Fashion has always had strong ties with the media. From fashion shows to covers of magazines, they allow brands to express a great potential, and to connect with their audience.

However, with the rise of social media, fashion brands modify their communication and digital is slightly replacing the printed press and other traditional media in China.

 

China’s Print Oligarchy

It has to be reminded that China is a very regulated country when it comes to media. Indeed, both international and Chinese print publications must operate in cooperation with state-owned media houses in China. It is the case for Vogue China, which works with China Pictorial Publishing House, or Elle China, which works with Shanghai Translation Publishing House.

Even though those regulations don’t aim to limit the number of international media, they prevent the rise of fully independent print magazines, and only allow a few big names to dominate the market (around 1.6 million readers for each of Vogue’s issue).

Thus, alternative publications are very hard to find with the regulation which aims to avoid “sensitive content”. The Chinese are willing to learn more about fashion and to get educated in this field. Then, when it comes to printed magazines, only a few like Vogue or Elle can answer the demand.

 

The Rise of Digital Media

Critics towards printed magazines have emerged. This is especially true for their content, which is sometimes qualified as “advertorial” since many people find it too commercial and not adapted to young people enough.

That is why more and more content is being published on new digital media, since it allows to publish a less consensual content and to be freer, even though the regulation is stronger lately. Those new media are very powerful in China and especially social media, like WeChat and Weibo.

WeChat, China’s largest social network with its 809 million active user accounts, is so integrated that 35% of the time users spend on smartphones is dedicated to this platform.

The application, formerly dedicated solely to messaging like Whatsapp, now includes a phenomenal amount of services ranging from payment to restaurant reservations.

Most Luxury and Fashion brands are present on WeChat, and some of them are particularly efficient like Burberry or Yoox, that use all the potential of WeChat to livestream red carpets, for example.

 

Sina Weibo platform has more than 300 million active monthly users. Often compared to Twitter, Weibo could reinvent itself in 2016, notably by adapting to Alibaba’s ecosystem (Taobao, Tmall, Aliexpress, Youku…). Weibo is basically a blogging platform, but also allows to share music, videos, create photo albums, play games…

Those new media are more cost-effective and allow to target niche audiences. Some publications target several thousands of readers only, and not millions like traditional media that need to cover their costs. LEAF, a WeChat-native publication, has around 20,000 readers for now, but doesn’t want to target mass-market.

 

“The main idea behind my work is that small is good; small is exclusive and small is understated”

Leaf Greener, creator of LEAF WeChat magazine.

 

SamePaper, Camelia, Elsewhere Zine and i-D, launched by Vice, are other examples of digital publications in China. Technologies behind social media platforms allow publications to be more creative with content taking many formats, like video, static and dynamic images, live-streaming…

 

In short, printed publications are still the biggest players when it comes to fashion in China. Even though digital publications still have to prove that they can be sustainable, they are rising and are seducing more and more young people. This is mostly due to the creativity and originality they can express in their content, but also to the good use of new technologies to attract millennials.

 

Further Readings: