“Sometimes what is old is new, if you come back at it in a different way.”
Mae Cheng is reflecting on the Dow Jones media group 2018 launch of two new glossy magazines, Mansion Global and Penta, of which she is associate publisher. It seems an optimistic move considering the gloomy outlook that surrounds the print industry—but Cheng says that far from being a hard-sell, advertisers were in fact “waiting” for such properties to enter the market.
Cheng, speaking to Campaign Asia-Pacific during a Hong Kong visit, is editor-in-chief of Mansion Global, a New York-headquartered publication that features global luxury real estate listings and editorial. It put out its first print product in March after doubling growth year-on-year since its inception as an online-only publication in May 2015, because its advertisers were looking for a “way to engage audiences on a deeper level than digital”.
“If you are a luxury brand in this day and age there's something really engaging about a magazine, a glossy magazine where you can immerse yourself in the visuals but also read through the stories, and take your time reading through it, and pass it along to other people when you find something interesting,” says Cheng. “There’s still a draw about picking something up in your hands that’s not electric.”
Mansion Global shares much of its high-net-worth audience with its sister publication Penta, named after the term ‘pentamillionaires’, which describes individuals with a net worth of over US$5 million. Penta was set up in 2009 as a pull-out in the weekly financial paper Barron’s, also part of the Dow Jones group; Cheng’s team gave it a revamp and released the first standalone print issue in April. Both magazines are published quarterly, distributed for free in the US, London, Dubai, Singapore, Hong Kong and Tokyo and have websites featuring both magazine content and additional content.
These new faces are appearing on newsstands at a time when the prognosis for magazines is one no doctor would wish to deliver. The last few months have seen various high profile print casualties including Glamour, the British monthly for women that has been losing subscribers since its peak in 2004; music title The NME, which has printed weekly mags since 1952; and Australia’s Cosmopolitan magazine. In a report assessing the global outlook for glossies from 2016-2020, PWC predicted revenues would steadily decline by 0.5% a year. While digital revenues would grow steadily, the report said, they would likely amount to under a third of overall consumer magazine revenue by 2020.
How to do print in a world that's gone digital
There are several reasons why Mansion Global and Penta seem to be bucking the trend and succeeding in print. The magazines and their advertising revenue make up just one leg of the tripod: Cheng talks about the titles as “3D” products with equal focus on print, digital and 'experiences'. “Our events run the gamut, they’re meant to be another level of immersiveness for our audience," says Cheng. "We find that when we engage our audience to come to an event, they’re our readers for life."
This may be due to Mansion Global and Penta’s extremely high-class spin on experiences: Mansion Global regularly hosts networking events at ‘open house’ sessions, for instance, taking over an exclusive property for a day and tailoring the content to match. In a US$26 million property overlooking the ocean in The Hamptons, New York, for example, the days’ discussion centred around the peculiarities of Hamptons architecture.
Events are also key to Cheng’s growth plans for the magazines in Asia. Part of the reason she’s visiting is to help run client events in Hong Kong and Guangzhou. Delegates in different parts of the world want different things from event programmes, Cheng notes. “[Mansion Global's] China and Hong Kong audiences really want to talk about real estate. That’s not to say audiences in the US don’t want to talk about it — but they’re there to see the property, and they want another conversation about something else. Here in Asia people love to talk about property, properties globally and the health of different markets, so at most or all events we have done the programme has involved discussions around investing in real estate throughout the world.”
The desire to learn about global trends is another reason Cheng thinks Mansion Global and Penta are attracting loyal audiences. “Borders don't mean the same to our audiences today as they might have 40, 50 years ago,” says Cheng. “When some of our audience at Mansion Global talks about another home they own or a third home they own, they don’t talk about them as a second or third home, they talk about two first homes, because they travel back and forth from London and New York all the time.”
This means every story Cheng's team writes needs to include a global perspective, with editors careful to spell out that a property is in The Hamptons, New York, as opposed to Hampton in London, for example.
Digital learnings translated to print
Beyond their global outlook, the Penta and Mansion Global magazines are also benefiting from lessons Cheng and her team have learned about engaging audiences online. “Digitally, what really works for Mansion Global in particular are the images and our selection of images and how they really draw our audience in, so we're very careful about that in our print publication as well. It’s very heavy with images that grab you and try to immerse you into our coverage,” says Cheng, whose former role as special projects editor for Dow Jones’ The Wall Street Journal was entirely focused on digital initiatives.
“The whole visual look of it, so not just the images but the white space that complements it is something that I think I learned from digital in terms of the way people have gravitated to the way our site looks,” she says. “Many people have told me it’s kind of like going down a rabbit hole because you see one great image that draws you in and then you see another one and another one, and you start reading the story and find the time disappearing.”
Pictures attract a wide range of readers, but it's a shift in content direction that has helped the magazines reach new audiences. Giving the magazine “a soul” is how Cheng describes it in Penta’s case: namely adding a social impact angle to stories to reflect readers’ growing interest in spending their money in socially responsible ways. The cover story in Penta’s first issue, first example, was about how to buy good expensive wine while ensuring your purchase will help the environment. While Penta still features traditional wealth management stories, these more purpose-focused pieces have allowed the brand to attract more younger and female readers.
Initial reader surveys on both magazines delivered 90% satisfaction rates, according to Cheng, who says readers wrote that they were finally seeing content that “resonated” with them. The challenge now is to keep growing, particularly in Asia, where Cheng says she feels a real excitement around the idea of wealth and luxury. “There’s definitely an appreciation of it and people are not shy about saying they appreciate it, which is very refreshing. They appreciate luxury and the finer things and they’ll be vocal about it. For a publisher it’s a lot easier, a more straightforward path.”
This being said, the publications’ growth in the region will depend largely on local partnerships, says Cheng—both with other News Corp publications and external partners. “We know we can’t be everyplace and resourced everywhere equally. There are a lot of publications and other companies here [in Asia] who know the audiences well. We are not opposed to having more localised content through partnerships that really speak to the people in this region.”
Cheng is adamant the world isn’t done with print—although as a former print reporter she admits to a touch of romanticism about the medium. While the magazines are a success for now, it will take constant “reimagining” and thinking of new ways to get the brand out there for them to survive in the long term, she says.
But there’s no reason future generations won’t feel the appeal of the page as well. Cheng’s 7-year-old son, to whom she gave an iPad “probably earlier than I should have”, amazed her recently by picking up a book because “he loves the feel” of it. To Cheng, it’s proof: “I still wouldn’t write print off yet”.