The French weekly is expanding into another East Asian market after taking on China and Japan, but some wonder whether now is the right time to be launching local Hong Kong editions.
HONG KONG, China — French newspaper Le Figaro’s weekly women’s supplement Madame Figaro is launching in Hong Kong this September with ambitions to target the city’s local affluent women as well as expats online.
With its Japanese and Chinese editions slated to celebrate their 30th and 25th anniversaries next year, the magazine has inked a licensing deal with Hong Kong publisher New Media Group (NMG), which operates local titles such as Economic Digest, NMG+, and More magazine.
Madame Figaro Hong Kong will debut its website in the fall, followed by a quarterly print edition with a circulation of 20,000. The publication has tapped Joey Chan as its editor-in-chief, with Chan having helmed local titles Ming Pao Weekly and Ming’s.
There has been renewed interest in launching dedicated Hong Kong editions in Asia’s fast-moving media landscape. In March, Condé Nast International launched Vogue Hong Kong under a license agreement with Rubicon Media. Prior to the magazine’s print debut, the city’s fashion media scene was dominated by global titles franchised to local groups, particularly Elle and Harper’s Bazaar, both products of a partnership between South China Morning Post Group and Hearst. The two publications were launched in 1988 and 1987 respectively.
Vogue’s Hong Kong debut prompted questions as to whether the city needed another local title, or if a new magazine would even be profitable in such a highly competitive yet restricted market. Vogue China’s launch in 2005 prompted other brands to follow, and the lion’s share of advertising and media budgets have since been allocated to the mainland, leaving Hong Kong in its wake.
The timing of the latest wave of local Hong Kong magazine editions is unfortunate, given the unsettling nature of the anti-extradition protests that have plagued the city in recent weeks. Some business leaders have expressed concerns about investing in the territory while it remains at loggerheads with the mainland.
In fact, the city’s 2014 “Umbrella Movement” had delayed Madame Figaro’s earlier intentions to enter the market. “We followed the social turmoil quite closely and it wasn’t the right time,” says Madame Figaro’s International Vice President Eileen Le Muet. However, the magazine isn’t putting off their plans any longer.
Nevertheless, the publication’s digital launch highlights the untapped opportunity online — Elle Hong Kong is currently the biggest player in the market with 1.39 million unique monthly users, according to a company representative.
“Monetising the brand would prove to be extremely complicated should we choose to kick off with print,” says Le Muet. “So we decided to go the other way ‘round and start with digital.” As an increasing share of budgets go towards digital engagement, it’s getting harder for brands to justify buying print ads. “For print, consumer response is based on trust, [and depends on who] can create in-depth and impactful content,” says NMG’s Chief Executive and Publisher Royce Lee.
Hence the importance of choosing a local partner familiar with the city’s digital landscape. The group is profitable and has seen double digit growth in the past two years. “85 percent of our revenue stream comes from digital,” Lee tells BoF.
“We are not just offering the Hong Kong market another new edition of an international title, but the vision of a media brand by incorporating values of globalisation and digitisation.”
Madame Figaro Hong Kong will target the city’s local affluent women by opting for Chinese as its language of choice, though French and English translated content will be digitally accessible for expats. “Hong Kong is a culture within a culture, and the French community there is the second biggest international community after the British,” says Le Muet, who thinks that the city’s multiculturalism will be a great fit for its European roots.
Like its French counterpart, the Hong Kong edition’s coverage will span fashion, art and culture. “Art Basel Hong Kong is the second biggest Basel [event] there is,” says Jean-Sebastien Stehli, Madame Figaro’s deputy editorial director. “This creates the dynamic for us to be there, and we wanted to move there and be a part of it.”