Sunday, December 5, 2010

Could the Middle East have its own Vogue? Part II

Know your Market

Mr. Newhouse’s change of face towards the Middle East may not be as arbitrary as some may think. He has since stated that his past comments had been “misinterpreted” and taken out of context. Yet his decision to engage with the Arab World may also have something to do with recent developments in the region.

He mentioned the presence of Condé Nast's "core advertisers," such as Christian Dior and Chanel, had influenced his plans to launch publications in the UAE. "They're kind of like the litmus test," he explained. "If they are present in the market we can consider it. We look for our key advertisers and they are in the Emirates."

Although the Middle East has become a “big player” in the luxury market, what is seldom touched on, is that Vogue’s potential readers in the region are incredibly fashion savvy and have been reading issues of French, American and English Vogue since the 1960’s. Thus they expect no less from a publication that will be tailored specifically for them.

It is a market that differs considerably from other “new kids block” such as China, India and Russia, in that a taste for luxury goods has not only been developed, but is probably more on par with what is going in London or New York. Although large luxury brands such as Lanvin and Marc Jacobs have only recently begun to establish flagships in the region, individuals who can afford to buy those kinds of clothes, have been traveling abroad for decades to purchase luxury goods.

The challenge facing Mr. Newhouse and the Vogue team will be to present a unique perspective on the region that doesn’t simply borrow from sister issues and repackages them in Arabic script, (chances are those same women are reading the other issues as well). Furthermore, whether or not a publication appears in English or Arabic is beside the point for most potential readers in the region, who are bilingual. What is more important perhaps is the tone and editorial content of a magazine that presents a unique global perspective through Middle Eastern eyes. If the publication were to appear in Arabic, it would simply be the icing on the cake.

When Vogue decides to enter the market it will also find itself amongst a number of players who have established a presence in the Middle East in the last 8 years. These include Middle East additions of Elle (based out of Beirut) and Bazaar (published out of Dubai). Moreover a number of “indigenous” publications have also emerged in the last few years including Unfair and Alef Magazine (originally established by Kuwait's Sheikh Majed Al-Sabah, it is no longer published). At the time of Alef’s launch, its publisher Paul de Zwart, noted that "Every major publisher is looking at the region because the advertising is there, and the market is affluent and buoyant."

Despite this, many upstart publications have sputtered and disappeared after a few issues. No surprise considering most new magazines hit the market with the odds against them, surviving for up to a year if they are lucky. Yet those that do manage to survive have been unable to capture a large portion of the region’s potential readership and are still considered “niche” publications.

What gives Vogue an advantage over its competitors in the region, is an already established brand name and reputation. With its network of writers, photographers and art directors around the globe, it’s also able to bring a level of reporting and fashion imagery that has yet to materialize in other regional publications.

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