Organization UNWTO, international trips by Chinese travellers grew from 10 million in 2000 to 83 million in 2012. It is predicted by analysts that more than 100 million Chinese citizens will travel internationally in the next 12 months – and when they travel, they spend.
Unlike regular editions that are sold in bookshops and newsagents, these special editions are often distributed for free in upscale locations, such as five-star hotels, department stores and cultural spots in the city, and are driven largely by advertising partners such as Dior, Burberry, Tiffany & Co, Harry Winston, Ferragamo and Patek Philippe.
“These partners are keen to engage with our affluent Chinese luxury consumers,” said Simon Leadsford, publishing director of British Condé Nast Traveller, whose Chinese language edition has been sprinkled around London since 2013 in carefully selected locations, such as the luxurious foyers of Claridges and Corinthia, the offices of corporate businesses with a significant number of Chinese employees, and the first and business class lounges in key airports worldwide.
For Louise Nichol, editor-in-chief of Harper’s Bazaar Arabia, the impetus for her magazine's Chinese edition was about connecting advertisers with high spending power. “Our launch was in response to the influx of Chinese visitors to Dubai, following the relaxation in travel restrictions, which caused Chinese visitors to overtake Emirati and Russian spend in the UAE’s luxury watch, jewellery and fashion stores,” she says, suggesting that the Chinese who visit Dubai's malls are a uniquely captive audience with high spending power.
Most of these special editions work hard to integrate into the itineraries of Chinese visitors. Vogue Travel in France, founded in 2012, has around 70,000 Chinese language edition copies available in carefully selected locations in the regions that are mostly visited by Chinese tourists — not only Paris but also in the regions of Aquitaine, Côte d’Azur and Normandy.
"France is the world’s top tourist destination,” said a spokesperson at the Condé Nast France office. “The number of Chinese tourists visiting France is growing by 20 percent a year (1.4 million in 2012) and they are, by far, the biggest spenders. The main goal was to reach this target and to answer to our advertising partners [who want] to directly reach this very interesting audience.”
Yet some are wary of these editions.
“Chinese language editions are an interesting advertising avenue for retailers to take, but the challenge is that with the Internet and social media, there’s now the expectation for immediacy in what is published. The special Chinese edition magazines are published only a few times a year at most,” says Brian Buchwald, co-founder of Bomoda Group, a digital media and business intelligence company with offices in New York and Shanghai. “Plus, special edition Chinese language magazines tend to be more advertiser-driven than consumer-driven. The Chinese consumer gets a magazine that looks beautiful and is voyeuristic, but it doesn’t necessarily give them what they desire for the next level of engagement.”
The new breed of local Chinese editions, which are mostly biannual, consist of a mix of original and repurposed content. Repurposed content ranges from conventional lifestyle features around fashion, beauty, jewellery and celebrity news to features on gastronomy or aristocratic personalities living in stately homes. Meanwhile, the original content is often geared around shopping guides complete with editor’s picks and maps, depending on where the issue is distributed.
The big publishers that typically create these magazines are at an advantage over smaller rivals because they can repurpose content from a number of magazines under their umbrella. Condé Nast Traveller, for example, could take their pick from the likes of Vogue, GQ, Vanity Fair, Tatler or, indeed, any of the non-fashion glossies in the Condé Nast portfolio for something a bit more unusual.
“Like with English-language magazines, content is key [for these special editions]. If you have well-written, authoritative and informative articles, you’ll build trust with the audience. Everything really depends on the strength of your product and how engaged you want to be with the audience. If you think you’ll make a quick buck by just translating your English copy and calling it a ‘Chinese’ magazine, I’d advise against that,” says Cheevers of Global Blue.
French daily newspaper Le Figaro publishes a Chinese language print magazine called Paris Chic, as well as an accompanying Chinese language website, Figarochic.cn. While the print and digital versions differ, “100 percent of the [Chinese language] content is always first written in French for our French affluent audience,” said a spokesperson for the newspaper.
Kellie Hush, editor-in-chief of Harper’s Bazaar Australia, has applied a different balance to her publication. Her Chinese language edition contains 75 percent specially commissioned pieces and 25 percent repurposed content from Harper’s Bazaar Australia as well as Harper’s Bazaar China. “The issue is not a replication of the Australian edition, but it [does serve as] a guide to Australia’s luxury fashion addresses, plus features on the best of Australian arts, food, travel and culture,” she explains.
After almost two years since these special editions first began appearing on the market, some have been more successful than others.
Some, like Harper’s Bazaar Australia, have made advancements into digital with versions that can be downloaded for travel, while many other Chinese-language editions remain in print only. Marie Claire Runway in the UK is a latecomer to the space, launching an edition of its biannual runway shopping guide and website designed to appeal to Chinese women only last month. "We’re already working on an enhanced digital proposition for 2015,” says Justine Southall, publishing director for Marie Claire.
Meanwhile, others have gradually become less important for their parent publishers. “It’s been successful if you consider the excellent comments we’ve received from the hotels and readers [in terms of footfall and recommendations], but it has not been so satisfying [over] the last year in terms of revenues because of the French crisis,” said a Condé Nast spokesperson of the waning Chinese edition of Vogue Travel in France. “Advertisers have smaller budgets to invest and prefer to prioritise the local editions.”
Similarly, insiders have said that the Chinese language edition has gradually become less important for Harper’s Bazaar Arabia, as luxury brands and retailers now better understand the Chinese travel market themselves and have begun partnering directly with tour guides and travel agencies. Nichols admitted that the excitement of the special language issues peaked predominantly between 2012 and 2013, suggesting that it has now become a less lucrative area for that magazine in Dubai.
“I think there has been this big 'China, China, China' panic as brands and publications try and jump on the bandwagon to court the Chinese audience. I advise caution and consideration — first impressions count,” said Cheevers. “Many Chinese consumers curate what they will buy before they even reach the city. It’s important to have an established relationship and create that desire before the plane lands.”
Ultimately, there is no lack of travelling Chinese to target, but as sophistication levels grow, many special editions have begun to feel bland and undifferentiated. “Take a specific view,” advised Buchwald. “Of course, it still may be effective for an advertiser looking to buy a large swathe of potential consumers at once. But a Chinese edition that offers a more unique, niche insight to the certain cities they’re published around will do better for the consumer. If it’s too broad, you may cover everything, but you won’t satisfy anyone — and that’s not worth it."