Published On: Sun, Jul 31st, 2011

The East is Read

by Captain Edward John Smith

As part of the long, painful spiral that magazines and newspapers are in, the genre known as “Shelter” magazines have not been immune.  In this country, Domino, Metropolitan Home and House & Garden have all perished,  as have smaller titles like Oprah Winfrey’s O at Home and Martha Stewart’s Blueprint. Yet surprisingly, while tiles such as these have closed in the US, a vibrant new generation of interior design titles are rising in Russia, Brazil and especially China.

These aren’t webzines, but real magazines,  printed on glossy paper and which serve as a showcase for a rising market in those countries featuring the latest in appliances, style, furniture and fixtures.  In a model we’ve all seen, they take the reader through the homes of the rich and famous, and are thick with advertisers eager to reach this burgeoning market.

“This is all about the explosion of the middle class and the mass urbanization of certain countries,” claims Mark Strauss, president of Interior Design Media Group, a division of Sandow Media, which prints Interior Design and Luxe magazines as well as the trade newspaper Furniture Today in the United States.  “People are starting to have nicer homes, so they want nicer things, which in turn means that they want to see what those nicer things are.”

Sandow acquired Surface Asia, Surface China and Interior Design China this past April, each of which Strauss described as “becoming incredibly successful in a very short period of time.”

“I’m now looking to Korea,” he said.

Eager to join in, Conde Nast’s Architectural Digest launched a Chinese edition this April, and the Indian version is scheduled to launch in 2012.

But it’s not just the “foreign devils” who are cashing in on the phenomenon. Local publishers are in the hunt as well, and more than a dozen new design magazines have launched in Russia alone over the last two years.

Home Magazine is just such a title. A Russian magazine started in 2009, at 10,000 their circulation is modest by American standards, but they have attracted some of the most influential advertisers in the home furnishing industry.

Editor in Chief Natalia Pirogova explains that “many people have become rich here, so they’re moving from small apartments into large houses,”  adding that “interior design has suddenly become very important for them.”

In Brazil, a magazine called Casa Vogue is a spin off of the famed fashion magazine and has been publishing for close to 25 years, but for the first time is facing serious competition for advertising revenue.  New titles such as Bamboo, Wish Casa and Minha Casa have strong appeal to the growing middle class.

Yet with more than 20% of the earth’s population, it is the Chinese marketplace that is truly surging. Dozens of new titles have been launched in this genre over the last few years, many with English language names such as Home Idea Magazine, Residence (pictured here), and my personal favorite, Home-My Living. Despite the cachet of their English language title, all the headlines are Cantonese or Mandarin.

Sandow’s Mark Strauss asks: “Is there a real estate bubble going on there or not? Either way you have a lot more people with bigger homes that have to be furnished,” and noted that China’s residents live in an astonishing number of cities equal to or larger than  Los Angeles.

Not surprisingly, it is to L.A. that the Chinese often turn for ideas, as modern California style is exploding.

California designer Jamie Bush says that within the last six months, “all of a sudden, the calls started coming in. Five separate Chinese publications have contacted me in just a few months, and many of them have featured my projects.”

This year alone, Bush has also been featured in magazines in Russia, Brazil and Bulgaria, and he will be featured in an upcoming edition of Architectural Digest Germany.

In our lifetimes, we’ve seen “Made in Japan”, “Made in Hong Kong”, “Made in Korea” and “Made in China”, among others. Maybe the tide will turn if we know how to capitalize on it.  Maybe we’ll see a time a time when “Made in America” will be the hot item, like it was for most of the last century. If the American publishers can find a way to extend their brands and increase profits in these developing markets, we’re all for it.  One can only hope that they don’t make the same mistakes they’ve made here.



About the Author

- Captain Edward John Smith is the pen name of a veteran magazine executive who has been working in the industry for close to twenty years, and watching it drift towards the looming icebergs ahead for at least the last ten. The name was chosen because the original Captain Smith was an English ship’s captain and the commanding officer of the RMS Titanic who perished when the ship sank in 1912. Our Captain Smith has actively tried to sound the alarms for quite some time,.Alas, he continues to be a prophet scorned in his own time, but he has agreed to make the occasional contribution to These New Times as the warning klaxons continue to blare.