In May, when Time Inc.’s InStyle magazine partnered with the Chinese fashion magazine Modern Lady, the latter stepped onto the international stage. But with a circulation of 1.8 million, Modern Lady, which is a weekly publication headed by editor-in-chief Jerri Ng, wasn’t doing too poorly to begin with. In fact, in many ways, it is more advanced than many global publications.
Flip through the pages of Modern Lady, which is known now internationally as InStyle China and is the 14th international edition of InStyle, and you’ll see fashion spreads and beauty stories embellished with strategically placed QR codes. If you happen to be reading a piece on how to master French chic, with a quick scan of a barcode, you could be watching a short video on your smartphone featuring the French fashion icon Ines de la Fressange taking you on a virtual shopping tour around Paris and showing you exactly what to buy, where to buy it and sometimes giving you a direct link to an e-commerce site.
This isn’t the first time that InStyle tried to merge with a Chinese publication. In 2008, the Time Inc. publication attempted to start up a Chinese edition with the South China Morning Post, but it didn’t work and shuttered in 2010.
This time around, things are different. Since InStyle China launched, revenue for the print magazine is up 30 percent from the same period last year, according to its publisher Amy Young who also told us over WeChat that e-commerce channels are “one of the most important” sites of magazine sales. And while Jerri still churns out print weeklies rather than reverting to the monthly schedule of other InStyle editions, which in the digital age seems curious, Jerri believes it’s a better fit for the digital media landscape.
We spoke to Jerri over the phone while she was in Paris for fashion week about the challenges and benefits of merging with an international publication, why a print weekly is a good fit with digital media, and why the market is just right for this kind of merger now.
In May, InStyle partnered with Modern Lady and was rebranded as InStyle China. What has changed since that merger?
Everything. The most important being InStyle China is an interactive publication.
We are having lots of fun creating content that is 360 (from print to digital to having options like virtual tours, making hotel reservations, buying options, etc.) Another change I would say is the global presence and awareness.
Lastly, and the most obvious change is the look and feel of the publication. InStyle is more current, more fun, more dynamic and more relatable than ever thanks to the team and the various influencers (from celebrities to supermodels to social media stars) who are also our contributors.
South China Morning Post attempted to start up InStyle in 2008, but it didn’t work. It was terminated in 2010. Why will it work this time around?
Yes, they did but it didn’t work well. I think at that time, the market wasn’t mature or sophisticated enough. Obviously there was a lot of pressure the second time around. There were a few people who were not sure in the beginning. Some people referred to us as the magazine that “closed down before” when they heard news that InStyle China was coming back into the market. I am glad to say we are proving everyone wrong.
Monthly versus weekly? When you merged did you consider going monthly like the US publication? In the digital age, it seems counterintuitive to be producing a print publication on a weekly schedule.
We had the opportunity to do a monthly with InStyle China, but I didn’t do it. It would definitely have been easier. People thought I was mad. But I really think that’s the way to go in this day and age.
Monthlies take too long. When I’ve already seen it on social media, and then two months later I see it in a publication. For me, it doesn’t make sense. I feel a weekly is a better partner to the daily pace of digital. Most importantly, I do not compromise on quality or integrity in the process.
What about your budgets? You must have to split your budget over four weeklies rather than having it for one publication.
Our budgets are not as big as those of monthlies, that is for sure. But I am still able to do the stories that I want to do without compromising on quality. We just have to be more savvy and clever with our budget planning. And we have been lucky because there are many talents who are willing to work with us within our constraints.
You mentioned luxury, and the different way people shop. I’m wondering if you’ve noticed any difference in what luxury means to people, over the past few years.
With fashion becoming more democratic and the advent of social media, the term luxury has definitely evolved over the years. And then there is the rise of luxury sustainability, which I think is a key and very relevant topic that will be on everybody’s agenda in the years to come.
Do you have a website?
No, we don’t simply because, in China, everyone is on their phone. So it’s accessible by print or app.
Self China recently announced that it’s moving exclusively to WeChat and shutting down its print publication. Does that kind of move seem like a viable one for a magazine to make?
I do not like the word “magazine,” because I think it’s very archaic. This is my solution for a print publication. This makes it more fun and engaging. We’re humans and humans need touch. You can’t move very far away from print. At least for the next eight to 10 years, I think print is still valid to a certain degree. Like Laura [Brown] said in an earlier interview, print and digital are two halves of a pie. And I could not agree more. Look at e-retailers who are doing pop-up stores or brick-and-mortar stores. Why is that? It is because as humans we need the sense of touch.
What about censorship? Harper’s Bazaar China’s WeChat account was shut down in May. Is that something that concerns you?
Not at all. At InStyle China, we cover stories with a positive and inspirational message.
They’re cracking down on virtual private networks. Is that something that you’re worried about?
I’m sure if they block VPNs, they’re going to come up with something new to get around that too. I think [the Chinese] are geniuses that way.
In one sentence, how would you describe InStyle China?
“If social media had a print publication, it would be InStyle China.” For this, I have Laura [Brown], Editor of InStyle US to thank. She paved the way—so brilliant and savvy. I took it one step further by integrating technology, like WeChat.