In 2012, while many fashion glossies in the U.S. were hustling to digitize their brands, the magazine industry in China was thriving, with luxury consumers buying up Chinese versions of Vogue, Elle, and Harper’s Bazaar like collector’s items. (These glossies are published in China with the co-operation of state-owned publishing houses.)
Five years later, independent—even subversive—fashion publications like i-D China, owned by Vice Media, are suddenly competing with legacy international brands on digital platforms like Weibo, China 's answer to Twitter, and WeChat.
In big cities like Shanghai, young, middle class consumers who have been exposed to international fashion brands like Vogue and Elle for some time now are craving new content from emerging brands like i-D China and Elsewhere 另个空间, a bilingual fashion publication that launched online in 2012.
Now, Elsewhere is expanding with its first-ever print publication which they are billing as one of the first and only fashion magazines to be published independently of a state-owned publishing house.
“Even magazines like Kinfolk (the quarterly lifestyle magazine) are published in cooperation with a state-owned publishing house in China, which limits the kind of content that they can produce,” said Enrique Menendez, Elsewhere’s managing editor, adding that China’s fashion market and fashion media landscape have reached a cultural tipping point.
“I think China has long been viewed as a key market with great spending power, but now people are beginning to see that China has a lot to offer in terms of creation and fresh perspective,” said Menendez. “Elsewhere serves as a window into this growing creative scene, and the debut of our print issue is a testament to China’s emerging creative class.”
“Legacy brands are facing competition from local digital players and content creators online that are much better suited to this young, middle class consumer,” said Andrea Fenn, founder and senior consultant at Fireworks, a digital consultant agency in China.
Legacy brands are in turn marrying content with commerce: Elle China recently launched an e-commerce website, ElleShop, in attempt to “blend content with commerce by local designers,” Fenn said.
Nina Huang, a 30-year-old, New York-based journalist who freelances for Chinese publications, said her friends read online content from WeChat subscriptions.
“They’re not reading the mainstream publications as much as they were five years ago because now you can get free content online,” said Huang.
Elsewhere is raising money for its first print issue on Kickstarter (to date, they’ve raised nearly $5,000 of their $10,000 goal), with plans to distribute roughly 1,000 copies of their magazine for free.
“We’re not selling the magazine and there are no advertisements, so those are some of the ways we’re keeping our independence,” Menendez said.
Given its small circulation, it’s unlikely that Elsewhere is indeed the first fashion publication to publish a print magazine independently of a state-owned publishing house.
Small art spaces and art groups in China have published their own magazines in small quantities and circulated them in appropriate communities.
Given Elsewhere’s tiny circulation scope, it’s unlikely that content which might be censored by other state-run publishing houses—nudity, for example—would attract government attention. (Menendez confirmed that Elsewhere does not plan to feature “full nudity” in its debut print edition.)
“If Elsewhere’s content was censored, either online or in print, that would mean that they had made it big and, honestly, they haven’t,” said Fenn, who noted that even legacy brands like Vogue China likely aren’t facing government criticism for partial nudity.
The fact that Elsewhere is publishing a free print magazine doesn’t differentiate it from other independent publications, according to Fenn.
“I don’t see them blending content with commerce, which is itself a trend for international readers,” said Fenn, though he argued that they were part of “a larger trend in China, which is a realignment of Chinese and international aesthetics, both online and offline.”