Un obtained the dual Bachelor degrees in Chinese Language and Art (film and television production) of Peking University and dual Master degrees in East Asia Studies and Asia Pacific Studies of University of Toronto with the research field in literature and movies. She won the Henry Luce Foundation Chinese Poetry & Translation Fellowships and had been the village residing poet in the Vermont Creative Studio. She was invited to attend many international poem festivals such as the one held in Portugal and worked as the lyricist of Macao’s first original indoor opera A Fragrant Dream. She published some collections of poems in Cross-Strait regions, and has been engaged in academy and publication for long time and writes columns for media organisations in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macao.
I always have a thing for lifestyle and culture magazines. I would usually read &Premium, Shopping Design, UNITAS, Monocle, Wallpaper*, City Magazine, etc. I recently did a crossover for COSMOPOLITAN China, combining poetry with fashion. The crossover is the very first issue of COSMOPOLITAN China to have a cover with audio. The cover girl, famous Chinese actress Zhou Xun, personally read my poem Talking a Walk for the issue. There were also fashion videos and podcasts that were produced to accumulate more publicity for the crossover on social media before it was published. The crossover issue attracted over 4,500,000 views within one week. It is apparent that traditional magazines are also working to innovate their publishing model.
While traditional magazines are declining, Mook, as a new magazine form, is emerging like a rising star. Mook is now enjoying rapid growth in market share and issue volume in the book industry in mainland China. Mook is originally from Japan, which combines elements of both magazine and book. Generally, Mook touches upon topics that are related to current affairs. Each issue will provide readers with in-depth reports on one particular topic. Mook makers pay a lot of attention to aesthetics and reading experience. Whether it is the topic brainstorming, soliciting content contributors, editing the content, designing Mook layout, or marketing the Mook, every chain of the production process requires the editors to possess a sharp touch in what is relevant and takes the editors tons of energy. This is why Mook is the publishing form that is best for showcasing editors’ capabilities.
In the Greater China region, Mook first hit Taiwan. In 2002, books.com.tw already opened up a Mook section on its website, saying that “this is to cater to friends with special preferences, maniacs that crave for the newest content, and readers without borders.” In contrast to Mook, Zine publications are more private and there are only a small number of copies of each Zine issue. Mook, therefore, is better at aggregating a community and creating its own ecosystem when traditional publishing industry is challenged by we-media and fragmented reading habit.
In mainland China, Mook started as an alternative to publishing magazines as it is quite difficult to apply for a publication serial number that is required for publishing magazines. Mook then slowly gained popularity since more and more publishers saw the advantages it possesses. Mook’s editorial advantages lie in its ability to present content at a faster speed and provide readers with more in-depth contents. In addition to that, it has standard editorial style and only contains a small proportion of advertisements, allowing it to build a stable reader base. When it comes to publishing, Mook can utilise the publisher’s channels to get the issues to physical stores and online platforms instead of newspaper and magazine stands. Mooks can also be sold at bookstores and online platforms for a long period as they do not need to worry about the news cycle.
There are over one hundred different Mooks for readers to choose from, such as Zhi China, Zhi Japan, WithEating, Hiyori Techo, Genuine, Lens, Typography and more. They have created a beautiful landscape in the publishing world in mainland China. Coupled with promotion on different apps, Weibo, and WeChat official accounts, they have gained a strong foothold among the readers. There are also Mooks that focus on cultural agenda such as Duku and One Way Street, as well as literature-centric Mooks like Newriting (edited by Zhang Yueran), O-pen (edited by Annebaby), One (produced by Han Han), etc. Unfortunately, O-pen and One, which were extremely popular in the past, had stopped publishing new issues.
Mook becomes popular because it sells lifestyles instead of knowledge. Mooks in mainland China mainly target readers aged between 20 and 40. They aim to satisfy the lifestyle demands of the middle class and young hipsters in the local market. Zhi Japan, a Mook dedicating to reporting Japanese culture, for instance, has accumulated a sales volume of more than one million. Topics such as famous manga author Yoshitomo Nara, major historic event Meiji Restoration, Japanese garden design Karesansui, ramen, Japanese life philosophy dan-sha-ri, and local gang Yamaguchi-gumi, had all been on the themes of Zhi Japan’s Mooks, which has garnered a number of royal fans. Zhi China: The Folk Music, published in November 2016, made use of the craze on how Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize in Literature and reported stories on the thriving folk music scene in China with vibrant words and pictures. It paints the development of Chinese folk music throughout its long history since the Qin Dynasty. Zhi China: The Folk Music exposes its readers to opinions from multiple famous folk music artists, showing their views on Chinese and foreign music through interviews and aggregating fragmented information on a particular topic.
Mook couldn’t gain traction in Taiwan but it is no thriving in mainland China. In comparison, Zine, which promotes independent publishing and celebrates uniqueness and high-end content, is more popular than Mook in Hong Kong and Macao. As a matter of fact, there aren’t that many Mooks (for instance O-Square and Boozy Macao, etc.) around in the two SARs. Zine gradually gains popularity and even connects communities, serving as the media that tell local stories and opinions. Readers from different parts of the Greater China region have a distinctly different preference for publications. This also shows mainland China, Taiwan, Macao and Hong Kong’s differentiating publishing industry mechanics and ecosystem, which is worthy of more investigation and research.
“If you want to destroy a person, you should encourage him to make magazines,” this is an old joke in the publishing industry. In an era characterised by we-media and digitalisation, perhaps reading Mooks would make one more in-sync with the changing popular culture. In any case, Mooks would definitely be an interesting conversation starter.