The Age of Asia

Article excerpt

The recent International Federation of the Periodical Press (FIPP) conference in Tokyo underscored the fact that the next century will likely belong to Asia. Accordingly, media companies had better put time, energy and money into these markets if they are to be successful. Asia is taking back Asia, and rewriting the rules. The age of colonialism, media and otherwise, is over. This was a major theme of the conference, perhaps best expressed by Rupert Murdoch, chairman of News Corporation, in his keynote address.

After the requisite paean to print, Murdoch's talk was all digital. He predicted the "end of geography-based markets since digital content increases flexibility, allowing distribution on multiple platforms of the same content around the world." He appears to be putting his money where his mouth is. News Corp. has invested heavily in digital direct broadcast satellite services (DBS). The DBS platform (TV and interactive services) provides low-cost signals to China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Australia and Malaysia, where cable is economically unfeasible.

Advances in telecommunications contribute to the "universalization" of cultural interests and lifestyles, Murdoch acknowledged, but emphasized that nations retain their own social and moral values that the media must take into account. He remarked that "China is a distinctive market with distinctive social and moral values that Western companies must learn to abide by." News Corp. has just invested in a $2 billion digital satellite up-link facility in Hong Kong. Clearly, local content will be a significant part of Murdoch's Asia Pacific plan. While China's new assertiveness is bound to worry its neighbors, this development will likely fuel a new round of cultural nationalism in Asia.

The other FIPP keynote was delivered by Zhang Bohai, vice president and secretary-general of the China Periodicals Association, on the state of magazine publishing in China. He reminded his audience that magazines' primary responsibility is to satisfy the public's spiritual needs. "Vulgar content" will be condemned by the public because it does not fulfill this objective. With such inscrutable logic, he had little need to talk about censorship. But it is there and will likely become a much more significant force in China and Hong Kong.

Companies intent on doing business in Pacific Asia should know there is no such thing as a Pan Asian market. But this does not mean opportunities do not exist for American publishers. Some trends that underscore these opportunities:

1) Although the major Asian economies no longer enjoy double-digit growth, they are still growing at twice the rate of the U.S. economy.

2) There is an increasing demand for branded product across Asia. Japan might be slowing down as the largest consumer of luxury products, but China, Taiwan and South Korea are already taking up the slack.

3) Brand extensions through licensing are becoming increasingly popular. Hachette's Elle is a splendid example of a product that can generate, in certain Asian countries, more revenue through licensing than through publishing. Petersen Publishing, Rodale Press and others are keen to develop licensing businesses in Asia.

4) There is a segmentation of the mass magazines market which suggests South Korea, Taiwan, China and other countries will follow, rough form, patterns observed in the United States in the 1970s and in the United Kingdom in the 1980s. That is, the greatest growth will be in special-interest and special-audience magazines fed by expanding economies that encourage spending on leisure-time activities and products.

5) There is a discernible shift toward "magazines as carriers of lifestyle as well as culture," many speakers observed. This is a very important development for Western publishers who offer titles that satisfy the aspirations of the individual. The greater the growth of the free-market economy in China, the greater the prospect for Western lifestyle and instructional magazines that dignify the individual. …