Jiang Wen, Li Yuchun and Fan Bingbing might not be household names in the West, but when China’s top editors at fashion and lifestyle magazines want to sell more copies, they approach the three stars, who are among the hottest go-to people to have on the cover. As the Chinese market for lifestyle magazines grows, editors have gotten to know their audiences well, and in the high-stakes game of developing tastes and competition for readers, highlighting of Chinese models and actors, among others, is essential.
Even though the Chinese versions of international magazines like Elle, GQ and Vogue are at least partly occupied with direct translations from their flagship American issues, localization, both on the cover and inside pages, is critical to growing readership and loyalty in China.
Some international stars might sell but China’s big stars always sell better.
Li Yuchun, the singer who won a nationwide televised music contest nearly a decade ago, still moves magazines. (AP)
Finding the celebrities and stories that connect with China’s evolving readership is an ongoing challenge for the country’s editors. The equation ― providing compelling content for a domestic audience, often with an international flair ― can be complex.
“Chinese readers often get a bad reputation as only caring about image, and all the qualities typically associated with ‘new money,’ but in many ways, that is a misrepresentation,” says Angelica Cheung, editor-in-chief of Vogue China.
“Chinese women are becoming increasingly focused on not only fashion and consumption, but leading a positive, healthy lifestyle. With this in mind, I definitely try to reflect this in our cover choices ― whether Hollywood celebrities, Chinese celebrities or international supermodels, they not only need to have style, but also substance, they need to represent this Vogue woman that we wish to portray.”
Cheung notes that her cover stars and content reflect Vogue China as a leading Chinese fashion magazine that reaches an international audience. Chinese stars who have made the cover cut include actresses Maggie Cheung, Fan Bingbing, Zhang Ziyi and Li Bingbing.
Actress Fan Bingbing on the cover of Cosmopolitan magazine (Courtesy of Cosmopolitan)
The doe-eyed Fan is a favorite across magazine titles in China. Other editors have different top picks, however, and some are surprising.
For Marie Claire China, actress Zhou Xun, pop diva Wang Fei and film star Zhao Wei are big draws. Deng Li, editorial director and publisher of the magazine, noted that some international celebrities, namely Scarlett Johansson and Angelina Jolie, do draw in Chinese readers. For Femina China magazine, Blake Lively and Miranda Kerr have been big-selling international cover stars.
“But there are some additional conditions with this, such as popularity ― at the very least, our urban female readers should be familiar with her face ― beauty, a colorful image, and the emotional appeal of the star,” says Deng.
For Elle China, the top cover picks are often the same as other titles’ but one international cover celebrity showed that Chinese readers do have the same tastes as those in other parts of the world. “In 2013, Elle China did reuse David Beckham’s Elle U.K. cover; it was a sensation, and it sold out,” says Xiao Xue, editorial director of Elle China. “The choice of a foreign cover star is very much dependent on its relevancy. For example, does she have a hit movie in China or has she recently won an award, and so forth.”
Often, a fusion of Chinese and international style hits a home run with China’s magazine readership. Xiao Xue notes the magazine’s highly successful March 2012 relaunch, which showcased Chinese model Shu Pei styled by Jean Paul Gaultier.
By Kathleen E. McLaughlin