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PARIS-Woman's Day hits the stands in China this month, proof positive of Western magazine publishers' desire to accelerate into the promising region.

Leading a pack that includes Hearst Magazines, Conde Nast Publications, France-based Groupe Marie-Claire and, as of March, the National Geographic Society, Woman's Day's parent company Hachette alone has introduced no fewer than 15 magazines in Asia since 1991.

Hachette, which already publishes Elle in China, admits it's slow going sometimes but has no regrets-particularly when the company sees the competition gaining.

"It was important for a large group like Hachette to be there [in China] from the beginning," said Didier Guerin, president of Hachette Filipacchi Asia Pacific in Sydney. "We know we are not going to be alone for long."

"Anyone who doesn't think Asia is a great opportunity probably shouldn't be in publishing," said Robert Hernandez, Washington-based assistant VP-director of international publications at National Geographic. The Geographic recently launched its first foreign-language edition, a 50-50 joint venture between the National Geographic Society and Japan's Nikkei Business Publications.

Other new Asian publishing ventures include:

Hearst Corp. introduces Esquire in Korea and Thailand this spring and is also considering launching Harper's Bazaar in Singapore.

Groupe Marie-Claire, Paris, is adding eight Marie-Claire titles in unspecified markets in the region.

Also in China, Hachette introduced Bo, a male and female sports magazine.

German publisher Gruner & Jahr is actively studying Asia but won't disclose titles or countries under consideration.

Conde Nast has been slow to extend its reach into Asia beyond a successful Australian operation. But plans call for expansion beyond its current stable-a Japanese edition of GQ, introduced two years ago, and a Singapore version of Vogue launched last September.

"It's not a question of if, but when," said Jonathan Newhouse, chairman, Conde Nast International.

Before Western publishers began to arrive in the early 1970s, there were no such slick magazines in Asia. Newspapers dominated; there was no demand for magazines in economies with few consumer goods to buy, let alone advertise.

After consumerism began to rise in Asia a decade ago, that all started to change, Hachette's Mr. Guerin said.

"The economic growth in these countries has developed readers with an appetite for information, news, entertainment, fashion and beauty, which has created a demand for the same products," he said. "At the same time, advertisers needed a way to reach these consumers."

National Geographic's new Japanese-language edition is a costly $10,000 per page, but goes to a market of 126 million people with a 100% literacy rate.

Publishers have learned some lessons that maintaining a magazine's local identity is critical.

"If it isn't done for the local readership it will fail," said George Green, president of Hearst Magazines International, New York, whose Japanese Cosmopolitan sells 300,000 copies monthly.

And market factors are sometimes against them. There are no subscriptions to speak of, for example; single copy sales via post office kiosks and book shops are not up to Western publishers' expectations; and there is no reliable way to establish accurate reader profiles.

Trying to do bulk ad sales for different Asian editions also entails a market-by-market dance around strict censorship rules governing editorial and advertising, particularly concerning nudity or articles on subjects like sex and abortion.

Nor is printing capability what it should be. Without web offset presses in China, Hachette takes nearly three weeks to print 150,000 copies of Elle; its 1.4 million-copy U.S. pressrun only takes a few hours.

Still, China in particular is a big draw because of its 1.2 billion population.

"There are already lots of Chinese running around in Rolls and buying Chanel, Estee Lauder and Lancome," said Bernard Leser, Sydney-based chairman of Conde Nast Asia-Pacific. "Once that economy gets rolling it will roll quickly. We want to be ready."

Laurel Wentz in London contributed to this story.

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