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March 28 2012

15:00

Mandarin-English luxury magazine boosts revenue for Observer Media Group

In the span of a decade, the number of visitors to New York City from China more than quadrupled. Ten years ago, 59,000 Chinese tourists visited the city. By 2010, the tally was at 266,000, according to the most recent data from the tourism research firm NYC & Company.

This wave of new visitors has brought an influx of cash to an otherwise recession-addled retail market. But the jump in visitors from China has also presented a magazine publishing opportunity.

In November, Observer Media Group — parent company of The New York Observer — and China Happenings jointly launched YUE, a bilingual Mandarin-English luxury magazine aimed at those affluent Chinese visitors and influential Chinese Americans in the tri-state area. Editor Chiu-Ti Jansen says YUE takes editorial cues from publications like Vogue and Departures, but serves a niche audience that hasn’t yet been served by the luxury magazine market.

It’s not just expanding into a niche — it’s expanding into another language. At a time when U.S. and U.K. publishers are looking for expansion overseas and international publishers want to break into English, Observer Media is pursuing a linguistic opportunity in its own neighborhood.

“We cater to the Chinese, and we do it in a bilingual way,” Jansen says. “Another thing is, the predecessors of Chinese publications in this country, they all end up being very culturally, traditionally Chinese. I never envisioned this as an ethnic publication. I know it’s a niche publication, but we start to be able to interact with both the U.S. and Chinese audiences in a much more avant-garde way. I call it a Chinese sensitivity: we are very sensitive to Chinese interests but it’s an international outlook…These people are not interested in coming to New York and shop like a Chinese [person]. What they are interested in is to learn to live as an international.”

One major area of focus is contemporary arts and culture: “Art buying is the ultimate symbol of luxury consumption in China,” says Jansen, who also looks for profile subjects who bridge the gap between East and West.

“We started with [pianist] Lang Lang, and then we had [designer] Jason Wu, and next issue our cover story will be [actor] Lucy Liu,” Jansen says. “You cannot just throw a New York or U.S. celebrity on the cover…But we also stretch the connections they know, and we challenge them.”

The magazine printed 35,000 copies for each of its first two issues, which were distributed to tour companies, luxury hotels, Chinese cultural centers in New York, as well as sent to about 8,000 Mandarin-speaking homes in the area. Those “very, very high end” readers include hedge fund managers and board members of New York’s major institutions. Getting advertisers like Chanel and Fendi was “a fairly easy sell” as a result, according to New York Observer editor Elizabeth Spiers.

“We have a lot of ancillary publications that have targeted a similarly high-income, affluent, well-educated demographic,” Spiers told me. “But YUE is original because we were looking at the luxury market from the business side of things, given the demand for luxury goods in New York among Chinese tourists.”

(In Chinese, “yue” means “invitation, promise, and rendezvous,” Observer Media says. It’s also the second half of Niu Yue, the Chinese name for New York.)

Spiers says YUE has been “very successful,” enough so that Observer Media Group is mulling the launch of a Los Angeles edition, as well as a location-based app that would serve as a food and retail guide for visitors.

“It’s something we’ve discussed, [but] we don’t have it in the works right now,” Spiers said. “You’ll notice that [YUE] is very product-heavy. It sort of tells you where to go to do your shopping and eating, so we’re thinking it probably makes sense at some point to integrate with a mobile app.”

In the meantime, YUE has snagged top luxury advertisers that have been otherwise elusive for Observer Media Group. The pages of YUE — both editorial and advertising — are lined with pricy ideas on how you can reinvent your wardrobe: Ralph Lauren ball gowns, Chanel diamond rings, Harry Winston watches, and J. Mendel minks.

“We have a lot of fashion, watches, jewelry, and shopping-related information because this is their No. 1 priority,” Jansen says. “According to New York City statistics, Chinese rank shopping first as opposed to food or concerts or other types of activities. We know we need to satisfy their interest in this aspect. I am fully aware of where their tastes stand, but I think the Chinese taste is evolving very, very fast. We have to convey the same message to our advertisers so they don’t have a fixed idea of what the Chinese want, because it’s a work in progress.”

October 26 2010

15:30

The extreme niche strategy: how PA2010 built an audience around one state and one election cycle

There’s niche and then there’s niche. Firmly in the latter camp falls PA2010.com, the 18-month-old site that, as the URL suggests, focuses just on Pennsylvania politics and just on a dozen 2010-cycle races. But even with a niche that narrow — and a web address seemingly destined for obsolescence on Jan. 1 — the site was successful enough for founder Dan Hirschhorn to find a buyer, the Pennsylvania firm Media Bureau. Hirschhorn’s off to Politico, where he’s now an assistant editor.

I spoke with Hirschhorn recently about the site and its sale. Why focus an entire site around just this cycle’s U.S. Senate races, a handful of House races, and the gubernatorial race? “We were covering only 12 races in Pennsylvania, but we were covering those races better than anyone in the country was,” he said. “That’s the value that PA2010 was bringing to its audience — an authoritative voice on a narrow subject area.”

Hirschhorn anchored the site, filing daily, straightforward reports. A handful of contributors and four regular stringers filed posts from around the state. One section of the site runs political press releases; a daily newsletter offers readers a roundup of relevant politics news. The site solicited content from the campaigns, including clips from radio and TV spots.

PA2010 attracts about 30,000 to 40,000 unique visitors monthly, the new owner, Benjamin Barnett, told me. Though relatively small, it’s the kind of readership that appeals to advertisers: influential, wealthy, and largely based in a geographic region. The site was already profitable when Barnett bought it, he said.

Hirschhorn, who graduated from college in 2007, decided to launch PA2010 shortly after his former employer, Observer Media Group, shuttered PolitickerPA in January 2009. PolitickerPA was part of a network of sites that were supposed to grow to 50 across the country. Owner Josh Kushner’s plan deflated when the financial crisis hit. (Only PolitickerNJ still publishes.)

Hirschhorn decided to keep covering races interesting to a big enough group of die-hards to support a site. Just ten days after launch he had proof of concept: After serving in political office as a Republican for 44 years, Sen. Arlen Specter announced he was switching parties. “That’s the kind of news event the site was built for,” Hirschhorn said. “Really, from that moment it was a thrilling roller coaster ride that never stopped.”

I asked the site’s new owner, Barnett, why he’d buy a site branded around 2010 just a few weeks before Election Day. “It was a no-brainer,” he said, explaining that the site’s loyal audience was paramount. “It’s as much about harnessing the energy that’s out there as anything,” he said. Barnett’s purchase of the site wasn’t out of the blue: His media firm had been running PA2010’s social media strategy from a few months after its original launch.

Barnett plans to rebrand the site for 2012 soon after the 2010 cycle ends. He laughed when I asked about the political “homestretch,” saying he’s actually in launch mode: The 2012 cycle starts the morning after election day. (In case you’re wondering, yes, he’s already bought PA2012.com.) Barnett is considering broadening the scope of PA2010 into more local races, but ultimately hopes to target the same politically savvy audience.

“In our opinion, we harnessed this great energy out there,” Barnett said. “Who’s to say there’d be reason for it to stop?”

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