Thomas Crampton

Social Media in China and across Asia

Frank Proctor’s Muse magazine, Hong Kong’s answer to the New Yorker?

Mar 2, 2008

FrankproctormusesmlHong Kong’s perceived cultural weakness
Frustrated with the perception that Hong Kong is a cultural backwater, Frank Proctor has launched a New Yorker-style magazine for the territory.

has been tackled by a new magazine
Subtitled “Hong Kong culture demands a fresh look”, Muse was launched as a monthly magazine in February 2007.

fighting skeptics
“A lot of people have said that Hong Kong is not fertile ground for this sort of magazine, but we see this as a market opportunity for us,” Proctor said.

launched by a veteran of the Hong Kong media scene
Proctor, a longtime Hong Kong resident, was formerly Newsweek’s general manager for Asia and international circulation director.

who identified a market
Studying the market from July 2005, Proctor found three target groups in what he calls his target “crossover” audience with deep bilingual interest in Hong Kong culture:

  • 1- Deeply-rooted long-term expatriates
  • 2- Hong Kong natives with an international outlook
  • 3- Overseas Chinese who have returned to Hong Kong. They prefer English, but still have cantopop as a reference.

of people who will pay money
The cover price of 50 HKD for those on sale in bookstores and newsstands is intended to give the publication value and encourage subscriptions. From the monthly print run of around 8,000 copies per month, the magazine now has 1,000 paid subscriptions and several hundred copies sold on newsstands.

for a hard to find magazine
“You will not find our magazine everywhere and that is intentional,” Proctor said. “We want to develop a high value image, which has already been reflected in our advertisers.” Proctor pointed to a Rolex advertisement in the magazine and said the target advertisers are the same as for Time or Newsweek, not local advertisers.

with an original bilingual style,
After studying bilingual publications, Proctor ruled out a straight translation because readers feel they pay for half a magazine. Also, since his audience was bilingual they do not need a translation. Instead, Proctor decided to mix English and Cantonese so that they “interact like jazz”.

features-rich standard sections
Diary – a selective look at the things you need to do this month in Hong Kong, from opera to Cantopop.
Features and profiles – these might include boutique cinemas, tattoo art or a look at why Hong Kong is so poor for young architects.
Fiction – both in English and Chinese
Essays – original essays both in English and Chinese
Gallery – looking at Hong Kong artists

edited by a bilingual and experienced staff.
The two senior editors are Perry Lam, a cinema and cultural critic who has written for Yazhou Zhoukan, City Magazine and the South China Morning Post and Jill Wong, a former Reuters correspondent and former editor of the monthly Asia Risk magazine. Contributors have included Lung Ying-tai (龍應台), Xu Xi, Lam Joy-Shan(林在山) and Leo Lee Ou-fan.

In summary: Creating a new market is challenging, but Proctor presumably did sufficient homework to identify a niche that can sustain the publication. The arrival of Time Out could help by building a critical mass of advertisers being solicited by local culture-focussed magazines. (More thoughts on Time Out in Hong Kong from a new blog here)

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Frank Proctor

Frank Proctor
About: A longtime Hong Kong resident, Frank Proctor was for many years Newsweek’s general manager for Asia and international circulation director. In Febru... [Learn more]

Muse Magazine

About: A publication on Hong Kong\'s cultural scene launched in February 2007. On sale in bookstores and select newsstands, the magazine\'s cover price of 50 H... [Learn more]

Discussion

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  • Apple Lam

    The sad thing is, the most experienced and professional journalists with the mag, including the managing editor, are gone. The magazine only came out last year!

  • To be very honest, as a consumer I just feel that their market niche is too small.

    It's great to have a magazine that informs you about the "in's and outs" on the music, cultural and artistic scene in Hong Kong. However, if I wanted to know more about what's happening in the "Music" scene, I'll just pick up a copy of "Beats".

    If I wanted to know more about the cultural and artistic scene, I'll just pick up a copy of "BC Magazine" or "HK Magazine". All these magazines have one thing in common - they're free, and they're published on a bi-weekly or monthly basis (and they're free for good reason). The problem with Muse is that they're looking at a very very small market niche in Hong Kong - interested in the arts and cultural scene, and willing to pay for a magazine rather than picking some of the "other" ones off the shelves of any pacific coffee or starbucks. Although this will appeal to some, the appeal, to be very honest, is extremely limited in Hong Kong's current environment.

    You could consider this to something like the competition between SCMP (The Muse) and The Standard (BC Magazine). However, in this context the Muse's circulation is too weak to compete with the free magazine for advertising spaces and if I was still working in Marketing, I'll need a huge discount if I were to advertise on the Muse even if the target audience would've hit a potential market. Wish them all the best though in their efforts.

  • You don't need to be mass market to succeed. Just go to any newstand and count how many magazine there are targetting the mass market, then you turn around and see twice as many magazines focusing on niche markets (IT Gadgets, games, golf, cars, etc).

    Targeting a sizeable high income (expats) market has great appeal to certain high-ticket advertisers. But here again, what it comes down to is 'execution'. I wish them all the best :)

  • Proctor is trying to change the perception of HK as a "cultural backwater" by introducing this magazine. Yet, by primarily targeting/catering to an expat, non-native crowd, does the magazine actually prove that HK is not a cultural backwater? (You did mention HK natives with an international outlook as one of the three target groups, but I think this group is probably rather weak).

    i came across MUSE a couple days ago at G.O.D. and had a look through it. despite MUSE being billed as a bilingual magazine, its articles are written entirely in english, and chinese is basically employed more as decoration/ornamentation throughout the magazine. the article topics are also catered towards foreigners. altogether, i can't imagine many locals being able to fully understand the english or really appreciate the content. so essentially, this magazine is produced by an expat for other expats.

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