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LAST WORD: Expat Media
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BT 201704 LAST WORD 03By Mike Cormack

At the end of last year 2016, two different ex-pat media outlets have had business difficulties. The Nanfang, an online "news, translations, original writing and commentary" covering the Pearl River Delta threw in the towel just before its seventh anniversary and ceased publication Similarly, publisher Ringier washed its hands off City Weekend Beijing and Parents and Kids Beijing, declaring in a rather odd turn of phrase that "[I]t is with great optimism that Ringier China announces that the November issue of City Weekend Beijing and Parents & Kids Beijing will be Ringier's last", though it then suggested that the magazines may continue under a new local partner. Nonetheless, the two announcements together suggest a trend in ex-pat media in China. So what's happening?

BT 201704 Last word 01
While it's of course a truism that print everywhere is struggling thanks to the Internet, Chinese media for most part seems to be doing just fine, thanks to continued economic growth and a rapidly increasing middle class which advertisers are willing to spend to reach. Ex-pat media is however more tenuous. China's 2010 census recorded a foreign-born population of just 593,832, or just 0.043% of the total. Beijing has been named the most international city in mainland China, yet it has only around 110,000 foreign residents staying over six months, in a population of 22 million. That's just 0.5% of Beijingers. Nonetheless, ex-pat media in Beijing had to some extent been flourishing, with Beijing being home to a remarkable seven magazines around 2012 - the Beiijinger, Time Out, City Weekend, That's Beijing, Agenda, beijingkids, and Parents & Kids Beijing.

BT 201704 Last word 02But this abundance led to pruning. Truerun Media's Agenda shuttered in 2013 while its competitor, The Beijinger magazine went bi-monthly from this year. After striving to cut losses by going monthly instead of fortnightly, Ringier passed on its two magazines City Weekend and Parents & Kids Beijing to a new owner Liwayway China, the local division of a company based in Manila, in their first foray into publishing. The Nanfang meanwhile simply gave it up, partly for personal, partly for business reasons. The two co-founders, Cam McMurchy and Ewan Christie, said, "Like many online publications, we haven't exactly hit our revenue targets for a variety of reasons." McMurchy told me:

We were not very proactive in seeking advertisers, and those that worked with us had good results. But Google and Facebook now dominate online ads, so it doesn't make much sense for a business to seek out a single website and form a relationship.

If you want to do business in China, you really want to target the Chinese consumers and advertise on websites popular with them. The expat market is minuscule in comparison.

We did seek other forms of ownership, and we considered increasing our investment but ultimately we felt the model was broken.

Despite the economic output and influence of the Pearl River Delta area, culturally it still trails far behind Beijing or Shanghai and The Nanfang was a major part of the ex-pat voice there. But now it too has gone. A shame.

BT 201704 last word hl 01Publishing is always difficult. Around 90% of magazines do not make it to their first year. Most magazines and newspapers do not make a profit and thus need a benefactor to sustain them. Ex-pat magazines, by their very nature, are ephemeral, catering to an audience which lacks roots in the area and which will most likely not settle there. Yet they have a vital role, introducing the city to newcomers and giving a feel for its culture.

Ex-pat magazines and websites will of course soldier on. Their voices are invaluable, the function they serve is essential to a large city. Done right, they can flourish, bringing together readers, city culture and commerce in a mutually beneficial community. Here then, is a toast to ex-pat magazines, their exploration, their relish and their desire to share information. Every single issue is a labor of love, for you, the reader. Thank you for reading, as always.

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