'Rolling Stone' smacks into Great Wall of China

Runs afoul of authorities and competitors with successful debut issue

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[beijing ] Rolling Stone has run right into the most difficult aspect of doing business in China, the government, and its woes are a powerful reminder for any marketer or publisher trying to establish a presence there just how important it is to be sure authorities have blessed your venture.

Although the debut Chinese edition was a hit with readers, selling out just days after it appeared on local newsstands earlier this month, press and publishing authorities are looking into whether proper protocol was followed in establishing the title.

Local press reports suggesting the monthly has been banned are "completely untrue," according to an executive at One Media Group, the Hong Kong-based publisher producing Rolling Stone in cooperation with Wenner Media in the U.S. "The government hasn't officially told us anything yet, but we are very confident that a second issue will be published soon."

However, the government's press and publishing authority in Shanghai, where the license under which Rolling Stone is published is located, has raised red flags about the legality of the license that will have to be ironed out before future issues can appear.

Like all foreign titles, the Rolling Stone Chinese edition is published through a license belonging to a local magazine, in this case a magazine that is no longer published called Audio Visual World.

spooking rivals

A Wenner executive in the U.S. answered inquiries by referring to a statement from One Media Group, which said it remains the exclusive content licensee of Rolling Stone. "The Group will continue to work with its partners in mainland China to ensure adherence to compliance measures within China while maintaining its dedication to all interested parties," it said.

The authorities are investigating ways One Media and its local partner may not have complied fully with China's regulations. In particular, according to publishers of other foreign titles in China, the English name of the magazine is far larger than the Chinese name, a no-no in a Communist country still coming to terms with the influence of foreigners in its domestic affairs.

In addition to aggravating local press officials by moving too quickly and not kowtowing to their authority, Rolling Stone's successful debut frightened existing lifestyle and music titles in China. Industry insiders say the rivals "ganged up" and informed the authorities about One Media's alleged infractions and found a sympathetic ear.

Rolling Stone will likely survive the ordeal. "They'll just have to do a lot of groveling, and once the authorities start looking at them, they'll maintain a close watch. Rolling Stone will lose a lot of ground now as it's starting out, so this market will be tough for them," said Jeremy Goldkorn, co-director of Standards Group, an independent ad agency in Beijing and a veteran of China's publishing industry.
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