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China cracks down on foreign magazines

Amid Rolling Stone debacle, a moratorium on joint publishing ventures
/ Source: The Associated Press

China has imposed a moratorium on licensing new foreign magazines for publication, an official said Friday, in a possible blow to companies that hope to break into the booming Chinese media market.

The most high-profile possible victim of the new policy is the Chinese edition of Rolling Stone, published by Wenner Media LLC. The publishing venture in Shanghai for the U.S. music and pop culture magazine was ordered to dissolve last month after it put out a single issue.

China’s move is part of an effort to help Chinese publishers expand their foreign sales, said the official, a director of the General Administration of Press and Publications.

“We have no plans to add more ‘copyright cooperation’ with foreign media companies,” the official said, using the government term for partnerships to publish foreign magazine titles.

The official wouldn’t say how long the moratorium has been in effect or when it might end. He refused to be identified further because the policy hasn’t been publicized.

Foreign publishers are eager to tap into a potential Chinese market with hundreds of millions of increasingly affluent readers. But in order to publish in China, they must have a local partner.

Foreign companies have formed several such ventures to launch Chinese editions of titles including the Washington Post Co.’s Newsweek, Lagardere SCA’s Elle and Car & Driver and the men’s magazine FHM, owned by Britain’s Emap PLC.

The moratorium was first reported Friday by The Asian Wall Street Journal, which said it has been in place for about a year and allows an exception for new science magazines.

The Chinese publications official said magazines that already are licensed won’t be affected. He said it also won’t apply to distribution of foreign titles that are mailed into China.

The official described the policy as part of a government effort to expand foreign sales by Chinese magazines to “balance” the influx of foreign titles into China.

While some foreign magazines in China commission original material, others mostly use translations of foreign articles.

Chinese officials are also worried about the social impact of imported pop culture and have tightened media controls in recent years with steps that include restrictions on foreign television programming.

The government hasn’t publicized the magazine moratorium and it wasn’t clear how many publishers know about it. Spokespeople for New York-based magazine publisher Time Warner Inc. and Lagardere’s magazine unit, Hachette Filipacchi Medias didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

Time Warner, which publishes Sports Illustrated, last month announced plans for a Chinese sports title. Hachette also publishes Chinese editions of Marie Claire and Woman’s Day.