Online Mag Regulation: Losers, Winners

Kai La.jpg
Word has trickled into the papers this past week that GAPP plans to issue new rules forcing online magazines (ÁΩëÁªúÊùÇÂøó, aka ÁîµÂ≠êÊùÇÂøó, Êï∞Â≠óÊùÇÂøó) to acquire licenses prior to publishing – just like their print equivalents. A few reports have squinted peevishly at Big Government. “The Web magazine suddenly has discovered that she has a new mother-in-law – the General Administration of Press and Publication,” the observed the Securities Daily (ËØÅÂà∏Êó•Êä•) on Friday. A report on Tuesday in the China Business News (Á¨¨‰∏ÄË¥¢ÁªèÊó•Êä•) discussed the prospect of editorial controls; it’s summed up here by blogger Josie Liu. Beijing’s Legal Mirror (Ê≥ïÂà∂ÊôöÊä•) did the first widely noticed story; a matter-of-fact pick-up, it sat atop Sohu’s headlines for hours last Saturday, for all to notice.

The news actually originated from a quasi-official forum in Beijing on April 18 that was convened by GAPP along with China’s biggest upstart e-magazine distributors: Zbox
„ÄÅZCOM and Xplus. covered the event. For these platforms, the issue is not exactly one of free speech. They say they want their industry regulated. In particular, they would appear anxious to shield the shift into digital of print titles they now sell. And besides, GAPP already lords over those. “Viewed from the long-term,” Zbox CEO Qian Pengyu (Èí±ÈπèÂÆá) is reported to have argued at the forum, “The General Administration of Press and Publication’s new administrative law is conducive to the development of the industry.”

A new licensing regime likely would spell censorship with serious market characteristics. If broadly enforced – still a weighty IF – it would help the big-name titles (whether print or online-based) monetize primarily by protecting their circulation from pirates, and only secondarily by squeezing out smaller competitors. There has been talk of hefty sums of registered capital as one prerequisite to apply to GAPP for a license.

In exchange for that approval, presumably, licensed online mags would automatically make the radar of a new flotilla of e-zine censors. According to the reports, more than 100 new online mags have popped up in China since the trend caught fire in 2005. The Luoyang Evening News, in a ham-handed news report, suggests that the early losers to editorial controls are bound to be the Web-based vehicles of the stars, like Phoenix TV host Chen Luyu’s “Yu-e”„Ää˱´Á∫¶„Äã and actress Xu Jinglei’s “Kai La” „ÄäºÄÂﶄÄã, which has recruited bards of urban pop like her old man Wang Shuo:

Wang Shuo has said that compared to enduring frequent revisions by editors at the publishing houses, he would rather release his writings on the Web, particularly on Xu Jinglei’s Web site, because this way, he can speak his mind more freely. The way it looks now, however, Wang Shuo once more won’t be able to open his big mouth.

According to this regulation, prior to going online, Web magazines must acquire Internet publishing permits from the General Administration of Press and Publication. Magazines like “Kai La” that already are online would be required to submit to controls. The emphasis of the controls would be concentrated mainly on the contents and activities of the Web magazine services. There are experts who believe that once this regulation is implemented, a lot of Web magazine are bound to be purified; at least foul-mouthed expression like Wang Shuo’s would not be likely to appear.

Nonetheless, quite a few famous people that have founded Web zines still know little about all of this. On the afternoon of the day before last, the reporter contacted Xu Jinglei’s manager Liu Xuan. On hearing the reporter relate the news to her, Ms. Liu seemed quite puzzled. “We haven’t seen the news about this regulation coming out.”

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