Men may dominate politics and business, but in the world of
lifestyle magazines, are totally overshadowed by women. The
best-selling women's fashion magazine in China rakes in about the
same amount of advertising revenue as all the men's titles
combined, says one knowledgeable with the market. However, men's
magazines have huge potential as the nation gathers wealth and more
businesses try to reach men who want their lifestyle to match their
rising economic status, examines Ma Xuefen, an analyst with
China Book Business Review
who has tracked the magazine
market for years.
On the surface, the market for men's lifestyle magazines is
already cluttered with about a dozen titles, but the dynamics is
such that even the winners are not cornering the market.
Despite their self-claims of a broad reach, circulation is
relatively low even for the best of the bunch, usually around
20,000-30,000 copies for each issue, notes Ma.
China's publication market is unique in the sense that male
readers are predominantly drawn to newspapers whereas women
are the driving force behind magazines.
As conventional wisdom goes, men prefer adventure and
participation and are attracted to sports, politics, finance and
travel. There are established magazine titles that serve each of
these specific needs, leaving lifestyle a muddy area often without
a clear catch.
The demographic all titles covet is the so-called "successful
people", wealthy types who can afford the products adorning those
lavish full-page glossy ads. Even the price of a magazine, usually
20 yuan (US$2.6) but reaching a high of 50 (US$6.4), is way beyond
the comparable price of a Western counterpart, which in purchasing
parity terms, is no more than 5 yuan (US$0.6) at newsstand and even
lower for subscription.
This has created a dilemma for magazine publishers. While target
readers are mostly over the age 30 it takes time to accumulate
wealth and achieve social status, most of these titles have gained
more than their desired share of 20-somethings.
"They would love to be men's magazines, but some are just stuck
at the youth market," Ma scrutinizes.
The Chinese edition of Esquire
, which celebrated its 10th
anniversary late last year, has mostly avoided this pitfall. By
steering clear of "little men" and catering to "mature men", it has
won "two-thirds" of the upscale advertisers that lifestyle titles
crave, according to Ma.
Ma uses the age of 28 as the demarcation line, and by that
yardstick, even Esquire is skewed towards the young. Its former
chief editor Feng Wei once revealed their reader profile as a
white-collar office worker or student, aged between 25-35, college
educated and with monthly income above 3,000 yuan (US$385).
"Esquire is a very established brand. Many second-tier
titles jostle for the position of the next Esquire, but so far they
have failed," observes Ma Xuefen.
Everybody knows that the main ingredients for this kind of
magazine are sports, travel, luxury and design, but nobody seems to
have mastered the recipe for success.
"Getting the nuances right is elusive but crucial," noted Ma.
For example, readers are often turned off by profiles of wealthy
entrepreneurs or executives. They don't want another rags-to-riches
story, but want to know how these men live their lives outside the
In 2004, a flurry of new titles burst on the scene, shaking up
the market. It was spearheaded by For Him Magazine (FHM),
a British "lad mag". It quickly rose to be market leader in
"We sell fun to the post-hippie crowd," as supervising editor
Zhang Hanyu describes its positioning.
Breaking free of the stolid image of Esquire and
drawing inspiration from its bawdy British edition, FHM charged
into the frat-boy area of scantily clad women and sexual
titillation. Unfortunately, this is also a landmine-infested area
where one misstep may lead to self-destruction.
In a newly published book, editor-in-chief Jacky Jin describes
how he pushes the boundary ever so gently and elbows into more room
for content maneuvering. He pulled a column that directly talked
about sexual adventures and added content from a call-in radio
His conclusion: Sex, which is so crucial to a men's magazine, has
to be peddled softly and indirectly.
"Regulators should be more tolerant," noted Zhang, "The market
has a need for such information." He admits that the social
atmosphere is getting more "open-minded". "A magazine like FHM
would not be able to exist 10 years ago."
Its audacity has certainly separated itself from the traditional
titles that are "mannered" on their choice of subject matter. But
industry observers have noticed a "facelift" in Esquire as they
started to put younger celebrities on their cover and launch
features on those born in the 1970s."
However, this niche attracts a different band of advertisers,
such as IT products and consumer gadgets. Jacky Jin, FHM's chief
editor, sees it another way.
"In China, a men's magazine commands roughly the same rate for
advertising space as a women's title. But in the West, ads in men's
titles are far more expensive because men have great purchasing
power and their profile as consumers is easier to delineate."
Except for GQ, which is still contemplating the China market,
most major men's magazines in the West have already arrived through
licensing agreements with local partners. However, as one editor
reveals, due to the uniqueness of the market, they can use only a
very small portion of the content from the original edition.
The Western titles are actually known mostly by their Chinese
names, which often have little to do with the original name and
less to do with their content. Esquire is Trends Men, Maxim turns
to Poise and FHM appears as Men's Garments.
While these titles have to balance their global image and local
needs, domestic titles rushed in to provide customized service. The
cleverly titled Mangazine (Name Brands in Chinese) vows to capture
the high end of this market.
"Actually our Chinese title is a bit misleading," explains He
Qun, Mangazine features editor. "We target the crme de la creme.
They are no longer satisfied with information about luxury
products. They want relaxation mixed with depth."
Launched four years ago by Nanfang Media Group, Mangazine sells
for 28 yuan ($3.6) a copy. "We may not have the highest circulation
but we get readers of high value," added He. "Mangazine rubs off
some of the sophistication from its sister publications such as
Another Guangzhou-based domestic title, Life, aims even higher.
It is as thick as a coffee-table book and sells for 50 yuan. "They
carry nothing but absolutely the most upscale brands for
advertisement," Ma Xuefen observes.
During a recent cold spell, a young man on a Beijing
construction site quickly took off his clothes and strategically
positioned cameras started to snap pictures. Although passers-by
were sheltered from seeing him totally nude, construction workers
on the scaffolds above kept a watchful eye.
It was FHM shooting a graphic essay on urban voyeurism and the
nude model was a new arrival in the editing room. The scene was
more comic than erotic, and the whole team had fun with it.
In a sense, this scene is symbolic of the men's magazine market
in China a little naughty, a little intrepid, yet at the same time
somewhat timid while being monitored.
More importantly, the weather is warming up and flashing would
be less likely to induce a cold.
(China Daily April 4, 2007)