Magazines in Japan: A Powerful Medium
March 24, 2006 [Friday]
Magazines in Japan: A Powerful Medium
Japanese Monthly Magazines: Freedom to Choose and Peruse
by Helene Yim
Like most magazines, Japanese ladies’ magazines must feature the newest trends and be able to appeal to two categories of buyers in order to stay in business, those being the readers and advertisers. But aside from this fact, various cultural differences set the Japanese ladies’ magazines apart from many of their counterparts elsewhere in the world. On March 24th, Norbert Leuret, president and representative director of Japan’s most successful foreign-based magazine publisher, Hachette Fujingaho, explained some of the details surrounding the women’s magazine industry to a fashionable crowd in the lovely, soiree-like atmosphere of a cosmopolitan restaurant in Tokyo’s Shirokanedai district.
To begin with, Hachette Fujingaho is a fully owned subsidiary of the French publishing giant, Hachette Filipacchi Medias (HFM), which ranks as the world’s largest consumer magazine publisher. The company’s lineup includes the internationally famous Elle, Marie Claire and Premier magazines, and in Japan, domestic titles such as Elle Girl, 25ans, Fujingaho, Men’s Club, Modern Living, Utsukushi Kimono and Wedding, among others. The “fujingaho” in the Japanese company’s name literally means “ladies’ picture magazine,” which attests to its emphasis on the visual quality of the publications and its target audience of style-conscious and cultured women.
Next, Hachette Fujingaho’s signature magazines include Elle, the world’s top circulating women’s fashion magazine whose Japanese version was launched in 1989; Elle’s younger sister publication, Elle Girl, a handbook-sized semi-annual that features what’s trendy and popular among the international crowd; and Marie Claire, a fashion and style magazine similar to Elle but which features more editorial content. Hachette Fujingaho’s traditional publications include the flagship Fujingaho, a monthly begun in 1905 to enlighten women on the values of refined culture from abroad as well as within the country; and Utsukushi Kimono(Beautiful Kimono), a quarterly published for the seasons which features everything about the kimono, such as how to dress in one, contemporary styles and the culture associated with this most traditional of garments.
Japan is a mature market where periodicals are concerned, and the number of magazine titles stands at an impressive 3,624. This figure is slightly over the numbers for Britain and France, and about one half of the magazine titles in the United States (3,324; 3,281; and 7,188 respectively). Monthly magazines overwhelmingly account for most of the Japanese periodicals, with 3,505 now under issue. Amazingly, well into the Internet age, magazine launches continue to increase in Japan: in 2004 there were 3,505 officially listed magazine titles, compared to 3,271 in 1998. On this note Mr. Leuret was quick to mention that closings are also rising—but in smaller proportion to the launches.
Magazine printing and distribution are very concentrated activities in Japan, with two companies controlling the market. This practice makes it easier for the publisher to streamline the production and circulation of their magazines. Like many other magazine publishers in Japan, Hachette Fujingaho relies on giants Toppan and Dai Nippon for the printing and distribution of nearly all their titles (87%). Furthermore, what sets the Japanese market apart from other markets is that this is not a subscription market for magazines. Only 5% of the magazines sold in Japan are through subscription, compared to 86% in the U.S. and 40% in France. This statistic indicates that Japanese readers are not faithful to one title; rather, they prefer the freedom to choose.
So how do Hachette Fujingaho’s magazines end up in readers’ hands and maintain their staying power? Readers typically purchase magazines from one of three outlets—bookstores, convenience stores or kiosks, all of which are abundant in Japan. Bookstores usually carry a full range of periodicals, while convenience stores tend to carry only the most popular titles, and kiosks, which are fixtures of the nation’s train stations, sell mainly newspapers and weekly publications. Mr. Leuret points out that in Japan there is a culture of perusing magazines in shops—hence the phenomenon of tachiyomi, or standing while reading a magazine without buying it. In the approximately 16,000 bookstores and 40,000 convenience stores in Japan, this phenomenon can be quickly noticed, and it is not unlike the habit of browsing through books without purchasing them in many large U.S. bookstores.
If so many readers are standing and reading without buying, it’s easy to wonder how the magazines can be so successful. The key is a steady flow of advertising revenue. Even if readers decide not to purchase, advertisers still have access to these readers’ attention. While the advertising market in Japan allots only 6.8 percent of its total spending to magazines, preferring instead to concentrate on television and newspapers, their messages get carried a long way. Cosmetic makers, fashion retailers and auto manufacturers, the largest segment of advertisers, understand this. In addition, Hachette Fujingaho maximizes advertising appeal by offering clients special incentives such as tie-up ads and advertorials.
But the real key to the success of Hachette Fujingaho’s magazines lies in their content and quality. The publications target females from ages 20–69, with the exception of Men’s Club, which targets males in their 20s and 30s. Each magazine is designed to appeal to a special interest group, and in a culture that cherishes both real time international fashion and traditional, indigenous customs, there is no shortage of content. Combine this fact with a population that is well educated and has a high degree of spending power, and attractive magazines are sure to be a hit. The monthly magazines feature rich photographic spreads that tell volumes on fashion, style, celebrities, foods, health, shopping and dining, consumer products, interiors, entertainment, and so on, and they are beautifully printed on durable stock. Hence what Mr. Leuret refers to as an intimate relationship that Japanese readers have with their magazines.
Hachette Fujingaho has flourished in a tough, competitive market by assuming a practice and attitude that is domestic rather than foreign (for example Mr. Leuret may be one of the few foreign-born representative directors who is fluent in Japanese). At the same time, Hachette Fujingaho is adept at offering readers a wealth of content from abroad while balancing it with local content. In an industry that is constantly under threat of being dominated by newer media, magazine publishing must innovate new ways to retain audiences. To this end, Hachette Fujingaho has vigorously entered online publishing and relies on websites to track readers’ habits. Electronic editions began in 1996, and today 50 million pages are viewed monthly. Aside from its editorial formats, the publisher sponsors about 80 events annually, which include fashion shows and kimono shows. Such details—becoming a domestic business while staying on top of international trends, and stepping into the technological future while maintaining a connection to tradition, have helped Hachette Fujingaho succeed in Japan, ultimately adding to parent company HFM’s global stature as the number one consumer magazine publisher.
Helene Yim works for a media and translation company in Tokyo and is a part time university lecturer. She can be reached at email@example.com.