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China’s censors did the New York Times a favor

cn.tmagazine.com

In October 2012, the New York Times ran an exposé of the $2.7 billion in wealth amassed by the family of Wen Jiabao, then premier, during his 10-year tenure. It published the Chinese translation on its new Chinese-language site, cn.nytimes.com, which it had launched only in June of that year. The Communist Party was not amused. Today both the English and Chinese-languages sites of the Times remain blocked in China. Meanwhile, FTChinese.com clocked up its 2-millionth registered user this summer, and the Wall Street Journal’s Chinese site appears to be developing its platform as well.

Now the Times is taking a new tack—one that might leave it better positioned to whip up ad sales than its original Chinese site ever would have. Earlier today it launched the Chinese-language edition of the New York Times Style Magazine, on the domain cn.tmagazine.com. Its Chinese title claims a broader remit: “Niuyue Shibao Guoji Shenghuo,” or “New York Times International Life.”

Which is fitting, as it turns out. “It’s not focused on politics, or foreign policy or business news… It’s lifestyle,” Arthur Sulzberger Jr, chairman of the New York Times company, told the Wall Street Journal (paywall). The site, he said, was a response to the Chinese government’s urging that the Times create a wider range of content for readers in China. “We agreed with that,” said Sulzberger.

What, exactly, does that mean? Apparently a profile of a Chinese supermodel and articles like “With the rise of child prodigies, is the future of golf in China?” and “To drink or not drink milk formula, that is the question.” It also repurposes articles written for the American audience with an eye on Chinese consumers: A piece on Leica cameras, published in August by the San Francisco-based Nick Bilton, is headlined “Would you spend 120,000 yuan on a Leica camera?” (The golf article by Brook Larmer was repurposed as well, though titled “Golf in China is younger than Tiger Woods, but growing up fast.”)

It’s the kind of stuff, in other words, that attracts big-spending luxury brands targeting China’s well-heeled. This is, after all, a country that consumes one-third of the world’s luxury goods, as Want China Times reports.

Though the new site has no ads as yet, it ought to be well positioned to attract them. China’s media are still in the early stages of digital advertising, but popular domestic sites like women’s magazines Lady8844.com and PCLady.com.cn and, to a lesser extent, financial magazine Caijing, seem to be managing to sell ad space, as do the FT and WSJ’s Chinese sites and the Chinese site for Vogue. By forcing the Times to focus on a more consumer-oriented way of reaching Chinese readers, the country’s censors may have done the company an unintentional good deed.

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